CHFD215 | LESSON 7
Social Understanding, Peers, Media, and Schooling
This week addresses the development of social cognition, or how children come to understand their multifaceted social world. We will also learn about the importance of peer relations, television, computers, and schooling in child development.
Topics to be covered include:
- Stages in Social Understanding.
- Impact of Peer Relations, Media, and Schooling in Child Development
Development of Self-Awareness and Self-Concept
How do children come to understand their multidimensional social world? How do they think about and interpret their experiences with others? These questions address the concept of social cognition, thinking about characteristics of the self and other people. The first step in this development is self-awareness.
You may wonder when babies begin to recognize the concept of self. The development of self-awareness occurs in stages, with the first stage commencing at birth.
As language takes more of a role in the toddler’s interactions, self-awareness increases, as the toddler is now able to express the self in a more defined manner. Between 18 and 30 months, children begin to classify themselves and others on the basis of perceptually distinct attributes and behaviors, such as age, gender, size, and temperament. This is known as the categorical self. The remembered self encompasses a bigger picture as children rely on autobiographical memories to view themselves as continuously existing individuals. This type of awareness grows out of conversations and interactions with adults who can elaborate on past experiences. Finally, the concept of the enduring self is developed as preschoolers begin to discuss future events and begin to view themselves as persisting over time.
You may recall that newborns have the capacity for intermodal perception, or making sense of light, sound, tactile, odor, and taste information. As babies touch their toes, watch their arms move, and hear themselves cry, they begin to differentiate their own bodies from their surroundings. After feeling a particular object with their hands, they are able to visually distinguish it from other objects.
Theory of Mind Development
You may recall that, as children think about themselves and others, they form a naïve theory of mind, which is a coherent understanding of their own and others’ vivid mental lives. In other words, they are aware that people have personal thoughts. This contributes to their ability to consider the perspective of others, as they understand that someone else may not be thinking the same thoughts as them.
By the time children have reached the age of three, children begin to realize the connections among perceiving, feeling, and desiring.
Factors influencing theory of mind include language and verbal reasoning, executive function, parent-child conversations about mental states, make-believe play, and social interaction with siblings, friends, and adults. As theory of mind strengthens throughout a child’s development, it contributes to the development of social skills, since the appreciation of the connection between their own and others’ beliefs and desires leads to more positive interactions.
As we can see, growing children are taking in a great deal of information from themselves and others and attempting to make sense of it internally. As they do this, they begin to genuinely reflect on their own selves. They consider the self’s characteristics and begin to build a self-concept, or the set of attributes, abilities, attitudes, and values that an individual believes defines who he or she is.
How do these changes in self-concept occur? Cognitive development, perspective-taking skills, and feedback from others all work together to help shape a child’s self-concept. George Herbert Mead, a well-known sociologist, defined the self as a generalized other, or a blend of what we imagine important people in our lives think about us. He suggested that self-concept transforms as children begin to internalize the attitudes of others towards them. This can have a positive or negative effect. For example, children use this information to create a model self that is used to evaluate the real self. If there is a major inconsistency between the two selves, self-esteem can decline, leading to sadness or depression. This is why positive adult and peer support is essential in evaluating and clarifying negative self-concepts. It is important to keep in mind that self-concept varies across cultures. Children in individualistic cultures tend to focus more on personal characteristics when evaluating self, while those in collectivist cultures are more concerned with the quality of their relationships.
Age GroupDescriptionExamplePreschoolersThe self-concept of preschoolers is very concrete. Children at this age often describe themselves in terms of obvious characteristics, such as age, physical appearance, and possessions. As they age, they begin to include typical emotions in their descriptionsI am happy when I play with my dog.Middle ChildhoodBy middle childhood, self-concept shifts from a focus on observable characteristics and typical emotions and attitudes to competencies, personality traits, and social comparisons. Both positive and negative traits are included and are very matter-of-fact. These descriptions often stem from social comparisons, or thinking about themselves in reference to others.I am an honest person.Early AdolescenceBy early adolescence, distinct traits come together to form a more abstract description that includes social qualities and personal and moral values. However, these statements are often contradictory, as children at this age often feel pressured to act differently in various social situations.I am an extrovert with my friends, but an introvert around people I don’t know really well.
When considering self-concept, you must also take into account self-esteem. Self-esteem is the judgment of self-worth and feelings associated with those judgments. This is one of the most impactful areas of self-development, as it affects emotions, behavior, and long-term psychological adjustment.
Changes occur in a child’s self-esteem over time as children receive updated, evaluative information from others. This leads to the formation of four general types of evaluations: academic competence, social competence, physical/athletic competence, and physical appearance. These evaluations are combined into an overall sense of self-esteem.
Self-esteem typically starts off as high, as preschoolers are not skilled at evaluating their actual proficiency with various tasks. In other words, they think they are able to perform tasks better than they actually can. As the preschooler ages and numerous new skills must be learned, self-esteem becomes more adaptive as tasks are met with success or failure. Once children enter elementary school, we see an initial decline in self-esteem, as children are provided with more feedback regarding ability and their accomplishments are easily compared with those of other students. Fortunately, by the time a child reaches fourth grade, self-esteem typically swells, as children begin to value their contributions to relationships, academics, and athletics. While this rise typically remains stable, some adolescents experience a drop in self-esteem with transferring from middle to high school. Those with favorable self-esteem profiles are associated with positive adjustment.
INFLUENCES ON SELF-ESTEEM
We learned that self-esteem originates early, based on evaluative information available to children and their ability to process that information. Cultural forces, including relative emphasis on social comparison and gender-stereotyped expectations, are part of the evaluative information that affects self-esteem. For example, while competition in Asian classrooms is high, children are also encouraged to praise others rather than judge themselves. And it will likely not be surprising to learn that girls tend to have lower self-esteem than boys with regard to appearance and athletic abilities, but higher self-esteem when considering the closeness of relationships. Both boys and girls whose parents are warm and accepting and provide reasonable expectations for mature behavior tend to have higher self-esteem overall. In contrast, parents who are controlling or who consistently critique their children often send the message that they are inadequate, leaving them with a strong desire for reassurance, which can be sought out in negative ways.
Attributions are our common, everyday explanations for the causes of behavior. When we try to figure out why we or others act in a certain way, we consider both internal and external factors. Internal factors can include both ability and effort. Even as young as three, children begin to make attributions regarding their success and failure, which can affect their effort in the future. However, as children grow older, develop their reasoning skills, and receive appropriate adult feedback, they begin to differentiate among ability, effort, and external factors in their attributions for success and failure. Children with mastery-oriented attributions credit their successes to high ability and their failures to insufficient effort. They tend to focus on learning goals and use information to increase their ability through effort. Children with learned helplessness attribute successes to external factors, such as luck, and failures to low ability. They tend to focus on focus on performance goals and attempt to avoid negative evaluations of their skills. Children who consistently experience negative feedback regarding their abilities, messages that evaluate their traits, or pressure to focus on performance goals are likely to develop learned helplessness. Caring, helpful parents and teachers who emphasize learning goals help connect effort with success, so that children can better develop the metacognitive skills needed for higher achievement.
STAGES OF SELF-ESTEEM IN CHILDREN
Adolescents’ self-descriptions and sense of self-esteem provide the cognitive groundwork for establishing an identity, which is recognized as a crucial step toward becoming a productive, content adult. When you determine your identity, you are deciding who you are as an individual, what you hold in high esteem, and the pathways you intend to follow in life. You use these criteria to take action and explain your actions to others. As an adolescent begins to form his or her identify, it guides the decision making process in many areas of life, including vocation, relationships, community involvement, expression of sexual orientation, and ideas about morality, religion, and politics. Although this process begins early in life, it is not until late adolescence that young people become engrossed in this mission.
Although the seeds of identity formation are planted early, not until late adolescence and emerging adulthood do young people become absorbed in this task. Combining theories from Erik Erikson and James Marcia, researchers determined four identity statuses based on two criteria, exploration and commitment. It is important to note that some adolescents remain in one status, while others shift among categories. It is typical for many young people to transition from lower to higher statuses as they age; however, others remain constant or even reverse direction. Attending college often allows young people more opportunities for exploration, thus aiding in the identity commitment process. Students who enter the workforce directly following high school may have more difficulty determining long-term identity.
Identity can be widely influenced by a variety of factors, including personality, family, peers, school, community, and culture. Providing young people with opportunities to engage in open communication about a variety of topics, higher-order debates and discussions, extracurricular activities, and vocational training permits them to explore options and develop convictions.
As children begin to develop an understanding of themselves, they also grow in their knowledge of others. Person perception refers to the way we assess the characteristics of people with whom we are accustomed. As with self-descriptions, children’s person perception begins with concrete descriptions of others based on obvious behaviors; however, in adolescence, these are drawn together into more profound, organized character sketches, as abstract thinking and reasoning skills improve.
The person perception of children is highly guided by social stereotypes. Very young children are able to differentiate between rich and poor on the basis of observable characteristics, such as clothing, residence, and possessions. School-age children absorb prevailing societal attitudes toward various social groups, picking up on messages such as segregation and explicit group labeling. When influential adults validate these stereotypes by treating others differently based on socioeconomic status or race, it is more likely that biases are formed. The extent to which these biases are formed depends on whether a child has a fixed view of personality traits (extreme impressions based on partial evidence), exaggerated self-esteem, and a social world in which people are separated into groups. The good news is that prejudice can be greatly reduced through intergroup contact, collaboration among groups, and exposure to the idea that people have the capacity to change.
Social Problem Solving
Conflict is inevitable. However, as children mature in the development of their self-awareness and person perception, they begin to utilize this knowledge to resolve social problems. Conflicts provide opportunities for children to practice social problem solving, in which they generate and apply strategies that prevent or resolve disagreements, resulting in outcomes that are both acceptable to others and beneficial to the self. This requires a complex understanding of social diversity.
PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS
Social problem solving skills can strongly influence peer relationships. Children who understand the process of social problem solving tend to get along better with others. This process involves noticing and interpreting social cues, clarifying social goals, generating and evaluating strategies, and enacting responses. Children who are adept at the first step (noticing and interpreting social cues) are able to formulate goals that lead to the betterment of the relationship, while children who poorly read or selectively ignore these cues often misinterpret the actions of others and respond in ways that harm the relationship.
The process of social problem solving advances throughout the preschool and early school years, as children develop their abilities to consider the perspective of others. For children who experience difficulties embracing the perspective of others, thus hindering social problem solving, specific interventions can be offered to promote effective problem-solving strategies. Programs that encourage role playing, for example, give children necessary opportunities to think through and practice detecting the emotions of others, planning appropriate actions, creating effective strategies, and anticipating likely results.
Which identity status is associated with both exploration and commitment?Identity diffusionIdentity achievementIdentity foreclosureIdentity moratoriumI don’t knowOne attemptSubmit answerYou answered 0 out of 0 correctly. Asking up to 1.
Examining case studies can enhance knowledge and understanding of children’s self-esteem and their long term development. The following case study will help us examine the relationship between adolescent self-esteem and psychological well-being in adulthood.
- STUDY 1
The Relationship between Adolescent Self-Esteem and Psychological Well-Being in Adulthood
To examine the relationship between adolescent self-esteem and psychological adjustment in adulthood, Boden, Fergusson, and Horwood (2008) recruited 1,000 15-year-olds and followed them to age 25.
The researchers collected the following information:
- At age 15, participants completed a self-esteem inventory.
- At ages 16, 18, 21, and 25 years, participants completed an anxiety and depression inventory.
- At age 16, participants completed a self-report of delinquency, which focused on a diverse range of conduct problems and antisocial behavior (for example, alcohol and drug abuse, fire starting, stealing).
- At ages 16, 18, 21, and 25 years, participants were asked about suicidal ideation. For example, “Have you ever thought about killing yourself?” “How often do you think about killing yourself?”
- At ages 16, 18, 21, and 25 years, participants reported on their substance use, including alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.
- At ages 18, 21, and 25 years, participants reported on their life satisfaction. Using a four-point scale, ranging from very happy to very unhappy, participants answered questions about work, family, friends, and leisure.
- At ages 21 and 25 years, participants completed a relationship quality inventory, which focused on their current or most recent romantic relationship. The inventory includes four subscales—love, maintenance, conflict, and ambivalence.
- At ages 18 and 21 years, participants completed a peer attachment inventory, which included attachment to same-sex and opposite-sex friends.
- Because life experiences and demographic variables may influence the relationship between adolescent self-esteem and adult outcomes, the researchers also collected information on family SES, maternal education, experiences with physical discipline, parental substance abuse, and family instability (e.g, divorce).
Results indicated that low self-esteem at age 15 predicted anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, lower levels of life satisfaction, and dissatisfaction with peers and romantic partners.
These findings were especially strong for low-SES participants, those who experienced family instability, and those who reported high levels of physical discipline in childhood. These findings suggest that early family experiences contribute to quality of self-esteem in adolescence, which, in turn, predict psychological well-being in adulthood.
Beyond the family, peer relations are one of the most highly influential factors on child development. Peers can significantly affect the development of social skills and can provide critical emotional support during trying times, such as parental divorce. Peer sociability is strengthened by and also promotes cognitive, emotional, and social achievements.
DEVELOPMENT OF PEER SOCIABILITY
Peer sociability begins, in limited form, in infancy, when babies even as young as three months old randomly look at and touch each other. By the time babies reach a year old, the exchanges become reciprocal and they begin to imitate each other. Subsequently, an appreciation for the actions and emotions of others grows, leading to more organized interactions. This development is influenced by positive interactions between the parent and child.
Mildred Parten observed the interactions of two to five year olds and determined that peer sociability occurs in three, sequenced steps. Children advance through the steps as they progress with their communication and people perception skills.
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- According to Parten, peer sociability begins with nonsocial activity, or unoccupied, onlooker behavior and solitary play.
It then transitions to parallel play, which is a limited form of social participation in which a child plays close to another child with like materials but does not try to influence his or her play.
Friendships and Child Development
Although children interact with numerous peers over the course of childhood, clear preferences emerge and friendships begin. A friendship is a close relationships involving companionship in which each partner wants to be with the other.
Peer acceptance, or the extent to which a child is viewed by age-mates as a worthy social partner, uniquely contributes to adjustment. It influences temperament, mood, and self-esteem and contributes to emotional and social successes or failures. Rejection by peers often impacts academic achievement and propensity to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug use and delinquency. Using self-reports that measure social preferences and prominence, researchers have identified four categories of peer acceptance: popular, rejected, controversial, and neglected.
Peer groups are collectives of children that organize on the basis of proximity and similarity in sex, ethnicity, and popularity. They generate a social structure characterized by shared values and standards for behavior. In the early teens, peer groups evolve into same-sex cliques (groups of about five to eight members who tend to resemble one another in family background, attitudes, values, and interests), several of which may combine to form a crowd. Eventually, mixed-sex cliques form, providing a supportive context for interacting with the other sex, and crowds decline in importance as adolescents settle on personal values and goals.
As puberty begins to impact sexual interest, dating relationships often emerge. These relationships also impact child development. The beginning of dating is regulated by cultural norms, and the achievement of intimacy in adolescent dating relationships lags behind that of friendships. Adolescents with a history of strong parental and peer relationships often develop caring romantic connections. These connections contribute to positive relationships in emerging adulthood. In contrast, adolescents with a history of frequent family of peer conflict often struggle with positive dating interactions. As long as dating is not premature, it can provide important training in a variety of social skills, such as cooperation and compromise, as well as promote empathy, self-esteem, and identity development.
The role of media has had a significant impact on child development. Many forms of media, including television, computers, and cellphones, influence a variety of aspects of children and adolescents’ daily lives, including acquisition of knowledge, family and peer communication, and time.
- INFLUENCE OF TELEVISION
North American children become television viewers beginning in early infancy, and U.S. and Canadian school-age children spend more time watching television than engaged in most other activities. In fact, TV viewing over the course of a year typically comes close to or exceeds time spent in school! During a research study of the impact of television availability on school-age children, it was noted that children who started watching television showed a drop in reading ability, creativity, and community participation, while also experiencing an increase in gender-stereotyped beliefs and aggression. While this is concerning, it does not signify that television itself is corrupt. Like any instrument, if effectively utilized by adults to enhance children’s learning, it has the potential to strengthen cognitive, emotional, and social development.
Young children’s incomplete grasp of television’s meanings makes them more likely to believe and imitate what they see. Research confirms TV’s potential for enhancing children’s prosocial behavior, but violent programming has lasting negative consequences. Although educational programming for children is sensitive to issues of equity and diversity, commercial entertainment TV often conveys ethnic and gender stereotypes. Young children are attracted to TV ads but do not comprehend their selling purposes; even older children and adolescents find many commercials alluring. Television that includes examples of collaboration and assisting and comforting others can promote positive social skills and teach important life lessons. In addition, educational programs such as Sesame Street can promote gains in early literacy and math skills. In fact, the watching of education programs has been linked to higher grades and academic motivation. However, evidence also suggests that watching too much entertainment TV detracts from children’s school success, social experiences, and family interaction. For example, children involved in heavy TV watching often did not participate in frequent family meals or participate in as many extracurricular activities.
Impact of Schooling on Academic and Social Development
We have discussed the impact of peer relations and media on child development. In school, children learn to become productive members of society, making schools another incredibly powerful force in academic, emotional, moral, and social growth.
The physical elements of the classroom affect students. Class size is one factor that varies widely among schools and is an important dynamic to consider. It may not be surprising to learn that smaller classes in the early elementary grades promote lasting gains in academic achievement, while smaller high schools foster greater social support and school engagement. This is likely due to the fact that children in smaller groups tend to show an increase in concentration, participation, and positive attitudes and that smaller schools often foster an environment of togetherness and provide more opportunities for high involvement.
Philosophical Approaches to Schooling
In North America, the pendulum has swung back and forth between two philosophical approaches to education, the traditional classroom and the constructivist classroom. In the traditional classroom the teacher is the sole authority knowledge, rules, and decision making. The majority of talking is done by the teacher, while children passively listen and respond when asked questions. In contrast, the constructivist classroom (grounded in Piaget’s view) encourages students to construct their own knowledge. Children are encouraged to solve self-chosen problems, while the teacher guides and supports them in response to their needs. Although traditional classrooms slightly boost achievement test scores, constructivist classrooms are connected to advances in critical thinking, greater social and moral maturity, and more positive attitudes toward school in general.
Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory has been utilized to develop a new theoretical approach in which children work as partners in learning, participating in challenging activities with teachers and peers and using collaborative practices, such as reciprocal teaching and cooperative learning. This transforms classrooms into communities of learners and is known as a social-constructivist classroom. Teachers guide the process of learning, but everyone (including students) is an equal contributor in the authority to define and resolve problems, drawing on each individual’s unique expertise and skills.
Other School Influences
In addition to class size and educational philosophy, the timing of school transitions also significantly impacts children.
Other school factors to consider include teacher-student interaction, homogenous versus heterogeneous grouping, and inclusion.
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- Teacher–student interaction has a significant impact on academic achievement. Students desire teachers who are caring, helpful, and inspiring; however many teachers continue to underemphasize higher-level thinking for under stimulating, repetitive tasks. Evidence has shown that students in stimulating, challenging classrooms demonstrated better attendance and larger academic gains over time. In addition, it is common for respectful, academically gifted students to receive more praise from teachers, while disruptive students often receive more reproach. However, it is the children who are most at risk for learning difficulties that need the support of a caring teacher the most. Finally, teacher expectations play an important role in student achievement. High achievers can lose momentum if efforts are met with criticism, and low expectations by teachers often produce low performance results.
Which type of classroom philosophical approach is grounded in Piaget’s theory that children should build their own knowledge as the teacher facilitates?TraditionalConstructivistSocial-constructivistI don’t knowOne attemptSubmit answerYou answered 0 out of 0 correctly. Asking up to 1.
An analysis of case studies on peer relationships, media, and school can further the understanding of the impact on child development. The first case study seeks to help us understand the link between excessive television viewing and ADHD, while the second study examines whether adolescents who enter the workforce too early are at risk for early sexual activity.
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- STUDY 1
Is Heavy Television Viewing Linked to ADHD?
Heavy television viewing during childhood is linked to a variety of negative outcomes, including inactivity, declines in reading ability and creative thinking, gender stereotyping, and aggression. But is television viewing related to ADHD? To find out, Miller and colleagues (2007) recruited 170 preschool-age children and their parents and collected the following information:
- Research assistants conducted semi-structured interviews with parents about their child’s television viewing habits. Parents were asked to estimate the average number of hours their child spent watching television each week.
- Parents and teachers completed an ADHD checklist for each child.
- Because high activity levels are common in children with some forms of ADHD, each child was equipped with an actigraph for a two-hour time period. An actigraph is worn on the waist and records the number of movements an individual makes during a set period of time. In addition to measuring activity levels, the researchers were interested in how parent and teacher reports of activity compared to actigraph results.
Results indicated that television viewing is linked to several characteristics of ADHD. Compared to children who were light viewers (watched only several hours of television per week), heavy viewers (those who watched several hours of television per day) exhibited higher activity levels (as measured by the actigraph) and were rated as highly active by their parents and teachers. Heavy television viewers were also rated as more inattentive and hyperactive than light viewers. According to Miller and colleagues (2007), these findings do not suggest that heavy television viewing causes ADHD. However, recent studies have shown a moderate to strong relationship between television viewing and behavioral difficulties associated with ADHD. It is unclear whether excessive television viewing contributes to inattention and hyperactivity or whether some parents use television to “attend to” children with challenging behaviors. Regardless of the relationship between television viewing and ADHD, these findings provide additional evidence that parents should limit the amount of time their children spend watching television.
Social cognition, or thinking about characteristics of the self and other people, begins with the development is self-awareness, which occurs in stages throughout a child’s life. Self-awareness is part of emotional and social development. As children think about themselves and others, they form a naïve theory of mind, which is a coherent understanding of their own and others’ vivid mental lives. This contributes to their ability to consider the perspective of others. As children begin to genuinely reflect on their own selves, they begin to build a self-concept, or the set of attributes, abilities, attitudes, and values that an individual believes defines who he or she is. This leads to the development of self-esteem, or the judgment of self-worth and feelings associated with those judgments. This is one of the most impactful areas of self-development, as it affects emotions, behavior, and long-term psychological adjustment. Changes occur in a child’s self-esteem over time as children receive updated, evaluative information from others. An adolescent’s sense of self-esteem provides the cognitive groundwork for establishing an identity, which is recognized as a crucial step toward becoming a productive, content adult. As an adolescent begins to form his or her identify, it guides the decision making process in many areas of life, including vocation, relationships, community involvement, expression of sexual orientation, and ideas about morality, religion, and politics. As children begin to develop an understanding of themselves, they also grow in their knowledge of others (person perception). Person perception is highly guided by social stereotypes. As children mature in the development of their self-awareness and person perception, they begin to utilize this knowledge to resolve social problems.
Beyond the family, peer relations are one of the most highly influential factors on child development. Peers can significantly affect the development of social skills and can provide critical emotional support during trying times, such as parental divorce. Peer sociability is strengthened by but also promotes cognitive, emotional, and social achievements. Parents exert both direct and indirect influence on peer sociability by attempting to influence peer relations and through their own child-rearing styles and play behaviors. Other situational factors, such as age mix, and cultural values also play a role in peer sociability. Although children interact with numerous peers over the course of childhood, clear preferences emerge and friendships begin. Friendship provides ample opportunities for conflict resolution strategies, as well as a safe context in which children can learn to tolerate criticism and resolve disputes. Peer acceptance, or the extent to which a child is viewed by age-mates as a worthy social partner, uniquely contributes to adjustment. It influences temperament, mood, and self-esteem and contributes to emotional and social successes or failures. Rejection by peers often impacts academic achievement and propensity to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug use and delinquency.
Bleeker, M. M., & Jacobs, J. E. (2005). Achievement in math and science: Do mothers’ beliefs matter 12 years later? Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 97–109.
Lee, C-Y. S., & Doherty, W. J. (2007). Marital satisfaction and father involvement during the transition to parenthood. Fathering, 5, 75–96.
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