Everyone knows that it is important to be social than asocial, but a scientific study has shown how important social behavior and play can be from an early age.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, aimed to look at the importance of noncognitive compared to cognitive skills of problem solving and academic abilities. Past studies have shown that there is not much correlation with high levels of cognitive ability “measured through IQ or test scores alone” and workplace success.
However, noncognitive skills, such as self-control and positive attitudes, do have a correlation. As the researchers observed, “a key characteristic of noncognitive ability in young children is social competence.” The researchers decided to analyze young children’s social ability and see how it correlated towards their eventual development.
In 1991, kindergarten teachers in four locations spread out over the United States ranked over 750 of their students on social ability with a scale of 1 to 5. These scales included measurements such as “cooperates with peers without prompting,” “is helpful to others,” and “very good at understanding feelings.”
For the next 19 years, the researchers kept track of the students using self-reported information, information from teachers and parents, and court records. Among other factors, they looked for records of substance abuse, arrests, and employment and educational background.
At the end of the 19 years, the researchers found that those children who ranked higher on the social ability scale as kindergarteners were more likely to have obtained a college degree, attained full-time employment, and run a successful company. They were less likely to be dependent on alcohol or have a criminal record compared to children who ranked lower. This supported previous research that examined long-term prediction of the importance of noncognitive skills.
As a caution, the researchers noted that this single study is not enough to declare that an absolute relation between early child social development and general success in life. But it is clear that a child’s noncognitive abilities are just as important, if not more so, than his problem-solving abilities.
What does it all mean?
So what do the results of this study mean for parents? It means that parents should consider re-prioritizing the importance of their child’s social and emotional development.
Parents take their children out to activities and camps to improve their intelligence, or give them skills which may be useful on a college application. But the most important thing that a parent can give a child is not necessarily additional piano lessons. It is the ability and opportunity to play with other children — a skill which will improve their social skills and their lives.
The importance of play is something which researchers have known for some time. A 2007 study declared that “play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” In addition to the physical benefits of play, undirected play helps children gain independence and learn about the importance of group activities.
But this does not mean that parents can let their children loose among other children and call it a day. That carries the risk of referred to as a “negative development spiral.” If a child ends up rejected by his peers, he may decide to become more isolated. This makes the child less likely to cooperate with his peers, which means that he will experience further rejection, leading to a dangerous spiral of isolation and rejection.
In addition to the risk of isolation and rejection, another problem is that one child may choose to learn from another who is not “well-behaved”. This can lead to anti-social behavior which will hurt the child’s emotional development over the long run.
Because of this, a strong parent-child bond is necessary. Parents have to keep an eye on their child to monitor social development. However, parents also have to ensure that they do not end up smothering the child in the process — instead, allowing them to play with their peers in a healthy manner.
Staying “close, but not too close” is an incredibly challenging process, and every parent will make mistakes doing this. But in a world where parents have become too focused on developing “skills” which do not truly help the child, a focus on total emotional development is a great step towards rearing a well-developed, stable adult.
Featured photo credit: David Robert Bliwas via flickr.com