Social Development in Context
A great deal of debate has centered around the relative impact of parents and peers in middle childhood, but despite the claims of peer socialization theorists (see Harris, 1999), most scholars maintain that parents have an important influence on middle childhood (and adolescent) values, attitudes, and behaviors. For example, when fifth- to ninth-grade students reported to whom they talked over the course of a week, time spent talking to friends increased dramatically with age, as expected, but did not replace talk with family members (Raffaelli & Duckett, 1989). In addition, when children trust parents not to overreact or ridicule their behaviors, future positive communication is promoted (Kerr, Stattin, Biesecker, & Ferrer-Wreder, 2003). In a study of seventh graders, for example, parents’ supportive behaviors promoted their children’s positive behaviors towards their siblings and friends, which, in turn, predicted the quality of teenagers’ friendships four years later. (Cui, Conger, Bryant, & Elder, 2002).
Although in some ways siblings are like peers, the nature and level of negativity between siblings is likely to differ from that of friends for two reasons (McHale, Dariotis, & Kauh, 2003, for a review of sibling relationships in middle childhood):
- Siblings are not usually the same age (unless they are twins). Children more often assume a leader or follower role with siblings than their friends, who are more often age peers.
- Sibling relationships are not voluntary. Children are more likely to invest in maintaining harmony with their peers because they could lose their friendship.
Parents not only influence their children through direct interaction but also function as managers of their children’s lives (Parke & Buriel, 1998). For example, parents can influence children’s choice of friends. Some family theorists have recently proposed models that integrate parent and peer contexts through the mechanisms of children’s disclosure of their daily activities to parents (e.g., Kerr et al., 2003) or parental monitoring of their children’s activities and whereabouts (e.g., Dishion & McMahon, 1998). Much research now supports a link between parents’ monitoring of their children’s lives and less antisocial behavior (Amato & Fowler, 2002). For example, children in grades 6 to 9 (especially girls who are on their own after school) are more susceptible to peer pressure after school to engage in antisocial activity, such as stealing or vandalism (Steinberg, 1986). In addition, ineffective parenting predicted middle childhood boys’ antisocial behavior and association with deviant peers at ages 12 to 16 (Bank, Burraston, & Snyder, 2004).
Discussions of parenting and family contexts inevitably raise the issue of values (Cowan, Powell, & Cowan, 1998). For example, there is little agreement on whether children should fight back when bullied or try to avoid aggression or retaliation. To think about how children acquire values or standards of behavior in social contexts, such as family or peer contexts, requires “a more explicit interest in the agency of parents and children, that is, in the meanings they construct of each others’ behavior, in their capacity for strategic action, and in their ability to behave ‘as if’ the other is also an agent” (Grusec, Goodnow, & Kuczynski, 2000, p. 205). Such approaches may include alerting school-age children to competing ways to view the world and helping them to hold “internal dialogues” with others—their parents, for example—as they face moral or social dilemmas (Grusec, Goodnow, & Kuczynski, 2000).
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