Peer acceptance and rejection

Peer Acceptance and Rejection

The level of acceptance or rejection an adolescent experiences among their peers influences their trajectory of development. Sociometry is the study of interpersonal relationships among groups of people. It is important to study sociometry in adolescence, in particular, because the social status of these children while in school often has a profound impact on their development and well-being. The four common groupings of social status are accepted, controversial, neglected and rejected. Accepted adolescents are often liked by most people and get high ratings by their peers. Controversial adolescents get good ratings from half their peers and poor ratings from the other half. Neglected adolescents do not get any ratings at all. Rejected adolescents get poor ratings from their peers. Adolescents are rated in different ways due to their personal, physical and social characteristics. The level of acceptance an adolescent feels will shape his experiences in high school and often throughout much of his later life. Research on the study of sociometrics have looked at reasons for peer acceptance and rejection and the developmental and psychological consequences of being grouped in either category.

Adolescents are not chosen at random by their peers to be accepted or rejected. There are personal characteristics that correlate with being liked and disliked. As expected, popular and accepted kids have more positive characteristics than rejected adolescents. Socially accepted peers have high social skills that make them succeed in places where their rejected peers fail. Adolescents who are accepted show optimism about the future and low levels of depression (Allen, Porter, McFarland, Marsh & McElhaney, 2005). These kids often had secure attachments within their families and their positive relationships with peers can be linked to positive relations in their families. Their competence of understanding the needs of others and themselves is strong and they can manage complex emotional reactions (Allen et al., 2005). Well liked adolescents tend to be natural leaders, outgoing and good communicators. Popular adolescents are better at controlling their impulses, and more open to seeing multiple perspectives of a situation. Popular adolescents may or may not be aggressive, but they are often low in levels of hostility (Allen et al., 2005). Although most of the characteristics of socially accepted adolescents are positive, there are a few risk factors involved in popularity.

Most people expect that socially accepted children fare the best in high school. It is expected that people who are considered popular will have the most resources, the most opportunities and the most positive experiences. Most times this is true, but research shows that being in the popular crowd may also be a risk factor for mild to moderate deviant behavior (Allen et al., 2005). Popular adolescents are the most socialized into their peer groups and thus are vulnerable to peer pressures regarding substance use and some deviant behaviors. Adolescence is a time of experimentation with new identities and experiences. The culture of high school often has its own social norms that are different from the outside culture (Allen et al., 2005). Some of these norms may not be especially positive or beneficial. Socially accepted kids are often accepted for the sheer fact that they conform well to the norms of teen culture, good and bad aspects included. Popular adolescents are more strongly associated with their peer groups in which they may together experiment with things like alcohol and drugs (Allen et al., 2005). Although there are a few risk factors correlated with popularity, deviant behavior is often only mild to moderate. Regardless, social acceptance provides more overall protective factors than risk factors.

Although social acceptance has both positive and negative factors involved in the outcome of adolescents, social rejection never yields good outcomes. Statistics have shown that about one-third of adolescents in high school report experiencing peer rejection (Lev-Wiesel, Nuttman-Schwartz & Sternberg, 2006). Social peer rejection has such an effect on people that it is often rated as the most traumatic event in their life (Lev-Wiesel, Nuttman-Schwartz & Sternberg, 2006). Rejected adolescents are shunned, bullied, ostracized and many times abused. The poor treatment they receive from their peers has a severe negative effect on their psychological well-being. Socially rejected adolescents have poor adjustment problems and low self-esteems. They are reported to engage in suicidal behaviors and other criminal or dangerous behaviors (Lev-Wiesel, Nuttman-Schwartz & Sternberg, 2006). Rejection can even contribute to mental health problems. Longitudinal data shows that people who were rejected by their peers in adolescence were more likely to commit crimes later in life and suffer from different types of psychopathology (Stiles & Raney, 2004). Socially rejected kids tend to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression more than their socially accepted peers (Lev-Wiesel, Nuttman-Schwartz & Sternberg, 2006). Rejected adolescents are more likely to drop out of school and have school related problems (Stiles & Raney, 2004). Social resources are very important for people to have. Rejected adolescents social resources are cut off and they cannot develop the positive social skills that they will need in life(Lev-Wiesel, Nuttman-Schwartz & Sternberg, 2006) .

A few studies are based on research regarding the link between athletics and popularity. The general consensus is that adolescents who participate in sports are more well-liked by their peers and more accepted (Lopez-Williams, Chacko, Wymbs, Fabiano, Seymour, Gnagy, Chronis, Burrows-MacLean, Pelham & Morris, 2005). General findings support most of this hypothesis. Play is still an important part of an adolescents social world, and sports is a good structured way for peers to integrate together and learn skills. Kids that succeed in athletics often report having higher self-esteems, self-confidence and better social skills (Lopez-Williams et al., 2005). Success in athletics is generally linked to higher success with peers. However, if somebody participates in athletics but is not very successful the positive results of participation are much lower (Lopez-Williams et al., 2005). One study by Lopez-Williams et al. examined the link between children with ADHD and their participation in sports. Generally, adolescents with ADHD are rated lower by their peers on the scale of social acceptance (2005). Their peers often find them annoying because of their hyperactivity and poor impulse control. However, if these kids with ADHD participated in a sport that they were successful in, their peer ratings increased (Lopez-Williams et al., 2005). This suggests that success in athletics may be an important protective factor against social rejection. Participation in athletics allows kids to meet new friends and gain skills together in a constructive, structured environment.

Peer relationships are often studied in regards to their correlation with aggression. Aggression is often related to peer rejection. Adolescent girls are rejected due to aggressive behavior more than boys (Kerestes & Milanovic, 2006). Two types of aggressive behavior is usually observed in teen culture: direct aggression and indirect aggression. Direct aggression is overt acts of aggression in which it is easy to recognize that the person is being victimized. Indirect aggression, also known as relational aggression, is more hidden and can be caused by rumors and trash talking(Kerestes & Milanovic, 2006) . Direct aggression is usually used more by males and indirect is used mostly by females (Kerestes & Milanovic, 2006). Although aggression is related to peer rejection, being well-liked is not always related to aggression. There are some peers that are aggressive and still may not get rejected. Older adolescents are generally more tolerant of relational aggression than their younger counterparts . This may be attributed to the fact that aggression is sometimes used to assert independence, which is a main developmental task for adolescents (Kerestes & Milanovic, 2006).

Communication skills are often very important in terms of which adolescents get accepted and rejected. Socially accepted adolescents are often very good communicators. Popular peers are noted to be able to find the “frame of reference” in a conversation and participate easily and fluidly in discussions (Chang, Lei, Li, Lui, Guo, Wong & Fung, 2005). Rejected adolescents tend to have difficulty fitting themselves into conversations and their contributions are often erratic (Chang et al., 2005). Those who are socially rejected often avoid communication all together which furthers their social withdrawal. The lack of their participation in conversations and social interactions makes them less desirable to their peers around them (Chang et al., 2005). Non-effective communicators have social adjustment problems, making them even more undesirable to be around than their accepted peer counterparts who have strong social skills (Chang et al, 2005).

The social competence of an adolescent directly relates to the level of social rejection or acceptance he will experience. Children who have attained social competence, however, may have experience different external factors in their development than those children lacking competence. The difference in caregiver relationships between these two groups may be quite different. Adolescents who are socially competent often have involved, loving parents in their lives. Positive relationships within the family will teach children to have positive relationships with their peers (Miller & Coll, 2007). Emotional competence and regulation is an important factor in the acceptance or rejection of a child. Parents also teach their children about emotion regulation. Those families that help their children identify and discuss emotions from an early age will be more emotionally socialized in later life (Miller & Coll, 2007). Also, socioeconomic status may be linked to development of social competence. Often in lower socioeconomic status homes, families experience much more stress that may negatively affect parenting skills. These families often lack the financial resources to enlist their children in social activities outside the home. Parents with higher socioeconomic status are often more involved in their children's social activities and education and their children experience more social interactions (Miller & Coll, 2007).

The study of sociometrics is important to understand why and how adolescents get socially accepted or rejected. Social acceptance is correlated with good social skills, positive psychological attributes and emotional competence. Acceptance by peers is overall a good protective factor for a person's mental health. Social rejection correlates with poor social skills, poor impulse control, aggression and less psychological well-being. Rejection among a person's peers is often rated as very troubling for people. It is important to understand why children are getting rejected so that programs may be implemented to increase their social competence. Acceptance and rejection among peers will affect an adolescent's trajectory of development based on what experiences they have.


Allen, Porter, McFarland, Marsh, McElhaney (2005). The two faces of adolescents’ success with peers: Adolescent popularity, social adaptation, and deviant dehavior. Child Development, 76, 757-760.

Kerestes, Milanovic (2006). Relations between different types of children's aggressive behavior and socimetric status among peers of the same and opposite gender. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 47, 477-483.

Lev-Wiesel, Nuttman-Schwartz, Sternberg (2006). Peer rejection during adolescence: Psychological long-term effects- a brief report. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 11, 131-142.

Stiles, Raney (2004). Relationships among personal space boundaries, peer acceptance, and peer reputation in adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 17, 29-40.

Lopez-Williams (2005). Athletic performance and social behavior and predictors of peer acceptance in children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 13, 173-180.

Chang, Lei, Li, Lui, Guo, Wang, Fung (2005). Peer acceptance and self-perceptions of verbal and behavioural aggression and social withdrawal. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29, 48-57.

Miller, Coll (2007) From social withdrawal to social confidence: Evidence for possible pathways. Current Psychology: Developmental, Learning, Personality, Social, 26, 86-101.

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