Children's perceptions of self influence peer relationships

July 16, 2004

Why do some children continually have problems in their peer relationships? Understanding this question is critically important to preventing many of the negative consequences that come with isolation, rejection, and victimization by peers. To explore this issue, we studied 605 fifth and sixth graders over a one-year period. Our goal was to examine how they and their peer groups influenced each other. We were particularly interested in how children's beliefs about their own self-worth in the social setting and their ability to influence that setting influenced their behavior and experiences amongst their peers, and how these experiences then influenced future behavior and beliefs.

As expected, we found that children who didn't think they deserved their peers' attention and respect, and who felt socially ineffective, were more likely to withdraw from activities with other children and to be easily discouraged when facing social challenges, such as resolving disagreements or trying to make new friends.

They became isolated, had few opportunities for developing friendships, and experienced teasing and victimization from their peers. These adverse social experiences, in turn, led the isolated children to develop even more negative views of their social self worth, and to further withdraw from their peers in a self-perpetuating negative pattern.

These findings have important implications for understanding how youth themselves, as well as their social worlds, influence the course of peer relationships.

Intervening in the downward spirals some children experience and improving their relationships with their peers requires helping children change how they perceive their social abilities and worth, as well as helping schools change environments that permit social isolation, peer conflict, and victimization.
Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 75, Issue 4, Reciprocal Influences Among Relational Self-Views, Social Disengagement, and Peer Stress During Early Adolescence by M.S. Caldwell, K.D. Rudolph, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; W. Troop-Gordon, North Dakota State University; and D. Kim, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Copyright 2004 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

*Please contact Karen Melnyk at SRCD (see above) for author availability and contact information.

Society for Research in Child Development

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