It’s no secret that the youngest child grows up with a different parenting style and goes out in the world as a fundamentally different person than their older siblings.
The general perception is that the youngest child grows up as the most coddled child, receiving more attention, more freedom, and less responsibility than all of the previous (less perfect) siblings who came before. This is known as Youngest Child Syndrome, but is it legit? I’m going to explore that in this article because, as the youngest child, I love talking about myself.
Personality Traits in the Youngest Child
Youngest children score high in personality traits such as agreeableness, extraversion, and openness to experience. These traits create a temperament that makes them more sociable, adventurous, and free-spirited. This comes with strengths and weaknesses. It may be easy for them to make friends, but they may struggle with being too cooperative, often at their own expense. While they may be very kind, they can also be a bit of a pushover, and while it’s great to take risks, this can result in impulsive decision-making.
As I replay the reel of my life back in my head, my insistence on hanging out with certain friends for 15 days in a row, randomly deciding to move to Australia, and struggling to say "no" to people who try to sell me stuff is all starting to make sense. This, of course, is only a generalization. We can extrapolate scientific data to the general population, but there will always be exceptions. As I discuss certain personality traits and tendencies of the youngest child, know that if they don’t resonate with you, you may just be that special last child who’s “built differently.”
Fewer Rules Make Them Chiller Than a Cucumber
Let’s be real, if you’re the youngest, then by the time you came along, your parents had just about run out of gas in their parenting tank (which means you got off easy, so congrats!). As a result, the youngest child experiences less rigid rules as well as fewer responsibilities. The stereotype that the youngest children get away with much more than their older siblings is largely based on truth.
The youngest child experiences less rigid rules as well as fewer responsibilities.
Parents are no longer as anxious about their parenting style, as they have already raised one or multiple children before you. They have more experience about what to expect and the consequences or lack thereof when they let their child do certain things. They’re less worried about failing as a parent, and where the world may have seemed like one giant rotating sphere of potential hazards that could harm their firstborn, these thoughts subside by the time the last child comes around. This lack of caution results in a more laid-back environment which makes the youngest child more carefree and relaxed.
I can vouch for this one. I definitely didn’t have authoritative or domineering parents and felt that I was free to do what I wanted. The result? I never really had a rebellious phase (okay, maybe except when I wanted to be Avril Lavigne from 4th through 6th grade). When you realize you’re probably not going to get in much trouble, there’s no need to be so dramatic. I also always felt comfortable confiding in my parents or telling them I needed help in an emergency without fear of rebuke. I know other people who got into car accidents from drunk driving because they were more scared of facing their parents’ wrath than telling them they needed a ride home. That sort of parenting style doesn’t seem preferable or safer to me, but what do I know?
Last borns are very sociable because they tend to be extraverted and agreeable. This disposition is ideal when it comes to making friends. However, the baby of the family can also be manipulative, since they don’t face the same consequences as their older siblings and know how to turn on the charm to get their way. Youngest kids can be manipulative without realizing it. I remember receiving scorn from my family for using a baby voice on my dad when I was 10 to get me what I wanted (which was, of course, a ride to the mall to meet my friends). I was taken aback. After all, who yells at the youngest child? Well, I remember the shame and embarrassment from that day, and I never did it again.
Studies show that the youngest child tends to be, or at least perceives themselves to be, the funniest of the family. Since we receive more attention, we become primed to seek it out everywhere. I remember going to family gatherings, and my dad would randomly blurt out. “Jaimee, do 10 cartwheels!” and I’d happily oblige. I mean, after all, doing 10 cartwheels is pretty sick.
On a deeper level though, this may be the youngest child’s way of expressing that they want to be admired, liked, and paid attention to. Famous entertainers like actors and comedians are overwhelmingly last borns. Our creativity, attention-seeking, and desire to be liked primes us to seek careers in entertainment, like say, becoming a writer (if this were a scene from The Office, I’d be staring at the camera right now).
Older children are expected to be studious, successful, and act as good role models for their younger siblings. They may even partially take on a parenting role by looking after their younger siblings and making sure they behave. The youngest child’s way of getting attention and making a name for themselves isn’t by playing by the rules and being a good role model, but by turning on their charm and making people laugh. Older children are more conscientious, but the youngest is more creative in order to find their own niche role in the family that’s fundamentally different from their older siblings.
The youngest child’s way of getting attention is by turning on their charm and making people laugh.
We’re more likely to cooperate, be submissive, and be empathetic. I remember one time my boss told me he was giving me a raise, and my response was "Are you sure?" I also recall my sister convincing me to make her dinner by claiming that she didn’t know how to do it and that I was much better at it. The flattery worked, and I happily cooked up a box of gourmet Kraft Mac and Cheese. So naive.
This has its limitations in its application, however. As for myself, I tend to hate conflict but I can be very assertive when it comes to discussing ideas and beliefs. I also believe that the people-pleasing component of agreeableness is especially present when it comes to new individuals coming into our lives. The more comfortable we become with someone, the more secure we feel in expressing our true feelings as well as being more assertive.
The Youngest Child Is a Revolutionary
The last born is the most likely to walk to the beat of a different drum. We’re not the older children, so we’re not expected to take on a lot of responsibility or be good role models. As a result, we’re less conscientious but more agreeable. This means the youngest child may be less driven to be successful, but more altruistic. We’re also willing to take unnecessary risks and be entrepreneurial.
According to psychologist Frank Sulloway in his article “Birth Order,” there are several differences between the first and last born children. Since the child born last can’t babysit themselves, they look for an unoccupied family niche by cultivating their talents. This is done through experimenting and trying new things. The most interesting takeaway from this study was the political inclination in later-born children. Studies showed that while the last born tend to be more socially liberal, if they were a child of liberal parents, then they were more likely to be conservative – just to be different.
The last born is also more likely to change their views compared to the firstborn during radical political, social, or scientific change. One historical example from the 16th century is when the Copernican revolution challenged the scientific consensus of the Catholic Church that the sun rotated around the earth, it was later borns who were five times more likely to endorse the heretical view.
I regret to inform you that the last born is most likely to rebel against the status quo. Contrarian is the last born’s middle name, and everyone is begging them to stop talking, but we never will. This is spot-on, especially because out of the 50 times that I’ve taken the Myers Briggs Personality Test, I always get ENTP, which is known as “The Debater” personality.
The Cons of Being the Youngest Child
You might be thinking, Wow, youngest kids have all the fun! Well, there are downsides to being the youngest. The last born can sometimes be mired down by a lack of direction. With a laissez-faire attitude, lack of structure and rules, and their openness to different experiences and intellectual curiosity, they may be pulled in many different directions, unable to commit to one thing. I remember dreaming of being anything under the sun. Then, I came to a point in high school where I thought, maybe I should be an actress, so I can be whatever I want for the rest of my life.
The last born can sometimes be mired down by a lack of direction.
My advice to any other fellow babies of the family is – be everything! I felt so much pressure to conform or choose a specific thing that others expected me to do that I remember feeling a deep sense of shame for not knowing what to major in at college or what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Now I’ve figured out that it’s all made up. You can quite literally do whatever you want. Even nonlucrative passions can remain your hobbies. I’m not ashamed to be interested in many different things, to be passionate about varying subjects, to be curious and unafraid to fail.
Another con is that being the perpetual baby of the family means you’re likely more hesitant to become a parent or to see yourself as an adult. Unless you had younger cousins, nieces, or nephews, you likely had limited exposure to children throughout your life. As the youngest of the family, you’re always referred to as “the baby” even when you’re actually a grown adult. This may hinder your sense of self, and cause you to have a bit of Peter Pan Syndrome. You'll always be the baby of your family, but you can't be a baby in the world.
It’s important to take on more responsibility and push yourself to be disagreeable (i.e. assertive and competitive) where necessary. These are the areas of life that the youngest are less attuned to or have the least practice in, so it’s always best to cultivate skills that you lack. You may feel more anxiety or less interest in becoming a parent compared to the firstborn child because you didn’t take on a parenting or guardian role. If you are interested in becoming a parent in the future, you should try to get involved with babysitting or try to increase your exposure to children by looking after kids in your extended family or those of your friends.
The youngest child is a free spirit and typically the life of the party. However, they’re not as responsible or conscientious as older children and can be manipulative. If this resonates with you, you may be a little more spoiled and self-centered than your older siblings. Be aware of these traits in yourself. Try to cultivate the ones you lack and mitigate the negative aspects of your personality that are partly shaped by your upbringing. Then, consider apologizing to your siblings for robbing their best years of childhood by soaking up all the attention – or don’t, that’s your prerogative.
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