Consequences of Peer Rejection

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Unfortunately, the negative social experiences some children face in their early years can continue as they get older. Compared to popular children, rejected children are seven times more likely to fail a grade in school and nearly four times more likely to drop out of school before 10th grade (Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990; Ollendick, Weist, Borden, & Greene, 1992). Children who are less accepted by their classmates in school tend to get lower grades and to be rated by teachers as more anxious, fearful, and depressed (Flook, Repetti, & Ullman, 2005). Correlations also exist between peer rejection and higher rates of delinquency, arrest, violent behavior, and substance abuse (Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990; Ollendick et al., 1992). Children who show behavior problems during the early school years tend to be more rejected and have fewer friends in the later school years, and they report more feelings of being lonely and depressed (Pedersen, Vitaro, Barker, & Borge, 2007). Reviewing the research in this area, one pair of authors concluded that "childhood peer relations have been identified as one of the most powerful predictors of concurrent and future mental health problems, including the development of psychiatric disorders" (Mueller & Silverman, 1989, p. 529).

Accounts of peer rejection often emerge when communities try to understand incidents of school violence. Consider the case of Charles "Andy" Williams, a 15-year-old freshman at Santana High School near San Diego, California. On a March morning in 2001, Williams brought his father's gun into a boys' bathroom at school and opened fire on students and teachers. In an 8-minute shooting spree, Williams killed 2 students and wounded 11 other students, a security guard, and a student teacher. Some students described Williams as an "outsider" a "nerd," and a "dork" Others reported being close friends with Williams. One friend commented that Williams was the most trustworthy friend he ever had, and a prior girlfriend described him as "real nice" and "very popular" (ABC News, 2001; New York Times, 2001). Nevertheless, peer rejection was the focus of the early investigation into the shootings. Some witnesses reported that Williams was smiling as he shot, as if he was getting back at people who had rejected him.

Peer rejection is a powerful force in adolescent life, especially when the person being rejected is also ridiculed, harassed, or bullied. Although rejection leads to murder and suicide only in rare instances, it is associated with countless other acts of lesser violence, delinquency, isolation, and loneliness. Fortunately, intervention programs have shown some promise in helping children and adolescents gain acceptance among peers (Asher, Parker, & Walker, 1996; Frey et al., 2005). School psychologists, counselors, and other professionals use videotapes, adult and peer coaching, role-playing, and direct instruction to help rejected and neglected children develop the social skills they need. By successfully making and keeping friends, these children and adolescents may be able to avoid despair and its destructive effects.

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