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Social Development

Limitations, Controversies, And Future Directions

Despite all that is known about social development in the home and the peer context, there is still much to be learned about the bidirectional influences across these two contexts. The works of Ross Parke and Gary Ladd have illuminated some of the linkages from the home to the peer group. For instance, it is known that secure attachment is associated with peer acceptance and quality friendships, while insecure (avoidant or resistant) attachment is related to rejection, having fewer friends, and involvement in aggression (either as the aggressor or victim). Social development in the home appears to contribute to social outcomes with peers through the development of social competence (or incompetence). The impact of the peer context on social behavior in the home, however, is less well known. Previous studies have too often been concurrent (i.e., examining factors in the home and peer group at the same time), preventing the elucidation of temporal primacy (i.e., did home factors precede behavior and status in the peer group, or vice versa?). Researchers have recognized this limitation, and future longitudinal research will likely provide answers to this ambiguity.

Judith Harris challenged the notion that parent-child interactions affect social development outside of the home context. Based upon the premise that socialization in dyads (e.g., parent-child, child-friend) does not generalize beyond that dyad, Harris proposed that the primary source of socialization is the peer group. According to Harris, parents' influence is limited to the selection of the child's peer group (e.g., attending a particular school, affiliating more or less with one's racial or ethnic group). As might be expected, this proposition has elicited a great deal of controversy, and has been criticized by some developmental researchers; perhaps it has also prompted researchers to more carefully consider threats to their assumptions of socializing influences.

The beginning of the twenty-first century is an exciting time for social development researchers— much has been learned and it is likely that the rate of learning will rapidly accelerate in the future. As knowledge of human genetics increases, the focus on how much behavior is affected by genes is likely to shift to how behavior is affected by genes. Additionally, although much has been learned about biological, familial, and peer socializing influences during infancy, childhood, and adolescence, long-term studies considering multiple contexts are needed to examine the interactive effects of these influences on social development.


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Noel A. Card

Jenny V. Isaacs

Ernest E. Hodges

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7Social Development - Infancy And Preschool: An Emphasis On Biology And Parenting, Childhood And Early Adolescence: An Emphasis On Peers