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The social development of children is something that has grown in importance over the years.

Gone are the days when they were left to their own devices in large extended families, with very little chance for age-appropriate peer-based play.

Now we focus on properly “developing” their social skills in age-appropriate ways – from childcare, through school, after school clubs etc. – we recognise the importance of those “social” opportunities. We even schedule extra play-dates outside these formal opportunities, so children can have more opportunities for peer socialisation!

Benefits of peer socialisation

We know all the advantages of providing opportunities to mix with peers in environments appropriate for age: children learn how to get on and they are safe! They must learn to share; cooperate with each other; follow group “rules”; develop resilience when things don’t go to plan; learn to use language properly to communicate; assert themselves and help others. There are just so many learning opportunities that peer-based socialisation gives.

And in the teenage years we provide all manner of ‘youth groups’ and ‘teen forums’ where older children can ‘find themselves’ socially with their peers, away from the “annoying” little kids and “boring” older people. In fact forming their own “identity” and “individuating” is now considered vital as they come to develop their adult self.

Peers as an impoverished social environment

Are peer-based environments really the answer to socially developing children? When we see bullying, children becoming isolated from the ‘in crowd’, developing psychological problems from exclusion, suffering from lack of peer-acceptance and serious problems like substance abuse and youth suicide, we must wonder has socialisation among peers really worked?

When we see the generation gap increasing in society we must wonder what have we achieved? The sense of belonging in community and family that young people once knew is often eroded, leaving the barest bones of “social group” that has degenerated from “real” community into the community of a youth “gang”: a group of young people basically “rejected” from wider society, on their own and left to forge bonds based on this common sense of rejection.

Restoring balance

Certainly,¬†children’s social development is important, but we might have gone too far with peer-based socialisation and created an imblanced environment, where normal range of social relationships is lost. The “good examples” and “role models” that we seek for children can be found among peers, but they are often few and far between. Also peer pressure often kicks in to make it hard for a group of immature kids to “behave” even if there is one “good apple” in the bunch.

More often it is the maturity of the “generation up” that provides the good social examples, and the social mix that children need. Children are shown and told how to behave by those who’ve made it through the stage below. The increased confidence of the “generation up” allows them to lead the group more effectively and some balance is restored with the wider social mix.

As society forges on with age-appropriate peer-based forums for learning and socialisation, it might be worth stopping from time to time to question, do we have a good balance? And ask whether some children, some of the time, might benefit from richer social opportunity, away from peers!

What do you think? Share with us in the comments.

  • Think children should mix with all ages rather than only their own age group. Also something must have gone wrong in rearing children when we have to learn how to get children to leave the nest rather than stay with their parents until they are in their 30’s.

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  • Socialization with different age groups sure is important as it mirrors society. I like to have the door open for everyone who likes to come in and welcome them. My kids love it when people come of the floor, whether it a playdate for themselves or a neighbor / friend I share a cuppa or glass with. The last couple of years we’ve been fostering short term / emergency care and my kids get even super excited when some extra children stay with us for a while and we can welcome them as a family. For our kids to be able to share our space and reach out to those who have less comes quite natural and we think that is a beautiful & good practice and exercise.

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  • We try to be as social as possible by meeting with friends at least once a month for board games. no matter what happens (unless an emergency) we make plans to ensure we can go.

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  • My kids got age appropriate socialisation as well as socialising with different age groups. I think socialisation is extremely important to a child’s development

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  • Young ones need to interact with others, not be shy and have no friends to communicate with. I know one guy who was brought as “speak when you are spoken to” …and “do what I say, not what I do” and now in his early 30s still has difficulty communicating some of the time. Sometimes he has to think wht he will say.

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  • you need a good mix of all ages to have the ability to socialise not only just with your peers. older kids can have an enormous positive effect.

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  • I think it’s important for kids to be able to socialize in a number of situation with peers and without peers.


    • I agree with your comments – they need to have the opportunity to socialise with peers and others.

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  • Socialisation across the spectrum is important for development.

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  • Each child has individual needs when it comes to socialising and I think as parents we need to find that right balance so that our children are not too introverted nor too extroverted.

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  • very interesting article, as parents you always wonder if your doing the right or wrong thing, if your pushing them too hard or not enough – finding that balance is so hard. We follow our daughters leads if they would like a playdate with someone we organise one so it is lead by them we dont push them to socialise with just particular people we just support them.

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  • Yes, I think it’s gone a bit too far with with peer-based socialisation via child care, after school clubs, youth groups and all activities just for the social development.

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