either number of contacts (in some unit of time) or the relative proportions of different network segments. And second, the difficulties inherent in using retrospective maternal reports on the one hand, or direct observation on the other, have been approached here by a simple procedure involving an aggregate of maternal reports on the child's contacts on each of seven days.
In keeping with the ecological approach to human development set forth some years ago in Bronfenbrenner's ( 1979) seminal work, one of the studies (chapter 2) also examines the relationship between the mother's and the child's social network, acknowledging the importance of the fact that the very young child's network is largely determined by the social access to other people mediated by the mother (or other significant adults). Interestingly, although the child's adult network is significantly correlated with that of the mother, the child's peer network is not.
Despite very small sample sizes and the young age of the children, both these studies found significant associations between the children's networks and the development of their speech. The consistency of the results indicates that the findings are robust and that there is a relationship between children's social networks and their language development. It is clear, however, that the relationship between language and social contact is not a simple positive association. Rather, the children's experience with adults is found to have a different effect on their speech from their experience with peers. Contact with both parts of the network appears to reinforce the development of language, but in different ways. Adult contact is associated with fewer inadequate or incomprehensible utterances and with learning the names of objects and labeling events in the child's world, whereas peer contact is associated with the development of expressive speech and speech directed toward other people. Thus, adult contact appears to enhance the cognitive function of language, while peer contact enhances its social function. It is only through such studies, where the entire network is examined, that one can arrive at judgments of the relative efficacy of various parts of the child's social environment for promoting different aspects of the child's development and wellbeing.
Bronfenbrenner U. ( 1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.