Social isolation in childhood
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Social isolation is an issue that many individuals face throughout their lives. According to Gottman, social isolation can be defined as “low relative frequencies of peer interactions” (Gottman, 1977, p. 513). Having friendships is an important aspect of our lives because it contributes to the quality of our lives, life satisfaction and our social welfare (Victor et al, 2000, p. 407). Social isolation can happen throughout the lifespan. It can happen during childhood through not being able to make friends at school or even during old age where having social networks and friendships are harder to attain and maintain with the lack of ability to resources (i.e. car, old age etc). Being socially isolated across the lifespan can lead to depression and loneliness (Victor et al, 2000, p. 407). In children specifically, being socially isolated from others can also lead to depression and loneliness, but also can effect a child’s adjustment and contribute to internalizing and externalizing problems (Lande et al, 2007, p. 267). The problems that are associated with social isolation in children can be predictive of how they may be in the future as well (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 242).
Adolescent is a time where meaningful relationships with peers are very important and inability to achieve and sustain these relationships can lead to psychological health problems (Lande et al, 2007, p. 265). With this being said, adolescents are specifically targets for social isolation (Lande et al, 2007, p. 265). It is evident through past literature that the inability for adolescents to successfully maintain peer relationships is positively correlated with issues of self-esteem, self worth and even suicidal thoughts in adolescents (Lande et al, 2007, p. 267). On the other hand those adolescents who do have meaningful peer relationships showcase high levels of self worth and esteem and aren’t faced with the same problems associated with those who are socially isolated (Lande et al, 2007, p. 266). It is evident that peer relationships are predictive of social isolation in adolescents. In a study done by Lande et al (2007), they looked at the effects of psychological health and the relationship it has with social isolation and how protective factors may also play a factor in mediating the effects of social isolation on psychological health. The study explicitly looked at how social isolation in adolescents is related to psychological health problems, self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts and how protective factors such as family and school connectedness and academic achievement may also be related to degree of social isolation (Lande et al, 2007, p. 272). The results of the study indicate that those adolescents who were considered to be socially isolated were more likely to try and commit suicide, had depressive tendencies and were also more likely to have issues with self-esteem and self worth (Lande et al, 2002, p. 277). Even though the protective factors were reflective of how socially isolated an individual was, it was still important for them to have meaningful peer relationships in order to not be socially isolated (Lande et al, 2002, p. 272). However, family connectedness did play an important role in determining whether those adolescents who felt socially isolated were likely to attempt suicide as a result (Lande et al, 2002, p. 278). Those adolescents who felt a close family connectedness were less likely to take it the next level and attempt to commit suicide (Lande et al, 2002, p. 278). Therefore, the results of the study indicate that those adolescents who were not able to maintain a close relationship with peers and were socially isolated were more likely to be at risk for depression, self-esteem and self worth issues and were more likely to consider committing suicide. Being unable to have a close relationship with other peers can have damaging effects on adolescents. Even though this study has many strengths and gives evidence for the relationship between social isolation and psychological health in children, there are limitations of the study that also need to be accounted for. One limitation of this study may have been the context of social isolation being asked, it was asked with only a single response of how many close friends did they have which they could talk to about their problems and didn’t account for other factors that could affect social isolation (Lande et al, 2002, p. 280).
Social isolation has also been linked to adjustment problems in children (Laursen et al, 2007). Those children who are incapable of making close friendships during childhood are at increased risk of having internalizing and externalizing problems than those children who are able to maintain close friendships (Laursen et al, 2007). In the study done by Laursen et al (2007), they looked at the correlation between social isolation in children grades one and the likeliness of them having adjustment problems in grade two. The results of the study signify that those children who had a harder time maintaining close peer friendships during the first grade were more prone to maladjustment during the second grade (Laursen et al, 2007, p. 1401). Through these results it can be seen that early friendships in childhood are predictive of proper adjustment in children later and those children who are deemed as socially isolated and can not sustain close friendships early on are more likely to have adjustment problems in the future such as acting out, aggression and depression (Laursen et al, 2007, p. 1401). In addition to shedding more light on the issues of social isolation and adjustment problems in children, there are limitations of this study that should be looked at in more depth in future studies. One of the limitations of this study is the fact that it was carried out in Finland, and the children were Finnish and one has to take into account the fact that maybe the results may have been different if the sample was from other countries including Canada (Laursen et al, 2007, p. 1402).
Also, in another study done by Rubin et al (1988), they looked at the influence of early social isolation on children and problems that they may face in the future as a result. The results of the study found two types of social isolation that were evident in the children, passive anxious and active immature isolation (Rubin et al, 1988, p. 917). Passive isolation was considered to be evident through the early school years; these children who were considered under this subtype often played by themselves and didn’t make attempt to play with other children (Rubin et al, 1988, p. 917). This was predictive of loneliness, depression, internalizing behaviors and lower levels of self-perception in middle childhood (Rubin et al, 1988, p. 921). Active immature isolation was when the child would showcase more externalizing problems as a result of social isolation, including immature and disobedient behavior, which also occurred during the early school years (Rubin et al, 1988, p. 921). As a result, this was predictive of aggressiveness in middle childhood (Rubin et al, 1988, p. 921). These results display that social isolation in early childhood can be predictive of negative future behavior and these children who are considered to be socially isolated are more likely have issues associated with depression, loneliness, and are more likely to have adjustment problems as well (Rubin et al, 1988). With this being said, one still needs to consider the limitations of the study and what can be done in future research in relation to social isolation and the impact it may have in the future for children. One limitation of this study was the sample who were being studied were considered normal so the relationship between passive isolation and depression only accounts for non clinical depression and not clinical depression which could be an area that could be studied in the future to see if the results yield the same outcome (Rubin et al, 1988, p. 922).
In addition to those studies, another study done by Hymel et al (1990), looked at the association between social isolation and internalizing and externalizing behavior over time in children. They looked at whether those children who were considered to be socially isolated in grade five would have maladjustment problems 3 years later in grade five. The results of the study indicate that those children in grade two who were thought of as socially isolated did have problems related to internalizing and externalizing behaviors in grade five (Hymel et al, 1990, p.2017). The children who were socially isolated were more likely to experience externalizing behavior in the future such as acting out in class and were more likely to be aggressive (Hymel et al, 1990, p. 2016). They were also more likely to experience internalizing behavior such as loneliness (Hymel et al, 1990, p. 2017) The results of this study confirm that social isolation in early childhood is predictive of later behavior in children in relation to adjustment. There are some limitations of the study that should be accounted for. One of the limitations of this study is that causation cannot be inferred between social isolation and internalizing and externalizing behavior but rather that an individual is more likely to experience adjustment problems as a result of social isolation (Hymel et al, 1990. P. 2019).
There are many negative affects associated with social isolation including emotional loneliness and depression. Social isolation can have many consequences on a child especially during childhood and can also be carried through to the future. Emotional loneliness experienced as a result of social isolation can lead to greater depressive symptoms in children as they grow up (Qualter et al, 2002). In a study done by Qualter et al (2002), they looked at the whether there was relationship between social isolation and emotional loneliness and the predictive behavior of children in the future that is associated with social isolation. They defined emotional loneliness as “a lack of satisfactory attachment” (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 233). They wanted to see whether social isolation was predictive of emotional loneliness in children (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 233). The results of the study indicate social isolation and emotional loneliness are positively correlated (Qualter et al, 2002). Those children who were regarded as socially isolated were also considered to be emotionally lonely because of their inability to make close peer friendships (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 241). As a result, the emotionally lonely children were more likely to have aggressive tendencies as they developed and are more likely to have internalizing and externalizing problems as well (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 241). Furthermore, increased loneliness as a result of social isolation leads to low self-perception in children that can have damaging affects in the future (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 241). As well, the children who were considered to be socially isolated lack sufficient peer relationships they often spend more time alone and are at a greater risk for depression in the future (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 242). The results of this study show that social isolation and emotional loneliness are correlated and those children who are considered to emotionally lonely as a result of social isolation are at increased risk of depression, adjustment problems and low self worth and self esteem (Qualter et al, 2002). However, there are limitations of this study that also need to be taken into consideration. A limitation of this study is that they did not take factors like family relationships into account, which could have had an affect on social isolation in children (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 243).
In another study done by Asher et al (1985), they looked at whether or not socially isolated children are in fact more likely to experience loneliness that can later cause other psychological health problems such as depression. The results of the study showcase that those children who are considered to be socially isolated are more prone to loneliness as a result of not having a solid network of peer relationships, which can later lead to depression in the future (Asher et al, 1985). In spite of these findings, one also has to account for limitations in this study as well. One limitation of this study was that they specifically looked at low-status children and the results may have been different if the sample was inclusive of children from other status backgrounds (Asher et al, 1985, p. 505).
In conclusion it is evident to see that social isolation can affect anyone throughout the lifespan from young age to old age. Social isolation can have many negative affects on ones life, including depression, loneliness and adjustment problems (Lande et al, 2007, p. 267). This is why social isolation is especially important in the case of children because having a solid network of friends during childhood can help account for all the problems that are associated with social isolation. When a child lack’s a close peer friendships and are socially isolated they are at increased risk for depression, adjustment problems and loneliness that can be an indication of how they will be in the future (Qualter et al, 2002, p. 242).
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