If you were to brainstorm factors related to tweens' academic achievement, you might think of the quality of their school, their teacher's credentials, their inherent ability, and your involvement in their schoolwork. If you stop there, though, you're overlooking a key factor: whether their peers like them.
Statuses of Peer AcceptanceResearchers have long been interested in peer relations. A common way to study peer popularity is to ask each student to rate everyone else in the class. Each student indicates whether they are best friends with any given student and rates how much they like or dislike that person. Based on this, researchers have identified five categories they call "peer statuses":
- Average children: Are liked by some peers, disliked by others, but an "average" amount.
- Popular children: Rarely disliked by peers. Frequently labeled as a "best friend."
- Neglected children: Not disliked, but rarely labeled as a "best friend."
- Rejected children: Disliked by most peers. Rarely labeled as a "best friend."
- Controversial children: Often labeled as a "best friend" AND often disliked.
How is Popularity Related to School Achievement?Most research involving peer statuses focused on social outcomes. It wasn't until a classic study was performed with 11 to 13-year-olds in 1995, however, that the relationship between popularity and achievement became clear. The researchers categorized each student's peer status and then asked teachers and peers what they thought about each student's academics. They found the following:
- The most academically motivated students were the neglected children. They were also preferred more by their teachers compared to average children. Teachers viewed neglected children to be highly independent and behaviorally appropriate in the classroom.
- Popular children were similar to average children, except that their peers perceived them as being better students than the average kids. The only difference teachers saw was an increased amount of helping behavior in the popular children compared to the average children.
- The students who fared the worst were the rejected children, especially those who were aggressive. Teachers did not prefer these students, and peers perceived them to be poor students.
- Controversial children were perceived by peers as similar to average children. Teachers, however, thought that controversial children were less independent and more unruly than average children.
What Does This All Mean?Too often we think of our children's cognitive and social abilities as separate. As this classic research shows, though, social skills seem to be highly related to academic achievement. However, it remains debatable whether social skills influence academic achievement or vice versa. It's important to note that your child doesn't need to be "popular" to be perceived as a strong student - neglected children actually were highly academically motivated and liked by teachers, and average children did just fine. The only children who fared poorly in the classroom were those who were disliked by many peers. Therefore, working to build your tween's social skills not only will help them socially and emotionally, but may just make a difference academically, as well.
Wentzel, Kathryn R., & Asher, Steven R. "The Academic Lives of Neglected, Rejected, Popular, and Controversial Children." Child Development 1995 66:754-763.