Childrens relationships with parents and peers are interactive and by the time they get older they form an increasingly varied array of interpersonal relationships (Pianta & Stuhlman, 2004). Relationships are measured by the way in which two or more individuals are connected, or the state of being connected. Is it a connection where individuals conditionally share experiences, interests, attitudes, feelings, and unconditionally deliver developmental consequences in forming personality (Parker, Rubin, Price & DeRosier, 1995). At the same time, a connection shared with warmth, support and feelings of affection, by two or more individuals, stands as a friendship. What starts early in infancy, through observing others, reaching and smiling, changes throughout childhood and again during adolescence. For these reasons, experiences shared with other peers play a particularly significant role in an individual life. Therefore, this essay will evaluate the role of peer relationships in social development focused at the stage of childhood. It will explore factors which influence peer sociability and it will evaluate the consequence of interacting with children equal in status, and by the same token, the outcomes of interacting with older peers. Moreover, it will evaluate childrens social status, the extent in which one individual is liked by another and last, it will examine gender roles in the context of peer sociability.
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Peer acceptance and friendships are similar yet different constructs within youth development. Where peer acceptance represents social status including the level of popularity within a group, a friendship represents mutual respect and appreciation which is received by the group (Parker et al., 1995). Similarities are that both raise self-esteem and develop good psychological adjustment in and after childhood (Parker & Asher, 1993). Despite this, peer acceptance emphasizes the feeling of belonging (Brown & Lohr, 1987) and reflects few behavioural problems in adolescence (Prinstein & Greca, 2004),ÂÂ whereas, friendships have direct influence in social development if previous experiences such as closeness and security with a mutual peer have been absent (Bukowski, Hoza & Bolvin, 2006). However, children who have difficulties in making or maintaining friendships are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour (Newcomb & Bagwell, 1995), have predisposition to loneliness and depression (Parker et al., 1995), and report bad academic performance linked to high unemployment later in life (Woodward & Fergusson, 2000).
Whilst the discussion in the preceding paragraph, a prior factor that influence peer relationships in social development is social status, which refer to how well an individual child is liked by his or her peers. Social status has been categorized by psychologist into three major status categories popular, neglected and rejected. Popular children are described as individuals well-liked by a majority of peers. Neglected children are seldom labelled by peers as either liked or disliked while rejected children are explicitly avoided and not chosen as playmates or friends. Evidently, there are reasons why some children are treated differently than others:
Most of the time attractive, extraverted or physically larger children are popular and generally they receive positive attention from peers (Rubin, Coplan, Chen, Bowker & McDonald, 2011). Popular children display lots of dyadic interaction, are seen happy and tend to be natural leaders, all qualities that promote making new friendships.
Neglected children prefer solidary activities and have no concern about their lack of popularity. Still, they share similar characteristic with popular peers. They can do well in school as well as popular children, but they are more prone to depression and loneliness (Rubin et al., 2011). It is associated with depression because peer neglect can stimulate physical pain in the brain, on the anterior cingulate cortex, pain that has significance in leading one individual to social exclusion, as showed by brain-imaging studies (Eisenberger, 2003).
Of central concern therefore are rejected children, which face constant negative feedback and receive little positive attention from their peers. They are disliked because they tend to be disruptive, aggressive and unwilling to share and offer cooperative play. Subsequently, considering peer rejection, it is also reasonable to look at peer victimization. Rejection accompanying peer victimization occurs when individual differences as ethnicity and gender are in place, or due to physically unattractiveness and more commonly experienced by newcomers to their new classrooms (Asher, Hymel & Renshaw, 1984). Peer Victimization also known as bullying or peer harassment, acts as a conflict between peers but with the intention to cause harm. It has severe consequences towards childs social development because it reports high levels of emotional distress, anxiety, loneliness, and displays low self-esteem (Buhs, Lad & Herald, 2006).
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Thus, peer experiences can be Ëœpositive or Ëœnegative, based on whether they can offer good or bad social development for the child. The ability to keep friendships, offer empathy, accepting and sharing ideas or simply joining others in different activities are describes as positive social skills which emphasize peer acceptance, while negative traits are highlighted by actions such as fighting with others, arguing, usually involving verbal or physical aggression (McClellan & Kinsey, 1999).
There are two types of relationships that influence peer sociability, known as ËœVertical relationships where interacting with older peers with greater knowledge leads to greater security, protection and to more rapidly skill and knowledge development (Slatcher & Trentacosta, 2002), and ËœHorizontal relationships which involves interacting with peers equal in status emphasising cooperation and interaction among the peers.
Vertical relationships are represented by having relations with parents or teachers, usually with older peers. One of the theories in social development proposed by John Bowlby stated that early relationships with parents, caregivers has a major role in child development and reflect afterwards throughout the life. More recent research have pointed out evidence and confirmed that child-parent relations can influence childs social development. If parents deal with emotional problems, their children can have social problems as well. In a study conducted by Gerhold, Manfred, Texdorf, Schmidt & Esser, (2002) was found that anxiety disorders and maternal mood have a connection with child withdrawal or inhibition. And not just parents emotions affect their own children but also social behaviour is passed on through observation. In addition, research following Albert Bandura social learning theory (e.g., children learn new behaviours from observing the actions of parents and peers), have confirmed that children imitate their parents actions, but more curios, they imitate especially the riskier behaviours such as smoking and drinking (Halloran et al., 2002). Such social behaviours can be harmful and contagious. In a childs innocence if he sees his parent smoking or drinking, he will think is normal. The previous study also pointed out that even if parents explained that is wrong, children believe that is not that bad since their parents are doing it, and have a tendency to fall into those vices later in life.
In contrast, good social development can be promoted if active interest is given by both parents. If children are encouraged with security, trust, control and if parents show concern and interest, children will have increased self-esteem, and better social relationships (Asher, Hymel & Renshaw, 1984). Above parents, teacher- child relations also have significant importance in development across multiple domains, as in psychosocial functioning, engagement in schools and more important in academic performance (Pianta & Stuhlman, 2004).
A horizontal relationship consists in interacting with peers equal in status, opposed to a relationship with superiors or older peers (vertical relationship). Horizontal relationships tend to be reciprocal rather than complementary: one child hides, the other seeks; one throws a ball, the other catches it. And because partners have similar abilities the roles can be reversed.
Early social experiences in family shortly expand step-by-step to other settings as in neighbourhoods and schools. Consequently, interacting with other children has its developmental consequences, as spending a lot of time with other peers can influence a childs personality and values (Sallquist, Manfred, Texdorf, Schmidt & Esser, 2012). It is an important aspect because as Asher et al., (1984) describes, contact initiated with peers develops skills that are crucial in developing communication, maintaining social relationships and resolving social conflicts. Horizontal relationships are more difficult to sustain than vertical relationships, however children learn in each other companies what they would not learn in the company of adults. They learn qualities as leadership, the concept of sharing, the uses of conformity, and more. Once, children have formed a group they start to socialize in ways that can be quite distinct from parental socialization.
Nevertheless, horizontal relationships can be influenced by vertical relationships in two distinct controls (Ladd, 1992):
Direct influence refers to parents who control their children social lives by choosing a particular environment (neighbourhood, playground), which is shared by a particular social group as for example children who belong to a specific religion, or children of different ethnicities. This phenomenon usually occurs with younger rather than older children. Having direct influences over the child, parents can have opposite effects as originally intended and can affect children in becoming less socially active.
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Indirect influence however, refers to experiences which occur in the family that have behavioural consequence in interacting with other peers from other environmental settings. For instance, cold and rejecting parents will more likely have aggressive children, than parents who are warm and supportive; highly authoritarian parents will have children with less social skills, or easy tolerant parents who do not set limits will have children who will be under-controlled in their behaviour with others. In conclusion, what happens in one environment will have reflection over the other.
In the final analysis, gender roles have their own particularities for the reason that children preferences for same-sex playmates starts early in life, and as they advance in age this preference increases (Maccoby, 2002). Boys social group are larger and more open to new playmates than girls, and in addition they tend to wander outdoors and cover larger areas in their play. Girls however, are more likely to play in pairs and in smaller groups, and compared to boys they spend more time playing indoors or near home (Benenson, 1994). Another interesting comparison is that girls have a greater number of friends among those who are able to manage their emotions, while for boys the effect is opposite; those with open displays of emotions have smaller number of friends (Dunsmore, Noguchi, Garner, Casey & Bhullnar, 2008). However, Maccoby (1995) highlights that boys friendships are focussed on competition and dominance and open displays of emotions are beneficial. In contrast restraining emotions among girls is critical to interaction because it emphasize compliance and self-disclosure.
Each of these theoretical positions makes an important contribution to our understanding of peer relationships. Developing high quality peer relationships and friendships are essential to contemporaryÂÂ and future psychosocial adjustment. Forming positive relationships emphasize social skills, including cooperation, compromise, emotional control and conflict resolution. Equally children who have difficulties in making or maintaining friendships are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour, engage in high levels of depression and report bad academic performance. In other words, peer experiences significantly shape development and the development of psychopathology.