Popularity in Middle Childhood
A central concern of many—if not all—school-agers is popularity. Popularity (also called social status) has been operationally defined by a majority of peer interaction researchers as the number of individuals who name an individual target child as “liked” or “disliked” or as a “friend” or “best friend” (Newcomb, Bukowski, & Pattee, 1993). Children with the most “liked” nominations are considered popular, whereas those with the most “disliked” nominations are considered rejected. Children with few or no nominations are often termed neglected. Children are considered controversial if they are both nominated frequently by some and actively disliked by others.
Boys’ social status tends to be based on social dominance, athletic ability, coolness, and toughness, whereas girls’ status depends more on family background, socioecomomic status, and physical appearance (McHale et al., 2003). Generally, school-age children with diverse social status classifications differ in behavior and characteristics (Newcomb et al., 1993; Wentzel, 2003):
- Popular children. Tend to exhibit higher levels of positive social behavior and cognitive ability and lower levels of aggression and withdrawal than average children
- Rejected children. Tend to exhibit just the opposite pattern—either more aggressive (i.e., aggressive-rejected) or more withdrawn (i.e., aggressive-withdrawn) and as a result less sociable and cognitively skilled than average children
- Neglected children. Tend to exhibit less social interaction and disruptive behavior but more withdrawal than average children
- Controversial children. Tend to be less compliant and more aggressive than average children
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