Gender, Emotion, and the Family

By Leslie Brody | Go to book overview

12
The Power of Peers

If a girl was rough, nobody would play with her. At recess they'd probably leave her alone.

—Leonard, age 6

Whenever the boys see the girls, they always act tougher.

—Emily, age 9

Relationships with peers powerfully contribute to gender differences in emotional expression. Children imitate their peers' emotional expressiveness and are also reinforced and punished by peers for expressing particular emotions. They may be rewarded in the form of social acceptance or popularity when they express emotions that are sex-role stereotypic, and punished in the form of social rejection or teasing when they express emotions that are not sex-role stereotypic, such as when boys cry. For example, the all-too-familiar American taunt, "Baby, baby, stick your head in gravy," is one flung by peers at children who may express their feelings in ways deemed to be inappropriate. Being accepted or ridiculed by peers is an extremely potent socialization influence, since children derive some of their identity and self-esteem from their group membership. Successful relationships with peers may predict future achievements, and at a more basic level, are theorized to be adaptive for survival (Harris 1995).

In fact, Harris (1995) argues that peers are the primary agents of socialization in the child's environment, second only in importance to genetic determinants in contributing to personality development. Contrary to mainstream arguments within developmental psychology, she contests that personality is not directly transmitted from parents to children, but is indirectly transmitted by way of the parents' peer group, who

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