Highschool. The place where (for most of us) popularity mattered the most. I remember waking up every morning at 6 AM so I could slap a whole face of makeup on, and thoroughly straighten my hair. Thankfully, those days are over, and now university students stumble around in their pyjamas and unwashed hair without too much judgement being passed unto them by their fellow peers. Regardless of how you might perceive popularity now, you might look back and wonder why you were, or weren’t well liked among your peers. Or perhaps you want to raise children with high peer competency levels, but are unsure about how much influence you as a parent have on their popularity.
There are several factors that influence how well a child is accepted by peers, such as; social behaviour: those more engaging in social interactions with peers are generally more liked. Cognitive skills: those that were more advanced in cognitive development had a higher peer acceptance rate. Temperamental characteristics: those that were more aggressive were excluded from group activities. And while all of these can contribute to a popularity of a child, the most important factor is parental interaction.
In a study done on middle class families, parents were asked about their involvement on initiating peer contacts for their children. The results from the parents that had direct involvement in facilitating their child’s peer contacts were then split into three “monitoring scores” that the parents could fall into. 1) Directly monitored, 2) Indirectly monitored, and 3) Unsupervised (Golter & Ladd, 1988). Parents were shown to facilitate their child’s peer contacts by initiating friendship, this consists of arranging meetings or ‘play dates’. Parents were assessed on monitoring their child’s peer relations by encouraging their friendship and/or enabling proximity to their friends. It was also discovered that in families with two parents, mothers were significantly more likely to initiate peer contacts than fathers were.
Children at the school in which this study was conducted at were conditioned by sorting pictures of their favorite foods into three categories. 1) A lot, 2) Kinda, and 3) Not much. In the actual study, the children were then expected to perform the same task with pictures of their class mates.
The results of the study concluded that children with parents whose monitoring skills fell into “Directly monitored” had a higher peer competency rating, and were preferred “A lot” by their classmates. Congruently, children whose parents were indirectly monitoring their child’s peer relations were generally less liked by their classmates, and had “more negative nominations, and lower average group-acceptance scores”(Golter & Ladd, 1988).
These results are supported by Anne Fletcher and Carol Johnston, in which it was observed that children that were less liked by peers exhibited behaviours such as arguing, fighting, lying, rule-breaking, cheating, and destroying others belongings. It was also observed that mothers of children who had these behaviours were less likely to help their child make friends, or support them in making friends. It’s believed that this behaviour is perhaps a snowball effect from prior experience in negative interactions with peers.
Childhood is a delicate time in terms of social cognition development, and while parental involvement isn’t the only influence on peer competency, it’s important to encourage children to make healthy and efficient bonds.
Thank you for reading! 🙂
Ladd, G. W., & Golter, B. S. (1988). Parents’ management of preschooler’s peer relations: Is it related to children’s social competence?. Developmental Psychology, 24(1), 109.
Hollingsworth, H. L., & Buysse, V. (2009). Establishing friendships in early childhood inclusive settings. Journal of Early Intervention, 31(4), 287-307
Johnston, C. A., & Fletcher, A. C. (2014). Prediction of maternal use of friendship facilitation strategies in middle childhood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships