INFLUENCE OF PEERS AND FAMILY ON MIDDLE CHILDHOOD
In the initial years of childhood, the family usually has the foremost role in the socialization process of a child. However, as the child reaches school and enters a new phase of life, other factors come into play. The stage of middle childhood is full of new developments and discoveries for a child. A child undergoes considerable improvements and learns several new activities during this phase. The child learns to become independent as he or she learns to wear his or her own clothes, tie laces and fetch his or her own bag. Children then begin to seek new friends and start to come out of the shadow of their parents or family members. Physical, cognitive, and communication skills develop rapidly. This growing stage in the child’s life is marked by a growing influence from friends, instructors, trainers, as well other people from the outside as the child spends more time with them than with family members. This is a very crucial stage in life where children are able to build confidence in all spheres through friendship, school, and sporting activities. The influence of family on the child gives way to peers as well. Though friends form a significant part of this phase, peer pressure can create hindrances to the child’s growth too. Children with self-belief and confidence have far greater ability to withstand negativity, and sheer peer pressure and are able to make better choices. In this paper, the relative significance of the influence of peers and family upon the development of a child during middle childhood is explored. Additionally, I will also be comparing the strength and weaknesses of both the groups and try to assess which group holds a greater influence on a child during their middle childhood.
Family Influence on a child
The government has always tried to encourage positive parent-child rapport so as to facilitate the overall development of a child. However, as claimed by Judith Rich Harris, an American psychologist, there is very little impact of the family and the kind of home a child belongs to on their overall development. (Paton, 2007) It’s the outside forces that have more bearing on the children’s personalities and the way they evolve in the later stages of life. This is a very debatable subject as there are differing views on the same. However, there is no doubt that the phase of middle childhood is a period of immense importance in a child’s life.
Though there is the presence of many new entrants from outside the house, it doesn’t undermine the importance the parents or other family members hold in the child-rearing process. The parents still hold greater control over the way a child is dressed up and their physical appearance in public. Parents who are well-educated resort to constructive and adopt less-strict correction measures with their kids. In fact, the rapport between the children and parents is based on trust and mutual understanding between the couple. Earlier only mothers had the major responsibility of raising up a child. With the changing times and with men taking active involvement inside the house owing to the evolvement of gender roles in society, fathers have equal influence on the child’s development. (Maccoby, 1984) The way the parents divide the responsibility among themselves and handle situations speaks volumes of the positive or negative impact it has on the child. When one of the parents gives support and serves as the assistant for another, the child gets a positive impact from the child-rearing process. However, disharmony between parents negatively impacts the child’s upbringing.
The financial status of the family also has a crucial bearing on the child’s upbringing and growth. It has been proven that there exists a correlation between the income of the family and the child. Research has proved that poverty as well as the internal family friction a family goes through has a direct bearing on the child’s development and self-esteem. (Ryan, et al., 2013–14) Those families which are comparatively unstable and have lower incomes have children with poor developmental results. Such children are greatly impacted by poverty and often sexually abused, separated from their parents, and exposed to violence. Thus, the emotional comfort of children largely is a factor in their going through the right kind of nurturing atmosphere. (Montgomery & Oates, 2015)
The parenting style a child is exposed to, also serve as a major factor for the self-esteem they build up. The way children feel about themselves has a strong and direct correlation to the way parents accept their children. Parents who often approve and support a child’s positive behaviour and compassionately correct the negative ones, produce a child with greater self-esteem. (Roskam, et al., 2015) Setting clear timelines for children’s activities and daily routine makes the children disciplined and value time management. Further, the parents who respect the child’s preferences and choices instil a sense of individualism in them. By encouraging self-expression, a child develops higher self-esteem. Self-esteem is also developed wherein parents give importance to their children's ideas by listening to them, reasoning with them, and eventually accommodating their point of view.
As mentioned in our textbook, while going through the middle childhood phase, a child might be exposed to a variety of risk factors outside the home, but the attachment that the child has developed so far with the parents and other family members could work as a support system or cushion to ward off these threats and use the attachment figures often as a secure base from which to explore. (Shmueli-Goetz, 2015) However, when a child doesn’t experience a good relationship with the parent owing to their long working hours, being mentally unstable, anxious, negligent, or obnoxious, invariably lacks emotional, verbal, as well as physical development. For instance, in 1970 the case of ‘Genie’ came to light in Los Angeles who had a traumatic middle childhood. Her parents used to either tie her to the potty seat or abandon her in a dark room for the first ten years. (Carroll, 2016) This left her in trauma and resulted in them losing her speech and her inability to manage her emotions. She couldn’t even walk properly and was often stilted and rough. Though this is an exceptional case, as it is the repercussion of years of neglect and abuse, it can give us a peek into the impact a good and healthy environment does at home.
Another crucial factor in the way children are impacted by the family is the kind of rapport they share with their siblings. Siblings play as the building blocks in a family structure and they are the key players in family dynamics. While the parents’ nurturing has a profound impact on a child’s development, the sibling relationship too has an influence that is over and above that of parenting. Siblings’ rivalry or bonding is greatly influenced by the environment a child gets at home. It is proven that a crucial factor in sibling bonding is largely dependent on the bond the parents share between themselves and surprisingly, is not dependent upon the involvement in family activities or the social class of the family. (McHale, et al., 2012) Siblings directly impact each other’s growth and function as social companions, mentors, guides, and inspirations. This is similar to the bond a child shares with their friends and peers and can positively impact a child’s development. However, an abusive and bad relationship with the sibling in childhood can leave a child scarred for life and can have a disturbed childhood. Siblings often influence the family dynamics the child shares as they act as a building block of the family tree.
Peers influence on a child
Parental influence is by far the greatest influencing factor on children especially in the nascent years as they barely interact with the outside world. However, as the child enters school, friends and peers become a significant part of their life. Simultaneously, there is a great decline in the amount of time they spend in their parents' presence and in the total amount of time their parents devote to them. They seek companionship and mingle with the crowd. Children usually dress and have similar mannerisms as their friends. This socialization process signals the start of middle childhood. The significant amount of time they spend with peers and other people outside their home necessitates that they find a place within their social group. They soon realise that the position they hold in the social group is crucial and they often fight for the same.
While in school and through organized events, children discover the world outside their family. As they are on their own, they realize the need to align themselves to other’s expectations. They begin to compare their performances against that of their peers and find ways to respond to the challenges as well as enhance their scope for learning. (Hartup, 1984) It is during these formative years that they develop an identity for themselves and become result- oriented which would eventually shape their future going forward. Even though researchers and policymakers consider school to be an arena of development, it is the out-of-school programs that provide tremendous scope for children to learn about themselves and their environment, enabling them to unearth opportunities for creating their own success stories.
Children give a lot of importance to the way they are accepted in their social groups. The manner in which children are treated by their peers categorizes them in certain social status. Children who are widely accepted by their peers and teachers and garner positive responses from them are often termed popular. On the contrary, children who are right away disliked and receive negativity from their peers, often feel rejected in their social groups. Alternatively, the children who are ignored but not disliked by their peers and teachers feel neglected in the social world. Lastly, bullies are those children who unnecessarily torment others so as to dominate them. These demarcations often take the form of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’. The children compete for their entrance to a social group, which often constitutes their in-group. They have a liking for the members who are affiliated with their in-group. (Gallagher, 2015) The acceptance or rejection from these in-groups impacts the child profoundly. Often a child feeling neglected or dejected from their in-groups behave violently or abnormally. It greatly harms their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Peer acceptance during early childhood is an indicator of what later peer relations would be like. Children who had no friends during kindergarten days continued to struggle while dealing with peers during the later phase of middle childhood. (Woodward & Fergusson, 2000) Middle childhood is a phase during which majority of the children start judging themselves and are judged by others as well. Children who consider themselves capable and smart and likely to possess good self-esteem. On the other hand, a child who is unable to demonstrate any skill may feel less worthy and likely to suffer from low self-esteem. Invariably people, including children, analyse their worth on two basic parameters - their degree of competence and their acceptance. Those who think that they lack certain skills or are not been accepted by others may suffer from low self-esteem compared to those who perceive themselves to be high in these areas. Peer rejection is generally linked to academic under-performance apart from other causes which are also considered. (Criss, et al., 2002) Thus, initial friendships as well as the progressive relationship with peers are likely to safeguard children from future psychological issues.
Parental support works more as a facilitator and they are more protective towards the child. This often works as a hindrance towards an overall growth of a child’s personality. On the contrary, children face numerous challenges when they enter school such as making friends, continuing the old friendships, entering social groups, and at the same time evading bullies. All these social communication skills necessitate intricate thought processes as well as behavioral skills. (Ladd, 2005) Certain qualities children imbibe from peer relationships are confidence, firmness, conflict-management, earning respect as well as controlled aggression. Research shows that playing with peer groups helps children as they are able to discuss and share their emotions, develop their thinking abilities, enhance their knowledge as well as explore new languages and social skills. In many instances, parents may not be able to understand the emotions the child undergoes as they are blinded by the protective love for their child. The mingling with peers tends to teach children the ability to have a control on their emotions especially anger and vulnerability. Additionally, close bonds with friends let the child discuss many emotional and intimate stuff. (Salisch, 2016) These equip the child to be compassionate towards a friend in distress as well as handle temper and malice in a very personal relationship. Relationship issues such as trust, protectiveness, resentment as well as envy pose severe challenges to friendship.
Comparing the significance of the influence of parents and peers on a child’s eating habit, it has been found that the latter have a greater influence than the former. Though as an initial source of socialization, parents have tried to influence the eating habits of the young child. They try to instill a healthy eating regime and also reduce their intake of foods that are low in nutritional value. It has been found in a study that the presence of parents and their monitoring reduces the child’s intake of unhealthy food than in the presence of friends. Alternatively, friends have more influence on a child during their adolescent phase than during childhood, as social networking gets bigger exerting a greater influence compared to parental guidelines. (Salvy, et al., 2011) Comparatively, females are more impacted by the friends group than men, since there is far greater pressure of looking presentable and popular. This phenomenon indirectly influences their diets and results in weight monitoring behaviours. Thus, parents can instill awareness and self-realization among children regarding unhealthy eating habits. However, during the adolescence stage, girls tend to portray that they are into healthy eating while hanging and eating out with their girlfriends, whereas the boys are carefree about their eating habits and aren’t swayed by the social influence.
To conclude, though peers exercise a significant influence on a child during their middle childhood, the importance of parents and family influence cannot be undermined. Initially, children interact and deal with their families’ social world, but with the passage of time, they have to encounter their peers social world wherein they have to spend a considerable amount of time with children of their age. A child might get swayed away with the social group they belong to, and tend to alter their lifestyle and course of behavior which is in sync with the peers’ group they socialize into. However, the parents act as a guide and support all throughout and are watchful of the children wherever they go wrong. Their presence acts a cushion and doesn’t let the child get swayed away into wrong companionship. Parents play a crucial role in children’s emotional growth and development not just because the children are attached to them but also due to their cognitive and emotional wisdom which they pass on to their children as to how to express, relate to various emotions, interpret situations as well as act according to them. Friends are unlikely to have the unconditional love that parents have for their children. They also lack the worldly wisdom that parents have. In spite of the negative influences friends tend to have on a child, their presence is highly significant for the development of a competitive spirit and competence in a child. The peers have a greater impact on the way a child dresses, and also influence the diet a child have, especially for the girls since they are more conscious of their appearance. The peer group also equips a child to face challenges in the real world. These experiences are phenomenal in providing the child with survival instincts in the later stages of their life. Thus, middle childhood can be said to be an amalgamation of influences both from peers as well parents and these have a significant impact on a child’s growth. It is a stage of new developments and changes in a child’s life. The child learns new skills and develops new friendships. The challenges the child faces in this phase prepare him for the bigger battle in the later stages.
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