Parental Relationships and Childrens Peer Relations

A compelling direction for further research on social aggression is examining how parents, particularly mothers, may influence the development of children's social aggression. Mothers may play a unique role in children's peer relations due to the amount of time they spend as socializing agents. Existing research has indicated that mothers influence children's peer interactions in ways that may lead to difficulties. For example, when assessing hypothetical social dilemmas, children and mothers share similar attributions, both negative and positive, as well as anticipate the same consequences and goals (Burks & Parke, 1996). Mothers who display less prosocial and relationship-oriented strategies to settle conflicts have children who engage in more aggression, and who are rated lower in social acceptance (Pettit, Dodge, & Brown, 1988).

In addition to influencing social cognitions and providing instructive advice, other important ways mothers influence children's friendships in positive and negative ways include acting as managers of social opportunities and becoming involved in children's social lives (Hartup, 1979; Parke, 1978). For example, children with mothers who arrange opportunities for peer interaction are more likely to have larger peer networks, and to engage in more frequent play with friends than those having mothers with less involvement (Ladd & Golter, 1988). However, it is unclear from existing research what level of maternal involvement is optimal. We know some about the negative effects of mothers who are not involved in children's social lives, but much less about the effects of mothers becoming over-involved in peer relations. Could mothers who become enmeshed in children's peer relationships promote negative behaviors such as social aggression as a consequence of being overly invested in their children's social lives?

In addition, there is very little previous research investigating how mothers respond to their children's engaging in, or being victimized by social aggression. To date, we have no knowledge of any maternal behaviors related to children's social aggression. Presently, there is no systematic study examining how much mothers know of their child's involvement in social aggression, nor about specific maternal reactive or instructive behaviors related to social aggression. Investigating these variables may inform our understanding of why some children develop and utilize these behaviors more than others. An important next step in understanding the origins of social aggression is the comprehensive investigation of specific parenting characteristics and aspects of the family environment that may contribute to these behaviors in children.

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