Psychological Effects of Peer Rejection

Written by jennie dalcour
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Psychological Effects of Peer Rejection
Children can experience deep psychological effects of rejection. (Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

The playground has become a minefield of potential psychological issues for many children. Although they should spend their free time navigating positive social interactions and learning to develop healthy relationships, many children experience peer rejection and social ostracism. Peer rejection creates psychological and psychosocial effects that can permeate childhood and affect adulthood.

Internalising Effects

Children experiencing peer rejection have a greater risk of psychological maladjustment. Rejected children who withdraw instead of becoming aggressive are especially prone to internalised effects. According to researcher Melissa Ann Maras, conduct disorders and psychiatric hospitalisation are correlated with peer rejection. Children who withdraw from social interactions because of rejection become prone to anxiety and mood disorders. Peer rejection is highly predictive of depressive behaviours. The "Psychological Science" journal reports that children feel powerlessness, a lack of meaning in their lives, self-estrangement and the inability to accept societal norms as a result of social isolation.

Externalising Behavior

Children experiencing peer rejection often exhibit externalising behaviours such as aggression and violence. The causal relationship between aggression and peer rejection is yet undetermined. Researchers Mitchell J. Prinstein and Anette M. La Greca report that evidence exists to show child aggression causes peer rejection and social isolation creates aggressive behaviour in children. Researchers for "Child Development" report that peer rejection strongly correlates with aggression four years after the social isolation. Peer rejection has a long-lasting, aggressive impact on childhood and adolescence.

Psychosocial Effects

Children experiencing peer rejection suffer from social effects as well. Rejected children have fewer reciprocal friendships than accepted peers. They may withdraw from social interactions or exhibit other antisocial behaviours that mark them for further peer rejection. They also miss positive peer interactions that help children develop social skills. Children may resort to dangerous or risky behaviour to earn acceptance from a peer group.

Long-term Effects

Children who experience social isolation and peer rejection frequently experience continuing problems through adolescence and young adulthood. Adolescents who were rejected by peers in early childhood experience more aggression and externalising behaviour than accepted peers. Middle school students who withdraw from social interaction because of peer rejection are more likely to experiment with alcohol and tobacco in later high school years. Beyond adolescence, peer rejection in elementary school is a predictor for criminal behaviour in adulthood. Rejected children grow into adults who have not acquired the skill set necessary to develop and maintain lasting relationships.

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