Parents of twins, especially younger twins, celebrate and romanticize the twin bond. But preoccupation with the twin bond often prevents parents from making healthy decisions for each twin. In fact, some families are so invested in the twinship that they are unable to recognize the importance of separating the twins from time to time.
When parents ask me for advice about how to help adolescent twins refrain from constant bickering, teasing, and criticism, I compare twins to an “old married couple” to describe the twin dynamic. Like old married couples, twins are very connected in all sorts of ways. Parents often witness that their twins are bickering one minute and sitting side by side playing a game or laughing together the next minute. There is a rapid switch back and forth between the twins’ moods and no real lasting grudge.
I am not referring here to twins who might be physically abusive to one another. That is another discussion. I am referring to twins who are teasing each other–being critical of the shirt their sibling wears, complaining that he or she sneezes too much, or bemoaning that their twin is not cool. Developmentally, at this adolescent stage, the bickering will likely intensify because one twin may want more separateness, while the other resists. Parents should advise twins who complain about being embarrassed by their sibling to do something about it (e.g., change their hair, wear an earring). Twins who are looking for independence need to take responsibility for what they want.
It’s important to ensure that twins spend time apart on a regular basis. One mother saw that her twins have always resisted suggestions to do separate activities, describing them as homebodies who enjoy similar hobbies and interests. They attend the same school and share the same friends. This mother realizes that her sons are habitually comfortable and content with each other and therefore don’t have the motivation to do things by themselves. In spite of the external turmoil, they internally do rely on one another without any real need for outsiders.
This codependency is a red flag that needs to be addressed. Both twins say that they want to go to separate colleges, but neither is equipped to do so. Saying you want to do something is not tantamount to being prepared. These boys are not equipped because they have had no opportunities to be on their own. How will they be ready to face college by themselves?