Positive Peer Relations Can Reduce Academic Difficulties in At-Risk Children

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.”

Reference:
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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  • mr sullivan

    mr sullivan

    April 30th, 2012 at 3:12 PM

    Kids bring into their relationships what they know, and often if they have been a victim in the home then chances are this follow them into school and how they relate to their friends as well. Hopefully though, there are going to be some children who can over come this and surround themselves with a peer group that is supportive and not abusive, and which can actually influence their school activities and outcomes in a more positve way than one might normally expect in cases like these.

  • Hannah

    Hannah

    April 30th, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    1st these children have to be bullied at home, then at school and then set up for poor performance at school. I am sorry but these kids deserve do much more than that. How are they ever going to be expected to achieve when they are raised in such negative learning and home environments?

  • JT

    JT

    April 30th, 2012 at 11:40 PM

    Hard to believe harsh environment at home can be neutralized by good peer relationships.But great news nevertheless!

  • Blake

    Blake

    May 1st, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    Children really do amaze me sometimes!
    They can be so resilient, so able to get past all of the crap that they have to live with at home, and just somehow move past all of that.
    Where do we lose that resiliency along the way as adults?
    Children are far better able to deal with the curveballs that are thrown at them and keep on going- like a Timex, keep a lickin and keeo on tickin!
    But that’s no reason that they should have to endure this, and eventually that kind of maltreatment will catch up to anyone.

  • Yasmine

    Yasmine

    May 1st, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    if only we could pick their friends to ensure that the friends they are hanging out with are the ones who are going to have the most positive influence over them. . .

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