You Can't Play!

Children and teens have many reasons for leaving someone out

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you have ever worked with children, you have probably witnessed an upsetting incident of a group of children excluding a peer.

In a recent study, researchers investigated how children think about the problem of social exclusion, discovering that there are many reasons, both good and bad, for the event.

"Teach children to think about why they exclude."

Holly Recchia, PhD in the Department of Education at Concordia University in Canada partnered with researchers at the University of Utah to look into the childhood experience of being excluded with the hopes of understanding why it occurs.

A total of 84 children were interviewed about a time they excluded a peer, the children were separated into average age groups of 7-year olds, 11-year olds and 17-year olds.

Each child was asked, “Tell me about a time when you and a group of kids were doing something together and another kid wanted to join in, but you guys didn’t let the kid join in and the kid got left out.”

After telling a specific story, the children were then asked why they excluded the other person and whether or not they believed it was a good reason.

Five general reasons came up when the children described why they excluded someone. The reasons were: dislike of the other child, the child’s lack of knowledge/ability to join the game, the other child not “belonging”, situational limitations (too many people involved, not enough space, etc), and finally, peer pressure to exclude.

A majority of the youngest children said that they excluded someone because of factors outside of their control, for example, “There was just no more room at the table.” This finding led researchers to suggest that younger children aren’t aware of their own role in the event.

The researchers found that a dislike for the peer or the belief that the peer didn’t belong were reasons more likely to be used among the older children.

In the 7-year old group, 93 percent of the children believed that any reason for exclusion was not good. But, as the children got older, they gave more mixed responses; they were less sure about whether their reasons for excluding others were good or bad.

The researchers stated that as the children got older, they believed that sometimes exclusion was okay and even necessary. In fact, 50 percent of the 17-year olds believed they had a good reason for excluding someone.

The researchers concluded that there are multiple reasons that children choose to exclude someone, but as children get older, their reasons have more to do with personal feelings and social expectations.

The study suggests that a “one-size-fits-all” model of approaching the problem wouldn’t work since children vary so much through the years. Future interventions might be more successful if they approach the problem of exclusion from several perspectives and take into account the growing social concerns that happen in older children.

Dailyrx contributing expert, LuAnn Pierce, LMSW, said of the findings, "In terms of parenting or working with young kids, it is important to teach them to use logic and reasoning, problem solving and decision making. Equally important is that we encourage them to be kind, assertive and take actions based on their own values, even when it is not popular or easy. adults may want to focus on teaching collaboration and help kids to think outside the box for alternatives."

This study was published in the recent edition of the Journal of Cognitive Development and was funded by a fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 24, 2012
Last Updated:
September 25, 2012