Is being the middle child really as psychologically damaging as TV makes it out to be? I wasn’t a middle child and I don’t have a middle child, but I have known some middle children and they seem no more nor less screwed up than the first born or the baby of the family. It might well be worth doing the research to determine if all those TV shows and episodes about the psychological damage done to middle kids were written by screenwriters who were themselves middle children.
Jan Brady: The Brady Bunch
Jan Brady is the ultimate example of the classic case of the overlooked middle child on a TV show that is not specifically about the damage done to middle kids. Jan was forever whining about living in Marcia’s shadow, though admittedly she seemed to have less trouble with Cindy. Remember the episode where she dons the black afro to gain a little love? Or the episode where she fails at everything that Marcia succeeded at? I’m pretty convinced that Jan Brady’s problem wasn’t that she was any more overlooked than any other kid in the household. She was just a great big loser.
Richie Cunningham: Happy Days
It can be difficult to remember that Richie Cunningham actually was a middle child. Until you watch one of the early episodes before the show became about Fonzie. Richie tries to get the attention of classmate Carole Lipton by acting all neurotic like a James Dean character. Instead of finding him more interesting like the Fonz promised, Carole think he’s disturbed enough to lend him her book on abnormal psychology whereupon he diagnoses himself with middle child syndrome. He’s not a star athlete like Chuck, his big brother who will shortly disappear forever and he’s not the baby like Joanie.
Leonard Hofstadter: The Big Bang Theory
Proof that middle child syndrome can cause seriously psychological damage even to someone with a high enough IQ to know better than to give into it. Although, when one looks over the course of middle children on TV shows, many of them most definitely seem to be the smart one. Which is where Leonard differs. Put him in a group of any twenty people chosen at random and he’s probably going to be the smartest guy in the room. Put him in a room with his older and younger siblings and the physicist suddenly becomes the Jan. It is worth noting that Leonard’s problems are not limited to being a middle kid. His mother could justifiably be sued for child abuse.
Lisa Simpson: The Simpsons
Lisa Simpson does have her antecedents in terms of being the smart kid stuck between a popular kid and the baby, but her legacy will be as the prototype for all those who came in her wake from that kid Malcolm to Alex Dunphy. One could argue that Lisa Simpson is far more well-adjusted than your average middle child since she excels in academics, has her political head on straight, is a talented musician and, well, hasn’t killed Bart yet. On the other hand, she is far too quick to give up her ideals for a cute boy and would sell out every liberal position she holds for a shot at getting her own pony. Then again, she is just eight years old.
Gary Ewing: Dallas
Perhaps the iconic middle child who is an adult on an hour-long drama in TV history. What the heck are you supposed to do, exactly, when your older brother is the devious J.R. and your younger brother is the uber-cute Bobby? Turn to the bottle big time until you get effectively disinherited to the point where when dear old dad dies, he splits the inheritance 50/50 between your J.R. and Bobby and slaps you in the face with the same kind of (relative) pittance he gave your bastard half-brother. And them compounded the injury with the insult that only you had to prove yourself morally capable of handling the inheritance. When your brother was freaking J.R!