Peers at School: The Good and The Not So Good

Merriam-Webster online defines the term ‘peer’ as “one that is of equal standing with another”. Are peer relationships that our children have at school important? If so, why and how exactly do these relationships affect their academic journey? Here we hope to discover some of the effects of relationships at school and how they can positively and negatively affect our children.
Why are peer relationships in school important?
According to a research paper in the journal of Educational Research, “peer groups tend to be recognized in educational research only when they are a disruptive influence, preventing the teacher from carrying out his (or her) aims” (Root, 2006). However, much recent research seeks to suggest that peer groups are in fact a very important component of normal and successful classrooms. According to Root, “they matter to the educational system because they matter to children and the attitudes that children hold about their schools and about school work are affected by their peer group relationships, which in turn affect the whole organization of the class” (Root, 2006).
So what does the term “peer effects” actually mean in a school environment? In an article in Education Next online, author Caroline Hoxby defines peer effects as “the effects of students’ teaching one another, but that is only the most direct form of peer effects”. According to Hoxby, “intelligent, hard-working students can affect their peers through knowledge spillovers and through their influence on academic and disciplinary standards in the classroom”. Alternatively, she explains, “misbehaving students may disrupt the classroom, thereby sapping their teacher’s time and energy”. The makeup of a classroom, including its average family income, the number of children with disabilities, its racial and gender balance, etc. can also create these ‘peer effects’. Hoxby goes on to describe how “children with learning disabilities may draw disproportionately on their teacher’s time; racial or gender tension in the classroom may interfere with learning; wealthier parents may purchase learning resources that get spread over a classroom” and so on.

In a report by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention about school connectedness, researchers found that “students’ health and educational outcomes are influenced by the characteristics of their peers, such as how socially competent peer group members are or whether the peer group supports pro-social behaviour (e.g., engaging in school activities, completing homework assignments, helping others), etc.” They also reported that being part of a stable peer network protects students from being victimized or bullied, highlighting the importance of peer relationships in school.
It is obvious that peer effects, if they do indeed exist, have implications for a number of policy issues in education and can have both positive and negative influences on our children. Although genetics, environment and family relationships can have an impact on who we become, so can peer relationships at school. Who we choose as our friends can have both positive and negative effects on our development and academic careers. Although we sometimes cannot choose our friends, who we engage and interact with is important.
Journal of Educational Research:
Education Next Online:
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention:

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