Twin Stereotypes Perpetuated by the Media

Generalizations about twins can be harmless or hurtful

Twin boys
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If you are a parent of twins, you may be sensitive to stereotypes about twins and multiples. These generalizations are widely held and are mostly based on misassumptions and misunderstandings. Others are perpetuated by the media, in characters from movies, television shows, and literature.

While many are harmless, sometimes they can be hurtful to twins and their families. Often these characterizations are based on the assumption that all twin pairs are the same, overlooking the unique traits and personalities of each, and discounting that the relationship between each set of twins is distinct and different. Twins don’t conform to these generalizations any more than other groups who are stereotyped based on race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, or appearance.

Stereotypes About Twins

A stereotype is defined at Dictionary.com as “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment,” or “something conforming to a fixed or general pattern.” The public fascination with twins fuels the stereotypes. Take a critical look at some of the stereotypes about twins.

1. Twins Should Look and Act Alike

Not all twins are identical twins, and even then, sharing the same DNA does not make them exactly alike. Some identical twins look amazingly similar, while others look slightly different. Some identical twins style themselves so as not to look alike and others acquire differences due to environmental factors.

Fraternal (dizygotic) twins are no more or less similar than any two siblings. Because they are born at the same time, and likely spend more time together than singleton siblings, they may develop similar preferences.

2. People Give Twins Contrasting (and Sometimes Harmful) Labels 

People attempt to classify twins by opposing characteristics. Constant comparison meant that twins are always measured in relation to each other instead of being appreciated for themselves. For example, there is a good twin and a bad twin, a fussy baby and an easygoing baby. Girls might be labeled "the smart one" and "the pretty one," and boys "the athletic one" and "the natural leader." These labels can influence the child's self-image and development.

Twins and their parents constantly face questions intended to evaluate and rank them. Which one crawled first? Which one is more outgoing? Which one is more athletic? Which one has better grades?

The bottom line is that you can't characterize every set of twins as being alike or different. They are not clones and they are not opposites. They are unique individuals, alike in some ways and different in others.

3. Twins Have a Supernatural Connection 

People want to attribute special powers to twins. While there is no scientific evidence to support the existence of twin telepathy, there are plenty of amazing stories of coincidences and instances of seemingly telepathic communication. Sometimes twins appear to know what the other is thinking or finish each other's sentences. Some relate tales of knowing the other was hurt or ill, even when they were in different locations. But not all twins encounter this kind of experience, and this stereotype can make twins feel that they are not special if they lack a supernatural connection.

4. Birth Order Characteristics Apply to Twins ​

Birth order characteristics are misapplied to twins. People seem insistent on knowing which twin is older and which is younger and try to draw conclusions about the personality of the twins. The older one must be the leader, while the younger one is dependent, or the first-born should act more grown up than his or her twin.

Most twins are born with a few minutes of each other. The personality traits that characterize siblings develop over the course of years and are formed around family dynamics that simply don't apply to twins.

5. They Are Best Buddies—or Worst Enemies 

People assume that twinship satisfies a basic human longing for companionship, but twins are often best buddies and worst enemies, all at the same time. Many twins are very close and most fight intensely at some point. There is no set pattern for the relationship. Over time, their relationship will change as with any siblings.

6. Identical Twins are More Special than Fraternal Twins ​

About one-third of twins are monozygotic (identical), sharing a genetic makeup and being able to be a perfect match for blood and tissue donation. Beyond the medical implications, some generalize that identical twins will have a special bond but fraternal twins won't. It's important to refrain from labeling twins based on their zygosity, and appreciate each twin as a unique individual, and each twin relationship as special.

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