Peer Relations in Middle Childhood
A positive climate for social and moral growth is one that fosters peer interaction (Nucci, 2001). In middle childhood, 30% of a child’s social interactions involve peers, compared to 10% in early childhood (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998). Children’s behavior in the peer group has proven to be a stable indicator of their social competence (Hartup, 1996; Zeller, Vannatta, Schaffer, & Noll, 2003). School-agers not only construct understandings of others but must also interact competently with their peers and sustain friendships over time. In addition, children’s concerns about acceptance in the peer group often rise during middle childhood. Many peer relations researchers, not surprisingly, have focused on the study of friendships among school-age children (for a review, see Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998).
Friendships are important for social development. Friendship processes are linked to social developmental outcomes, also called social provisions. In a classic text called The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry, Harry Stack Sullivan (1953/1981) argued that friends fulfill social needs, called communal needs, such as companionship, acceptance, and intimacy (Buhrmester, 1996). In many ways, this formulation is similar to Maslow’s need for belonging. Furthermore, communal needs can be distinguished from other human needs:
- Communal Needs.Interpersonal needs for affection, nurturance, enjoyment, support, companionship, intimacy, and sexual fulfillment
- Survival Needs.Physical needs for safety, food, shelter, and health
- Agentic Needs.Individual needs for competency, achievement, status, power, approval, autonomy, identity and self-esteem (see Buhrmester, 1996)
The social concerns of school-age children often focus on the communal needs of acceptance by peers and avoidance of rejection.
Alesha’s need for continued acceptance by her best friends from elementary school—Jennifer and Kelly—may prove stronger than her need for Mandy’s companionship. When confronted with Mandy’s offer to get high, Alesha seems genuinely fearful of rejection by her peer group. Will they still like her if she started hanging out with Mandy? Why should they continue to be friends if she’s becoming one of the “druggies”?
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