Children who experience early childhood stressors, such as socioeconomic disadvantages, violence, and abuse, are at increased risk for poor academic performance. Research has shown that these children do not have the same educational resources available to them as more advantaged children. It has also been proven that children who are victims of childhood maltreatment, such as neglect, sexual or emotional abuse, or even malnutrition, do not acquire the coping skills necessary to adjust to changing social climates and pressures. Coping strategies are learned early in life, and the lack of available adaptive coping skills puts these children at risk for later academic and social struggles.
Although there has been much research supporting the link between harsh and difficult home environments and poor academic achievement, David Schwartz of the Department of Psychology at the University of Southern California wanted to determine what specific factors contributed to the overall academic abilities of children at risk. Schwartz recently led a study that looked at how harsh home experiences affected the risk for negative peer relations and thus poor academic performance in a sample of 388 children. He evaluated the family environments of the children beginning in preschool. The children were questioned about their peer relations and victimization when they were 8 years old and were then academically evaluated for 7 more years.
Schwartz found that the children who had the worst academic outcomes were those who experienced harsh and challenging home environments during their preschool years. However, this was only evident in those children who were bullied. Children that had experienced positive peer relations did not produce poorly academically. Rather, these children, despite their punitive and sometimes violent upbringings, exhibited relatively little academic impairment. Schwartz believes these findings suggest that early mistreatment can lead to future peer victimization for children who are unable to effectively cope with new social encounters. And this in turn can negatively impact academic outcome. Schwartz believes that understanding which factors contribute to resiliency in some children is an issue that should be explored further in future research. He added, “Overall, these results add to the growing body of evidence validating interactive perspectives on the risk associated with harsh family environments and victimization in the peer group.”
Schwartz, D., Lansford, J. E., Dodge, K. A., Pettit, G. S., Bates, J. E. (2012). The Link between harsh home environments and negative academic trajectories is exacerbated by victimization in the elementary school peer group. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028249
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