Parents how to help your unpopular child

Parents, are you at a loss on ways to help your unpopular, peer rejected, or socially outcast child? You are not misguided with your concerns.  Your child’s peers, friends and social network do much to shape the values, attitudes, and opinions of your child. Even those they hold about themselves.

Do you know who your child’s friends are?  In times past, it may have been much easier for parents to supervise and monitor the frequency of interaction with other kids and even the topic, content, and activity in which they partake. With the advent of the internet, social media, streaming, texting, vlogging and blogging sites, however, attracting and catering to youth, adolescents, and young adults; the impact of face-to-face interactions with friends can be increased exponentially with the augment of these tools.   For the negative aspects of virtual communications by youth, researchers have found that virtual expressions of bullying, delineation of in group members (cliques), and increased taunts of sexual experimentation add further complexity and threats.  In contrast, these same researchers identify the increased ease and frequency with which one can contact a friend virtually for support and advice, regardless of location, time of day or date. Internet usage and connection to the internet provides many advantages. (O’Keefe, G. The Official Journal of American Pediatrics, 2011).

Where does that leave parents? Parents no longer play the essential role of gatekeeper. Regardless of the pros and cons of the use of social media networking to build, generate, maintain, and expand one’s friendship circles; reduced parental control, oversight, and involvement in the vital ritual of friendship-making have given cause for concern.

Observant parents have always known that other children within our child’s circle of friends provide so much more than kids with whom they share and exchange favorite toys and games. Research shows that just like the adult world of companionship, work colleagues, and social network; children lean on their friends for advice and stability during stress and life transitions (Asher & Parker, 1989).

What happens your child is unpopular, is socially outcast or experiences peer rejection?

Although most kids, adolescents, and teens receive considerable enjoyment in playing with other children or teens within similar age ranges, there are some kids, pre-teens and teenagers where interaction with other children and peers can be the source of stress and anguish.  This condition is further compounded by the internet, social media, social networking sites, streaming, vblogging and blogging. In the short term, this situation causes considerable frustration, anxiety, and despair of parents with children who are rejected by their peers. But there are long term ramifications for kids and children who are socially outcast, rejected and/or neglected by others too. Researchers have found that “unpopular children are at risk for later life problems. (Cowen, Pederson, Babigian, et al, 1973).  Even though the data presents a bleak future for kids who are not well-liked, outcast, or are actively disliked, not all unpopular kids experience the same poor prognosis for their future.

Difference between Peer Neglect and Peer Rejection

It turns out that there is a distinction between children who have been overtly rejected by other kids (rejected kids) in comparison to kids who are reasonably well-liked though they lack friends within a particular setting (neglected kids). Further, there have been studies to demonstrate that rejected children regardless of the setting, five years later still hold the rejected status. On the other hand, neglected children can move seamlessly, as the settings change, to other status groups such as the well-liked group. (Coie & Dodge, 1983).  What is the reason for the relatively permanent labeling and placement as outcast status among children who have been rejected by their peers verses those who have been neglected? Results of a number of studies demonstrate that rejected children have the tendency, according to research to exhibit “seriously maladaptive modes of thought and action.” (Asher, Recent Advances in the Study of Peer Rejection, page 6).

Rejected Children’s Attempt to Seek Help with Social Skills

According to the research, in comparison to neglected kids, rejected kids are more likely to:

  1. Report feelings of loneliness (Asher & Wheeler, 1985),
  2. Report feelings of depression (Vosk, Forehand, et al, 1982), and
  3. Express an interest in seeking help (Asher, 1988)

Identifying the Characteristics of Popular Children

As parents, we would be very interested in identifying the characteristics of popular, high status, and well-liked children, right? This information would be crucial as we seek to harness and encourage these traits during early childhood, adolescent, teen and young adult development years. Several researchers have undertaken numerous studies to obtain the opinions of children and students themselves to identify the traits most often held by popular children. (Kuhlen & Lee, 1943; Feinberg, Smith & Schmidt, 1958; and Elkins, 1958).  Even though the researchers differed and the age ranges of the participants varied, from sixth, ninth and twelfth graders, to  middle school age (5th through 8th grade), to kids between the ages of 13 to 15 years; the findings were similar and yielded concordant observations and attitudes. Students were asked generally, to describe students who they liked and to describe students with whom they were uncomfortable or annoyed. Here is a synopsis of the compilation of the findings these researchers uncovered.

Socially acceptable, high status or popular kids were considered to be:

  1. Initiated social activities, athletic, good-looking
  2. Helpful, intelligent, tidy
  3. Good-natured, friendly, cheerful and enthusiastic
  4. Followed rules, plays fair, is honest
  5. Had a sense of humor, can take a joke, and
  6. Were supportive and quiet.

The student participants were also asked to identify the traits they felt were held by unpopular, low status and socially outcast children. Here were their responses.

Low status or unpopular children were described as:

  1. Disruptive, conceited, silly
  2. Mean, always fighting
  3. Violated the rules,
  4. Too sensitive,
  5. Unattractive, and
  6. Dirty, or smelled bad

In closing, even with monumental increases in internet and social media as forms of communication and interaction with one’s peers, parents can still effectuate positive outcomes. One such method would be to stay mindful of the positive traits of socially acceptable children when raising our kids. Other suggestions would be to keep a positive mindset within the home and to enforce following the rules while issuing consequences for disobedience. Finally, maintaining a supportive atmosphere as well as ensuring that the basic physical needs of your child are met (food, shelter, cleanliness) will do much to give your child a step up in this very challenging and changing world in which we find ourselves