Impact of Favoritism and Preferential Treatment on Families

Impact of Favoritism and Preferential Treatment on Families

            Parental favoritism and preferential treatment is a phenomenon where a parent or both parents treat one or more children more positively than other children. A parent can show preferential treatment by spending more time with a child, providing them with privileges, or taking fewer disciplinary measures against the child. Notably, the other children who perceive the difference in treatment are likely to have short-term and long-term adverse outcomes. Parental favoritism puts other children at risk of mental health problems or esteem issues that can have multiple adverse effects on the family.

Children receiving poor parental treatment often develop maladaptive traits that make it hard for them to fit in society. According to Jensen et al. (2019), these behaviors can result in further mental and physical health implications for the child, especially as they enter adolescence. Jensen et al. (2019) state that the child is likely to develop a negative sense of worth as they consistently compare themselves to their sibling who receives preferential and better treatment. Children who perceive better preferential treatment directed towards them often have better self-esteem and are likely to have better health development (Jensen et al., 2019). Jensen et al. (2019) further state that the child’s personality plays a significant role in determining the impact of negatively preferential treatment directed towards them. For instance, conscientious children are likely to perceive preferential treatment more easily than less conscientious children because they are more socially aware of the nature of the circumstances. However, Jensen et al. (2019) state that conscientious children are less reactive to preferential treatment because they can understand the circumstances. In addition, children with neurotic personalities are likely to overreact emotionally when they are at the negative end of preferential treatment (Jensen et al., 2019). Jensen et al. (2019) further state that less neurotic children exhibit restraint in their reactions as they intend to control the ramifications of favoritism demonstrated by their parents.

Other children will likely enjoy preferential treatment from their parents because of their inherent traits. Jensen et al. (2019) state that children who exhibit traits high in agreeableness are likely to receive preferential treatment from their parents. They are more inclined to meet the expectations and demands of their parents, and as a result, they are likely to be their parents’ favorites. As a result, their siblings who are low in trait agreeableness are likely to attract negative treatment from their parents.

Preferential treatment results in externalizing behaviors in youths and can negatively affect family relationships. Externalizing behaviors in children and youth are behaviors that entail reactionary actions taken against others rather than oneself. When a youth or child exhibits reactionary behavior such as physical aggression, bullying, and defiance, they put family members and anyone else they interact with at risk of physical or psychological harm. According to Rolan and Marceau (2018), parental differential treatment results in increased or decreased externalizing traits. Parental favoritism can force adolescents to adjust by demonstrating externalizing behaviors, especially when they receive negative treatment (Rolan & Marceau, 2018). Notably, children who receive favorable preferential treatment are likely to get along with their parents way better than children who experience negative treatment. As a result, relationships in the family can be warm and less conflictual or cold and conflictual (Rolan & Marceau, 2018). This disbalance can foster hostility among siblings.

Parental favoritism can affect siblings’ feelings towards each other or their parents. Unequal treatment can result in feelings of jealousy between siblings (Padilla et al., 2019). Older siblings tend to allow preferential treatment for their younger siblings because they have the social maturity to realize that their younger siblings require more attention from their parents (Padilla et al., 2019). Therefore, when older siblings compare themselves with younger siblings, they will likely develop multiple psychological challenges. Notably, they are likely to acknowledge favoritism as fair in such circumstances. However, when preferential treatment is directed because of favoritism, children develop feelings of jealousy towards each other. Padilla et al. (2019) state that when preferential treatment is directed towards one child despite both children being adolescents, comparisons are likely to breed jealousy between the siblings since there is no accountable reason for preferential treatment. Differential treatments also have different outcomes depending on whether the perpetrator is a mother or a father. Padilla et al. (2019) further state that when fathers demonstrated differential treatment towards siblings, the children who received negative treatment developed depressive symptoms. Children who received negative preferential treatment from their mothers were less likely to develop depressive symptoms (Padilla et al., 2019). However, preferential treatment from either parent showed increased chances of engaging in delinquency for the child that never received positive treatment. Notably, Padilla et al. (2019) state that children who faced unfavored treatment from their mothers or fathers reported risky behavior eight years down the line. However, parents who have no understanding that those are externalizing behaviors or reactionary traits often increase their authoritarianism. As a result, conflicts between the parents and the adolescent kids are likely to increase as driven by jealousy and resentment from mistreated children.


Preferential treatment by parents can affect children’s mental health and behavioral traits. Children suffer from a reduced self-sense of worth because their parents give them relatively harsher and less-friendly treatments than their treatments. In addition, children at the negative end of preferential treatment often result to externalizing behaviors like assault and violence that can affect their siblings, parents, and friends. Finally, parental favoritism can stir feelings of jealousy and anger among siblings who note that their counterparts are treated positively and better than themselves. Preferential treatments may not affect siblings significantly when they are older and aware that their younger siblings may require preferential treatments and attention. However, when siblings are of relatively similar age and they can perceive preferential treatment, they are likely to develop feelings of jealousy, low self-esteem, and externalizing behaviors to cope with negative treatment from their parents.


Jensen, A. C., Apsley, H. B., Rolan, E. P., Cassinat, J. R., & Whiteman, S. D. (2019). Parental Differential Treatment of Siblings and Adolescents; Health-Related Behaviors: The Moderating Role of Personality. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Padilla, J., Sang, S. A., Updegraff, K. A., McHale, S. M., Umana-Taylor, A. J., & Rodriguez De Jesus, S. A. (2019). Siblings’ Appraisals of Fairness and Jealousy in Response to Parental Differential Treatment: Longitudinal Links to Mexican-Origin Emerging Adults’ Adjustment. Emerging Adulthood.

Rolan, E., & Marceau, K. (2018). Individual and Sibling Characteristics: Parental Differential Treatment and Adolescent Externalizing Behaviors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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