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Managing Peer Interactions: The Social Fabric of High School Life

Peers are people who are around the same age, who you spend time with, and who influence your thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Peer influences can be positive or negative.

Children with communication problems typically have difficulty interacting in peer play because they lack the language and social skills required. Group interaction provides an opportunity to build these skills in a supportive environment.

Social Development

The development of a young person’s social functioning is key to success in life and school. Social functioning involves an ability to make responsible choices in complex social settings. This includes understanding ethical standards, safety concerns, accurate behavioral norms for risky behaviors, and realistic evaluation of various actions’ consequences (e.g., the consequences of taking a drug versus the risks of being caught cheating on a test).

Adolescents develop their abilities to interact with others in ways that promote positive bonding, healthy and respectful relationships, and responsible decision making. This is important for the long-term development of a child’s health, educational achievement and mental well-being, as well as their readiness to graduate from high school, take on postsecondary education or employment and live independently in adulthood.

Schools that excel at developing their students’ social-emotional skills significantly improve their on-track graduation rates compared to other schools. Moreover, schools that are high in social-emotional value-added also improve their student’s self-reported sense of social well-being and work habits.

Peer Pressure

When people are influenced by their peers, it can be in a positive or negative way. Positive peer pressure can encourage kids to try new things or even inspire them to learn a new skill. Negative peer pressure, however, can cause a person to act against their values in order to fit in with their group.

Peers can be friends, acquaintances or even strangers that a teenager spends time with. They can be other children in school, kids from the neighborhood or members of a sports team. People can feel peer pressure to wear certain clothing styles, join clubs and other types of behavior.

It is important to help children who have difficulty with social interaction develop their peer relationships. Hanen’s e-Seminar, Boosting Peer Interaction: Strategies for Supporting Interaction in Early Childhood Settings, offers great strategies to do just that! It also includes information about the impact of language structure on peer interactions. This is because children with constraints in their communication skills are more likely to have less symmetrical and fragmented verbal interactions with their peers – which is often reflected in topic shifts, self-linkings and non-contributing turns.


Students learn to interact with each other through the relationships that they form in their friendship groups. These interactions influence whether students feel comfortable in school, are engaged in learning, and have successful academic outcomes (Betts et al., 2011; Ladd, 1990).

In addition to a group of close friends that they share many activities with, adolescents also develop specialized groups of friends that are related to their interests or hobbies such as sports team members, or classmates who take the same classes. They may also have friendships that are based on ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic status.

These specialized friendships tend to be less important than the overall group of friends. However, they do have a significant impact on their lives. For example, students with friends who value education are more likely to aspire to college and actually go there compared to those who have peers who do not care about their educational goals. They also have a larger network of supportive people that they can turn to when faced with difficulties.


Bullying is not a normal part of school life and it can affect everyone involved, especially those who are bullied. Kids who are bullied may not do well academically and they might have trouble participating in class discussions, according to a study published by UCLA psychologists. They might also be afraid to ask for help from their teachers. Bullied students are at risk for depression and anxiety, changes in sleep and eating habits, lower academic achievement (GPA and standardized test scores), dropping out of school, substance abuse, and mental health problems in adulthood.

Changing bullying behaviour requires teaching that it is wrong to hurt others physically, verbally, with nasty looks and gestures, and with constant negative teasing. It is important to avoid labelling people as "bullies" or "victims." Focusing on the behaviour and its impact is a more effective strategy. It helps young people understand why the behaviour is unacceptable and what you expect from them instead.