It has been continually shown over the years by developmental psychologists that a child’s peer relationships are essential in proper emotional and social development of an individual. Around the time of puberty, these adolescents begin to become more susceptible to the influence of their friends, and less susceptible to the influence of family or parents. A strong predictor of teenage alcohol or drug abuse is whom children choose to become friends with; this relationship has been quite obvious for some time now. Like poverty living conditions, the relationship between peer rejection and criminal behavior is less obvious than for substance abuse, but nonetheless does exist.
Starting in early childhood around the elementary school years, being accepted by peers is crucial in the normal development of a child. Healthy psychological and social development requires being exposed to various social situations that a peer group can provide. Researchers have shown a significant link between rejection in the early years of first grade and antisocial-type behaviors in fourth grade. Research went further to show that individuals who felt they were rejected for two to three years had a 50% chance of displaying antisocial behavior in teenage years if examined by a clinical psychologist; this is compared to a 9% chance of developing an antisocial mindset in those children who never felt they were rejected. Evidence of what has been termed the “cascade effect” has also been shown; the same concept of the “snowball effect”, in which antisocial behavior leads to further rejection by peers, which then leads to depression and further rejection of peers.
Peer Rejection: Peer Groups and Antisocial Behavior
Three main schools of thought exist in explaining the influence of peer groups and determining the extent to which a rejection of these peer groups can lead to juvenile delinquency, and later to adult criminal behavior.
- One argument is that children become juvenile delinquents as a direct result of bad influence, or a “delinquent peer group”. According to this argument, no matter who the individual is in question, all children are equally susceptible to the negative influences of a “delinquent peer group”
- This perspective claims that children already displaying antisocial behavior, with the criminal mindset, tend to gravitate towards others that have the same antisocial tendencies. This perspective argues that the child is already displaying antisocial behavior, and so looks for others that they can relate to.
- The third perspective claims both arguments #1 and #2 contribute to the development of juvenile antisocial behaviors. Those already rejected by peer groups, tend to seek out others who may also be rejected by their peers, which then further amplifies already existent antisocial tendencies. The majority of researchers in this field tend to side more so with this argument; it is a combination between pre-existent antisocial behaviors and the influence of newly found “antisocial peers.” Some refer to this process as the crystallization of the antisocial developmental trajectory.
Which Children Are More Susceptible to Peer Rejection?
One main reason for peer rejection is believed to be overly aggressive behavior; this may often be an unlearned, innate behavior and no fault of their own. This is not always the rule, as some aggressive children never experience rejection by their peer group; depending on the sport, for example, a sport team may actually reward or praise aggressive behavior. Those children who are perceived to be shy or socially awkward are also at risk for being rejected by peers; like aggression, this is not always the case. The relationships between personality traits and rejection do exist, but there is not always a clear association. A much higher association does exist between aggressions combined with peer rejection, in the development of antisocial or criminal behavior. ADHD, which will be discussed in a later post, often can be confused with aggressive behavior; these children tend to be more impulsive, unfocused, disruptive, and are more aroused by fear or anger and tend to have more difficulty calming down in situations such as these.