Role of parents and peers in child development


The study of human mind and behavior considering the conscious, subconscious and unconscious thought is generally referred to as psychology. It is an academic discipline classified as a social science which aims to study principles that govern human behavior. The professionals who study, research and conduct practices in this field are called psychologists. Psychological knowledge is usually applied by psychologists in the assessment and analyzing of human thinking and relates it to the actions that result from a certain behavior. Most psychologists help to solve societal challenges in various areas such as problems related to mental health or offering counseling at various levels of age groups. This study will focus on how the parents or peers influence development in children.

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From an early age, children learn to relate with their peers. Infants and toddlers usually interact more with family members and close friends regularly. Infants learn to communicate with their fellow infants through smiling at each other, touching each other or even babbling. From their second year, they start showing aggressive behaviors and pro-social life at different rates, some more than the others. A child’s ability to harmoniously interact with peers can be linked to several factors such as imitating actions, having a joint attention, ability to talk, needs or wishes. It has been observed that these skills can be easily learnt when the child interacts with the ideal adults (Hay, 2005).

Besides family, friends and peers influencing how children grow, they have been known to be influenced by their ecological system which means it’s due to the environment the child is brought up in and the people they interact with. Influencing a child can be through presenting and reinforcing specific behaviors while discouraging and forbidding other ways of conduct in children when they are growing. Besides being taught by parents, children can also learn through their peers especially during the adolescent stage, normally referred to as peer pressure or peer influence (Rodrigo, 2016).

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While interacting with peers, some children are easily accepted while others are ignored or even rejected. Peer acceptance has been associated with factors in a child’s life like the relationship with parents at home and family’s social level but above all the child’s own behavior. Children that are highly aggressive may not be easily accepted by their peers since they may lack prosocial behavior. Normally, aggressive behavior is positively related with social competence. In this regard, children who are shy tend to have challenges of gaining acceptance from their peers. Shyness could be as a result of child’s temperament or emotional reactions during childhood. This can further be associated with upbringing by mothers who had social phobia. This can have a long term effect in that toddlers who actively engaged in social interactions with peers are usually competent while interacting with other children in school (Hay, 2005).

Parents are known to influence their children in a great way, whether positively or negatively. It has been reported that children like imitating adults as their role models and therefore end up copying their behavior. For example, if children happen to repeatedly observe an adult appreciating a good deed by clapping hands, they too will learn to appreciate good deeds by clapping of hands. On the other hand, negative behaviors such as observing actions of either verbal or physical violence can trigger the child to imitate the behavior even at a later stage in life. Normally, when children grow from infancy stage, and attain toddlerhood, they start learning more by observing what their parents are doing. It becomes the parent’s role to ensure that the child is surrounded by a favorable environment to learn good morals.

Various studies have been conducted to determine how children learn from their parents. There are three parenting styles which have been associated with child influence: authoritative, permissive and authoritarian. Authoritarian parents are generally said to have low nurturance and high parental control when compared with others. These parents are known to set absolute values of behavior for their children that have to be strictly met without any negotiation or questioning. They prefer forceful discipline and expect total obedience from their children. Normally, they hardly use friendly persuasion methods like praise, rewarding or showing affection towards their children. As a result, these parents end up being models that are aggressive and conflict oriented to their children and therefore raise up kids with their characters (Moore, 1992).

Contrastingly, permissive parents usually tend to be moderately or high in nurturing their children. They therefore have relatively low demands for children and more often are inconsistent when disciplining their kids. They embrace children’s wishes, desires or actions and they hardly monitor the behavior of their children. As a result, their children become more social and friendly at an early age when compared with their counterparts of the same age. However, these children have a challenge of having a shortage of manners, irresponsibility and general misconduct and tend to be disobedient which can bring up irresponsible adults. Authoritative parents on the other hand are known to have high nurturance with moderate parental control when dealing with the behavior of their children. Psychologists have recommended that this is the most ideal for children upbringing as it ensures children are competent socially during childhood and adulthood. This impacts the children to be social, responsible and well-mannered at the various levels of growth and development (Moore, 1992).

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The society also has peers who are influential in development. It has been reported that as children interact with their peers, they learn and adopt certain behaviors from them more easily than they do with their parents. Mostly, relationships and bonding with peers increases as age goes. At some point, especially teen age, teenagers tend to be influenced more by their peers than parents. This however does not mean that teenagers hate their parents, they still value them only that at this stage of life they are open to learn new things from their age mates. This learning takes place during social activities such as attending parties, playing games or visiting pubs. From this, it can be implied that the type of social activity or company of friends a teenager will choose will determine the kind of lessons that will be learnt and eventually the behavior adopted. Normally, birds of the same feather will flock together and therefore at this stage, teenagers opt to choose and bond with friends who are just like them irrespective of their parent’s opinions (Hay et al., 2004).

According to psychologists, parents who tend to give a lot of attention and spend several hours teaching their children what is right or wrong generally make little impact for their development in the long term. Generally, attending school and social activities usually impacts more significantly in shaping a child’s behavior than the lessons taught by their parents at home. Some argue that any child brought up in a controlled household in a disciplined manner is likely to behave badly just like the ones brought up in homes that are chaotic especially if they interact with ill-mannered peers at a very young age. Influence outside homes has been found to be greater compared to the family or genetic composition influence. Although children may find happiness while interacting with their parents at home, it may not make a strong impact on the child’s personality. As a result, what happens in their surrounding world outside their parental homes is what really shapes children into what they become (Paton, 2007).

Peers not only impact on the negative behavior, they too can influence their friends in the positive way. They can interact to do something constructive and benefit from each other. This can include promoting good performance in school, participating in extracurricular activities like sports or general socialization that can help the peers overcome depression that may affect their health. Either way, parents still have control to a greater extent since they can directly influence their children at home and indirectly influence them to choose their peers by deciding where they live or the school to attend which will eventually determine the kind of peers they interact with and hence the values they impart in their children (Hay et al., 2004).

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It can therefore be concluded that parenting can influence or determine how children will interact during childhood which may also determine how a teenager will interact with peers. Good parenting combined with the ideal surrounding are therefore necessary to ensure that children have a beneficial parental and peer relationship during development.

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  1. Hay DF, Payne A & Chadwick A. (2004). Peer relations in childhood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines. 45(1):84-108.
  2. Hay, DF (2005). Early Peer Relations and their Impact on Children’s Development.
  3. Moore, SG (1992). The Role of Parents in the Development of Peer Group Competence.
  4. Paton, G (2007). Children ‘learn most from peers not parents’.
  5. Rodrigo (2016). The role of parents and peers in childhood and adolescent development.
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