The Child's Social Network from Three to Six Years: The Effects of Age, Sex, and Socioeconomic Status
Candice Feiring Michael Lewis Institute for the Study of Child Development University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Although the importance of the social environment of the human infant has been well recognized, most attention has been paid to the mother as the single critical person in the child's social network. Recently, attention has been broadened to include other members of the nuclear family, such as fathers and siblings (e.g., Dunn, 1983; Lamb, 1981; Lewis & Rosenblum, 1979). Some work has even considered the influence of grandparents ( Cicirelli, 1976; Tinsley & Parke, 1984; Troll, 1971). However, little empirical information is available regarding the nature of the child's extended social network ( Bronfenbrenner, 1977; Cochran & Brassard, 1979; Lewis & Feiring, 1979). A few studies on the influence of individuals other than nuclear family members suggest the importance of peers and adults such as teachers. Peer contact has been shown to be related to the child's social adjustment ( Hartup, 1982). Children with more peers in their networks may be less likely to develop behavior problems ( Lewis, Feiring, McGuffog, & Jaskir, 1984) and opportunity for peer contact can ameliorate some of the negative effects of a poor mother-child relationship ( Hartup, 1982; Lewis & Schaeffer, 1981; Main, 1977). The child's contact with adults other than his or her parents has been shown to be important for cognitive development ( Feiring & Lewis, 1981b) and social growth ( Howes, 1983; Strayer, 1979).
Social network theory and research has received considerable study in the field of sociology. Attributes of the social network, including size, variety of membership, and density, have been often examined with regard to the