Children’s Peer Relations and Social Competence

Children’s Peer Relations and Social Competence: A Century of Progress

Gary W. Ladd
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 448
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Children’s Peer Relations and Social Competence
    Book Description:

    This book examines the role of peer relationships in child and adolescent development by tracking research findings from the early 1900s to the present. Dividing the research into three generations, the book describes what has been learned about children's peer relations and how children's participation in peer relationships contributes to their health, adjustment, and achievement.

    Gary W. Ladd reviews and interprets the investigative focus and findings of distinct research eras to highlight theoretical or empirical breakthroughs in the study of children's peer relations and social competence over the last century. He also discusses how this information is relevant to understanding and promoting children's health and development. In a final chapter, the author appraises the major discoveries that have emerged during the three research generations and analyzes recent scientific agendas and discoveries in the peer relations discipline.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14585-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-ix)

    Current Perspectives in Psychology presents the latest discoveries and developments across the spectrum of the psychological and behavioral sciences. The series explores such important topics as learning, intelligence, trauma, stress, brain development and behavior, anxiety, interpersonal relationships, education, child rearing, divorce and marital discord, and child, adolescent, and adult development. Each book focuses on critical advances in research, theory, methods, and applications and is designed to be accessible and informative to nonspecialists and specialists alike.

    Children’s Peer Relations and Social Competence: A Century of Progressis the most comprehensive review of the subject of peer relations to date. Over the...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Introduction: Are Peers an Essential Resource for Children’s Development?
    (pp. 1-18)

    I grew up as a member of the baby-boom generation. Along with many other children my age, I went to preschool during the McCarthy years and entered kindergarten about the time the Russians launched Sputnik. I was in grade school when President John F. Kennedy was shot and entered junior high school about the time the Beatles came to the United States. As I finished high school, NASA succeeded in putting a man on the moon, and Richard Nixon began his first term as president of the United States. The final stages of the Vietnam War were fought while I...

    • [I Introduction]
      (pp. 19-22)

      The scientific study of children’s peer relations can be traced to a confluence of enlightened humanitarian values and novel theoretical speculations that emerged in the writings of philosophers, psychologists, educators, and physicians during the mid- to late 1800s. During this era, writers advanced innovative ideas about human equality, the causes of mental illness, the origins of crime and juvenile delinquency, and the value of education for children. By the beginning of the twentieth century, these ideological forces and attendant economic trends (e.g., a movement to remove children from the labor force) brought about new ways of thinking about human development...

    • 1 The Founding of the Peer Relations Discipline: Early Agendas and Research Endeavors
      (pp. 23-46)

      In the era of the child study movement, which extended from the 1920s to World War II, scientists began to rely on empirical methods to investigate children’s peer relations. During this period, advances in research methodology made it possible for investigators to create precise and systematic records of childrens peer behavior, interactions, and relations.

      Those who studied children’s peer relations found that two tools—direct observation and sociometry—were particularly effective for gathering information about children’s social interactions and peer group relations, respectively (see Renshaw, 1981). The utility of each of these tools is briefly considered.

      By directly observing children’s...

    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 47-50)

      Clearly, the first three decades of the twentieth century were a productive period for research on children’s peer relations. However, the polarization of political perspectives during the late 1930s and the outbreak of World War II changed the spirit of the times and shifted national priorities. As a result, resources that had been available for research on children were redirected toward military armaments and technology, and many of the scientists who studied children were recruited into the military (Sears, 1975). Consequently, research on children’s peer relations lost momentum during the mid- to late 1940s.

      Even though resources became more plentiful...

    • 2 The Emergence of Peer Interaction and Sociability
      (pp. 51-65)

      Prior to the twentieth century, conventional wisdom held that infants and toddlers were relatively asocial and insufficiently mature to conduct even the most rudimentary interactions with agemates. As illustrated in Chapter 1, investigators from the first generation of peer relations researchers questioned these assumptions and began to investigate empirically the natural social inclinations of young children. Although it was evident from these early studies that young children could be sociable, the scope and depth of this research were too limited to produce a comprehensive picture of young children’s social abilities. During the second generation of peer relations research, questions about...

    • 3 Defining and Describing Children’s Peer Relationships
      (pp. 66-88)

      During the second generation of research on children’s peer relations, researchers sought to understand the relationships that children formed with peers. Unlike the terminteraction, which denoted a behavioral exchange, the concept of arelationshipimplied that some kind of affiliative bond or connection existed between children.

      Especially during the early years of this era but also thereafter, considerable effort was devoted to developing instruments and measures that could be used to identify children’s peer relationships. Another important objective was to describe the types of relationships that younger and older children developed with peers and to gather information about the...

    • 4 Making Friends and Becoming Accepted in Peer Groups: The Processes of Relationship Formation
      (pp. 89-112)

      Human relationships are so ubiquitous that we often take their existence for granted. Few of us are surprised by the fact that humans—and, in fact, most mammals—seem to have a strong propensity to search out and develop ties with other members of their species. Most children are born into a relationship with caregivers that begins when they arrive as newborns, and from that day forward, they embark on an ever-expanding quest to become participants in many other types of relationship. Clearly, then, it is normal for children to establish ties with peers at an early age and participate...

    • 5 Social Competence and the Search for Its Origins
      (pp. 113-144)

      The term “social competence” came into being as researchers began to evaluate what had been learned about the correlates and antecedents of children’s success and difficulty in peer relationships. As detailed in Chapter 3, researchers initially gathered evidence about children’s existing peer relationships and found that certain child characteristics—particularly features of children’s behavior with peers—were associated with friendship and peer group status. Next, as was illustrated in Chapter 4, investigators examined the antecedents of friendship, peer group entry, and peer group status and discovered that whereas some of children’s behavior patterns predicted positive relationship outcomes (for example, formation...

    • 6 Contributions of Peer Relationships to Children’s Development and Adjustment
      (pp. 145-158)

      The premise that children are affected by their participation in peer relationships can be traced to an assumption that was inherent within many of the theories that guided the social sciences during the twentieth century. Prominent writers, including George H. Mead, Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, and Jean Piaget, argued that social groups have a significant impact on the individual’s development. This premise was implicit in some of the research that was conducted on children’s peer relations during the 1930s, and it occupied a more prominent position in studies that were conducted in the late 1960s and 1970s. During the second...

      • [III Introduction]
        (pp. 159-163)

        Part III provides an overview of the major agendas and research findings that emerged during the third generation of research on children’s peer relations. The chapters included in this section are sequenced to distinguish between previous agendas and new agendas—that is, investigative aims that were established during prior research generations and those that emerged and rose to prominence during this (the third) research generation. Organizing the chapters in this manner provides a map of the continuity (e.g., elaborations and extensions) and change in investigators’ research agendas, and it also provides a platform for analyzing contemporary empirical accomplishments.

        The continued...

      • 7 New Evidence About Children’s Peer Relationships and the Processes of Relationship Formation, Maintenance, and Change
        (pp. 164-192)

        The concepts of friendship and peer group relations had been introduced and used during prior research epochs, but during its third generation, the discipline had progressed to the point where both concepts had become an integral part of the peer relations literature. Moreover, considerable progress was made toward the creation of reliable assessment tools that could be used to identify friendships or gauge the level of peer acceptance or type of peer status children had acquired in peer groups. Even though the terms “friendship” and “peer group acceptance” had different connotations, the distinctions between these two forms of relationship often...

      • 8 The Search for the Origins of Social Competence Revisited
        (pp. 193-231)

        During this generation, researchers used the term “social competence” more broadly than in prior epochs and by doing so expanded the concept’s meaning. Although the definition of this concept was still not widely agreed upon, its usage in the scientific literature began to imply more than just the presence of specific social skills in children’s behavioral repertoires (see Chapter 5). Rather, the term “social competence” was used to denote a range of behavioral and relational proficiencies, including children’s abilities to (1) initiate or sustain positive interactions with peers and inhibit the use of negative behaviors, (2) form affiliative ties such...

      • 9 New Directions in Research on the Contributions of Peer Relationships to Children’s Development and Adjustment
        (pp. 232-257)

        By the end of the 1980s, researchers began to reconsider the question of how peer relationships contributed to children’s development (Berndt and Ladd, 1989). Prior attempts to identify the precursors of children’s future adjustment had been guided by the logic of “main effects” models, which emphasized the causal priority ofeitherchildren’s behavioral dispositionsortheir peer relationships (see Chapter 6). However, during the third generation of research, these paradigms came under fire. Rather than attribute adjustment primarily to children’s behavior (for example, aggression or withdrawal) or their peer experience (for example, peer group rejection), researchers began to consider how...

      • 10 Peer Victimization Is Investigated as Another Aspect of Children’s Peer Relations
        (pp. 258-285)

        The investigation of peer victimization as an aspect of children’s peer relations began in Scandinavian countries during the late 1970s in response to growing public concern about peer abuse as a cause of child and adolescent suicide. Investigators such as Dan Olweus entered into a partnership with the governments of Sweden and Norway to determine the causes of bully-victim relations as a step toward reducing the prevalence of this social problem (see Olweus, 1978; 2001). Early findings suggested that victims of peer abuse were at risk for a range of serious and potentially life-threatening mental health problems, such as depression...

      • 11 The Role of Gender, Emotion, and Culture in Children’s Social Competence and Peer Relationships
        (pp. 286-320)

        Research on the role of gender in child development began before this era but did not develop into a prominent subspecialty or a systematic line of inquiry within the peer relations discipline until the third generation of research. In part, this was because prior research on gender had revealed few substantial and reliable sex differences in children’s personalities and behaviors (see Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974). Evidence did accrue on aggression and peer rejection in boys, but little was learned about the peer relations of girls.

        Near the inception of this research generation, new research initiatives were generated by an enlightened...

  9. Conclusion: Appraising the Scientific Study of Children’s Peer Relations and Social Competence
    (pp. 321-350)

    The aim of the preceding chapters was to identify major theoretical or empirical breakthroughs that occurred in research on children’s peer relations and social competence over the last century. Three major periods of empirical activity (that is, research generations) were demarcated, and the principal investigative agendas and research findings that developed within these eras were reviewed. The purpose of this chapter is to appraise some of the major discoveries that emerged across the three research generations and to examine how the discipline’s investigative agendas have been preserved and transformed over time.

    What has been learned and what remains to be...

  10. References
    (pp. 351-420)
  11. Index
    (pp. 421-436)