This week, we have discussed issues related to gender and sexuality. You should have some idea of the ways that both biology and society shape our expectations and views of both males and females. Sometimes, however, the issue is not so clear-cut. If you are not familiar with the terms "hermaphrodite" or "intersex," I suggest that you look them up before participating in this week's discussion. Then link to and read the following account:

This week, we have discussed issues related to gender and sexuality. You should have some idea of the ways that both biology and society shape our expectations and views of both males and females. Sometimes, however, the issue is not so clear-cut. If you are not familiar with the terms “hermaphrodite” or “intersex,” I suggest that you look them up before participating in this week’s discussion. Then link to and read the following account:
This is obviously a very tragic case on many levels.
1.) What does this case tell you about the power of biology?
2.) Does it support or refute Dr. Money’s (and others’) apparent view that children are a “blank slate,” and that they can successfully transition from one sex to another if it is done early enough in childhood?
3.) Given what happened to David Reimer, what would be your opinion now on whether “sex reassignment surgery” should be done on infants or young children who are born with an intersex condition? Support your argument with empirical research findings. 



This lesson will cover peer interactions, friendship and gender. We will begin by exploring how peer interactions develop, and what peer acceptance means in the context of child development. We will investigate how social information-processing functions in popular and unpopular children, and the impact of this on children’s short- and long-term development. We will then move onto friendship, where we will look at what friendship means in the different stages of development. We will look at how groups function, and the importance of teenage romances. We will also look at gender, and the impact of gender stereotypes in child development. We will discuss the role of biology, cognition, family and other social influences on the genders. Lastly, we will have a brief discussion about sexual orientation and androgyny.

Development of Peer Interactions


· Early Social Experiences

As we have discussed throughout this course, the home environment has an enormous effect of child development. However, interactions outside the home influence also child development, and the ability to socialize successfully is a cornerstone of development. As the prevalence of preschool education increases, and as more mothers are employed outside the home, children’s ability to socialize at a younger age becomes more significant because of the profound impact social interactions have on a child’s self-esteem. Children’s early social experiences set the foundation for future interactions.

Peer Acceptance


Children reinforce each other’s behaviors, by ignoring, paying attention to, sharing with, praising and criticizing each other. This ‘peer pressure’ begins from around the age of four, and becomes increasingly powerful as children develop, because being accepted, approved of or ostracized by peers has a tremendous impact on children’s self-esteem.

Social Comparison

Children measure themselves against other children through social comparison, in order to objectively rate and evaluate themselves. How a child is received by peers is highly related to the child’s self-esteem, and defines children’s self-image (Harter, 2006). Positive first experiences can lay the foundation for healthy social behaviors that continue into adulthood.

Sociometric Techniques

Researchers study peer acceptance by measuring each child’s status within peer groups, using sociometric techniques. These measures get the group members to rate each other in characteristics such as aggression, helpfulness and likability (Ladd, 2005).


Sociometric techniques have enabled researchers to categorize children’s popularity based on their characteristics and styles of interaction (Bierman, Smoot, & Aumiller, 1993; French, 1990; Ladd, 2005; Parkhurst & Asher, 1992). The nominative technique is a kind of sociometric technique that gets children to select or nominate peers they most like and dislike.

● Popular children receive the most nominations for being well liked, and are prosocial, friendly, good communicators and assertive. However, some popular children have different characteristics. These include being dominant, aggressive, cool, athletic, influential and arrogant.
● Average children do not receive nominations for being well liked or disliked.
● Controversial children receive nominations from being both well liked and disliked.
● Rejected children receive many nominations for being disliked. Aggressive rejected children have behavior problems and little self-control. Nonaggressive rejected children lack social skills, and are withdrawn and anxious.
● Neglected children receive few votes as they are normally friendless and isolated.
We will now look at what drives peers’ judgements of one another.

Social Information-Processing



Social and cognitive skills enable children to approach and initiate new social interactions. Socially skilled children want to interact with others. For this to be possible, children need to feel comfortable with others, and this is based on the confidence that they have something useful or valuable to contribute, as well as being interested in finding out about others.


Beauty Perceived as Virtue

Although social skills primarily determine children’s social status, there are lesser factors that may contribute. Children and teenagers attribute positive qualities, such as being fearless, friendly, self-sufficient, interpersonally competent and appealing, to people with attractive physical appearances, and attribute negative qualities, such as being aggressive, mean and antisocial, to people with unattractive physical appearances (Hawley, Johnson, Mize, & McNamara, 2007).

Physical Appearance and Treatment

Physically attractive people are treated better, judged more positively and are more popular than unattractive people, and were found to be better adjusted and to have greater intelligence (Langlois et al., 2000). Considering this research in the context of our discussions in previous lessons about the impact of stress, self-esteem and environment factors on cognitive performance, do you think it is possible that an individual’s cognitive performance could be impacted by the way they are treated because of their physical appearance?

Popular Names

Children’s names also have an impact on their social interactions (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006). Children with popular names are more acceptable, while children with ‘funny’ names may be less acceptable to their peers. Furthermore, U.S. children generally do not play with children outside their age group, while children from other cultures, such as Africa and Asia, tend to play with children from a far wider range of age groups.

Being Unpopular

 Children can be cruel to those they dislike. Children may exclude, ignore, verbally and physically attack, harass, bully, tease, gossip about and dominate others. Sadly, many rejected children, particularly the nonaggressive ones, are victims of these behaviors.
Unpopular children experience long- and short-term consequences. These include loneliness, social dissatisfaction, alienation and isolation. Academic performance is affected, and these children may avoid or drop out of school. They may be uncooperative and begin to engage in criminal activity. Victimized children may develop depression in early adulthood and be prone to harassment at work. Rejected children usually maintain this status over their lifetime (Coie & Dodge, 1983).

Parents, Teachers, and Peer Acceptance





Watch this video on teaching children social skills at school:

Knowledge Check


Question 1

Please select the two correct statements. The most effective ways for adults to help children gain the acceptance of their peers are:


To   ensure children have positive social experiences from a young age, especially   within the family.


To   train and coach parents and children on social skills.


To   ensure the children have the best clothes and toys, and always look great.


Peer   acceptance is not that important, therefore adults should not get involved.

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Hartup (1996) describes friendship as a relationship between equals that includes commitment and reciprocity. Bigelow (1977) and Bigelow and LaGaipa (1975) describe how children’s expectations of friendship progress in three stages. (Please note that the italicized expectations from each stage are carried over to the next stage.)

Friendship tends to develop on the basis of communication, exchanges of information, positive exchanges, common ground, self-disclosure and effective conflict resolution (Parker & Gottman, 1989). Children display more positive affect in interactions with friends, but also disagree more with each other than with nonfriends. Conflicts between friends are usually less heated than with nonfriends, and friends generally try to resolve the conflict in a way that preserves the relationship. While a certain level of conflict in friendship is normal, certain friendships can degenerate into mutual antipathy.





Developmental Stages of Friendship

The goals and processes of friendship change with age.




According to Parker and Gottman (1989), until the age of seven, the goal of peer interaction is play, and the processes are geared to facilitate successful play.

Making Friends with or without Keeping Them

An interesting study by Parker and Seal (1996) found that children who make friends easily but do not sustain friendships, know the latest gossip, are ‘playful teasers’, but are also more aggressive, bossy and untrustworthy. However, children who make new friends and sustain friendships are not bossy but are also not pushed around easily.

Intimacy with Few, Isolation from Many

Equally interesting is that the more intimate girl’s friendships are and the more isolated they are from a larger group of friends, the more fragile their relationship is (Benenson & Christakos, 2003). It appears that friendships that are embedded in larger groups may be less fragile because there is more access to alternative partners, allies and third-party mediators. Excessive ‘co-rumination’ between intimate female friends about problems is associated with depression and anxiety, and may intensify problems especially if friends divulge information about their friends to others (Rose, 2002). Boys tend to co-ruminate less, divulge less about their friends to others, and confront their friends directly when there are relationship problems (Rose & Rudolph, 2006).

Benefits of Friendship

Friendship protects against loneliness and depression by providing guidance, support and intimacy. Children with friends have better long-term outcomes. However, some friendships pose risks. Rejected and aggressive children may befriend each other, which often results in unsympathetic, conflictual relationships, as well as deviant behaviors like substance abuse, cheating and aggression (Bagwell, 2004; Poulin, Dishion, & Haas, 1999).


Dominance Hierarchy

Being part of a group is associated with increased well-being and healthier stress management. Groups always have a dominance hierarchy, which is evident in children as young as two (Hawley & Little, 1999). Hierarchy is established within the first 45 minutes of contact (Pettit, Bakshi, Dodge, & Coie, 1990). Hierarchy promotes social organization and regulation, whereby nonaggressive conflict resolution is orchestrated by higher ranking members, tasks are divided and lower ranking members are allocated working roles and higher ranking members assume leadership roles, and resources are allocated.


Culture plays a role in the characteristics of peer groups. For example, Israeli children in rural kibbutzim are found to be more cooperative than children from cities, African American children have more opposite-gender friendships, Japanese and Latino children are more family oriented, and Italian children engage in more disputes and debates with friends but have more stable friendships – perhaps due to the higher tolerance for conflict (Casiglia, Lo Coco, & Zappulla, 1998; deRosier & Kupersmidt, 1991; Kovacs, Parker, & Hoffman, 1996; Schneider, 2000). Chinese children form more cliques based on academic achievement (Chen, et al., 2003).


Adolescent romance is an important developmental milestone. Nurturant parenting is associated with better quality romantic relationships, while inadequate parenting is associated with more violent, aggressive and destructive romances. We will now briefly highlight three common myths about teenage love affairs, as outlined by Parke and Gauvain (2009).

Click on the buttons below to find the reality:




As adolescents get older, the importance of peer-approval of romantic partners decreases, while the importance of shared values and interests, interdependence, compatibility and personality increase.

Knowledge Check


Question 1

Please select the two most accurate depictions of how social relationships develop in children and adolescents.


Younger   children have more friends of the same-sex. Adolescents begin to associate   more with members of the opposite sex and have romances.


Younger   children start at the bottom of the group hierarchy and as they age, they   work their way up to being dominant group members.


The   focus changes from play, to social acceptance, to self-understanding.

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There are obvious differences associated with males and females, including genetics, hormones, tendencies, behaviors including reproduction, appearance, roles, the way they are treated and expectations placed on them. However, there are also many similarities between the genders.



Children learn to differentiate which behaviors, values and motivations are attributed to males and females in a process called gender typing. Gender typing is based on gender stereotypes which tell us what is expected of and acceptable for each gender. Parents and other people act as agents of gender socializing.

As you watch this video on gender stereotyping, assess how children may be influenced to develop academically and intellectually based on gender typing.

Gender Stereotypes

Gender Roles Similar Worldwide

On the whole, cultures across the globe are consistent with the roles they allocate to each gender. Men are typically expected to be assertive, dominant and competitive, and women are expected to be more passive, sensitive, loving and sociable. While not always helpful in promoting gender equality, these stereotypes have generally tended to stick.

Play Preferences

For instance, research on one-year olds found that girls show preferences for dolls, while boys show preferences for vehicles (Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, Colburne, Sen & Eichstedt, 2001). Moreover, while college educated women are more likely to be advocates of female independence and achievement, men – even well-educated ones, maintain stereotyped gender-role standards, especially of their children.


Why is this? The male role, particularly in Western culture, is esteemed with greater status and privileges, but is also more clearly defined, thus pressuring males into conforming to certain roles and behaviors. It is thought-provoking to note that it is normally more acceptable for girls to partake in masculine activities, and that when boys partake in feminine activities they are often ridiculed for being ‘sissies’. How do you think this relates to masculinity being ascribed a higher status that femininity?

Interests and Culture

If children’s interests are consistent with cultural standards on what is gender-appropriate, these interests tend to continue into adulthood, however, if they are not consistent, these interests rarely continue into adulthood. Moreover, Cherney and London (2006) found that boys generally develop more intense interests in gender stereotyped activities and events than girls, that last longer in the male lifespan that females’ gender stereotyped interests last.

Tendency to Follow Stereotype

While children, especially girls, may participate to a degree in both male and female pursuits, in adolescence they tend to adhere more strictly to gender stereotypes, perhaps due to increased pressure from peers, parents, other social influencers and their interest in romantic relationships (Burn, O’Neil, & Nederend, 1996). When adults become parents, gender roles also tend to become more defined, where females display expressive characteristics, such as empathy and nurturing the child, while males display more instrumental characteristics, by focusing on occupation and tasks (Cowan & Cowan, 2000).

Knowledge Check


Question 1

Please select the correct statement.


Children’s   interests and academic path have nothing to do with gender stereotyping.


Typical   masculine gender roles emanate from their expressive characteristics.


Children   chose their toys based on their gender-role preferences.


Gender   typing describes the types of things that are acceptable for each gender.

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Biological Differences




Hormones are chemical substances that regulate certain organs, characteristics and functions. As we discussed in the second lesson, the male’s principal hormone is testosterone, and the female’s principal hormones are estrogen and progesterone. These hormones organize the fetus’s biological and psychological predispositions.

There are differences in the genders’ verbal and spatial abilities from a young age, which Hines (2004) attributes to prenatal hormones. For instance, higher androgen (male hormone) levels are associated with better visual-spatial skills. Research has also determined that when girls have more testosterone, they acquire masculine characteristics like being more assertive and enjoying rough physical play (Reiner & Gearhart, 2004).

Family Influences

Parental Influence on Gender-typing

Parents influence their children’s gender-typing and gender-role behaviors by the way they speak to them, treat them, dress them, play with them, the kinds of activities, toys, interactions and opportunities they provide, and by their modeling. From the time children are born, parents focus on their son’s alertness, size, coordination and strength, and on their daughter’s beauty, gentleness and fragility (Stern & Karraker, 1989). Parents play more with their sons, engage more in rough-and-tumble, touch them more, and speak to them in a ‘macho’ way. Boys are encouraged to be independent, and to explore, compete and achieve more (Ruble, Martin, & Berenbaum, 2006).

Sons and Daughters are Treated Differently

Parents teach sons more, but focus more on emotions and interpersonal interactions with daughters (Block, 1983). Parents cuddle girls more, talk to them more, use directive, supportive speech, and are more protective over them (Leaper & Friedman, 2007). They also encourage daughters to be more dependent. Psychologists warn that gender stereotyping is harmful to girls when it promotes helplessness, dependence and reduces their sense of self-efficacy.

Father’s Role

 Fathers are the principal agents of gender-role socialization, and are generally very insistent that children play with gender-specific toys (Parke, 2002). Fathers also focus more on their sons’ than daughters’ careers and achievements in mathematics and science (DeLisi & McGillicuddy-DeLisi, 2002).
If fathers are absent from when children are young, there may be interruptions in gender identity and gender role in sons, but if there are other male models present, this impact can be mitigated (Hetherington, 1966). Girls are more likely to be affected in adolescence. Daughters of absent fathers have more difficulties in relating to males – daughters of divorcees and single mothers are more sexually precocious, and daughters of widows tend to be shy and anxious about sexuality (Ellis et al., 2003).

Homosexual Parents

Children of homosexual parents develop no differently from children of heterosexual parents: gender typing and gender-role behaviors are identical in each situation, and children of homosexual parents are not more likely to develop homosexual orientations (Patterson & Hastings, 2007). Socioemotional development is also similar in these children.

Other Influences

Media Promotes Stereotypes

Media such as books and television promote gender stereotyping. Males are portrayed as stable, rational, competent and tolerant, and desirable female traits are warmth and sociability. There is an increasing proclivity however, to cast women in a wider range of occupational roles and nontraditional gender roles.

Sibling and Peer Influences

Siblings and peers influence and enforce gender-role standards. Fagot (1985) found that preschoolers treat peers harshly when gender norms are violated, by heckling, ignoring and criticizing them. From preschool until children reach puberty, children primarily associate with the same gender. This is referred to as gender segregation, and in this period, children engage in stereotyped gender activities where boys are active and play rough, while girls are less active and less competitive. Furthermore, girls are boys do not interact much because boys prefer direct demands whereas girls prefer polite requests (Maccoby, 1998).

Schools and Teachers

Schools and teachers send strong signals to children about gender norms. The classroom favors girls because of their verbal orientation and less boisterous, rule-following behaviors. Girls generally enjoy school more, especially in the early grades, and boys struggle to adapt and perform as well as girls, particularly in reading (Halpern, 2000; McCall, Beach, & Lan, 2000).

However, girls’ achievements decline, and by college, girls tend to underachieve more than boys (Wigfield, Eccles, & Schiefele, 2006). Dweck (2001, 2006) attributes this to the detrimental effect of gender stereotyping that influences girls to be less independent thinkers who are less capable of assertive, creative problem-solving. Public achievement for girls is controversial in some circles, and girls may hide their abilities and achievements, especially from boys (Ruble et al. 2006). Even women who have successful careers may underplay their success, be afraid to be assertive or competitive, and have a ‘super-feminine’ appearance.

Teachers promote gender-specific behavior in the classroom, by interrupting girls more, paying more attention to boys’ assertive behaviors than to girls’, and responding more to girls’ social overtures (Hendrick & Stange, 1991). Boys are encouraged more in mathematics, and girls more in literature, and by high school girls are more likely to drop math (Shea, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2001).

Sexual Orientation





It has been argued that gender stereotyping is psychologically and socially damaging, especially since we know that most people have a combination of male and female attributes – both genders can be fiercely competitive and nurturing, and both genders can excel at activities like sewing, cooking, carpentry and business management.

Androgynous children have masculine and feminine psychological attributes, and are less likely to make stereotyped choices (Bem, 1981, 1998). Research has found that masculine and androgynous children have higher self-esteem than feminine children and are more creative and well-adjusted (Norlander, Erixon, & Archer, 2000; Ruble et al, 2006).

Children’s gender schemas can be modified to be less stereotypical. Adults should thus assist children to be accepting of themselves, and focus less on gender stereotypes and more on activities and occupations that children are interested in.

Knowledge Check


Question 1

Please select the correct statement.


Self-impaired   concepts often lead to dissatisfaction with gender norms and homosexuality.


Sexual   orientation and gender stereotypes are biologically determined.


Gender   stereotyping may make girls feel like it is not desirable to be assertive and   independent.


Androgyny   is when someone has both male and female sex organs.

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This lesson looked at peer interactions, friendship and gender. We firstly looked at how peer interactions develop from infancy to adolescence, and the crucial importance of self-esteem and social skills in peer acceptance. We also looked at the impact of peer acceptance on self-esteem, and how support from adults can help children improve their social skills. Thereafter, we explored friendship, and its characteristics over development. We also discussed the dominance hierarchy of groups, and teenage romance. In the next section of the lesson, we looked at gender. We focused on gender stereotypes and the impact on children’s emotional, intellectual and occupational development. The biological, cognitive and social influences on gender stereotyping were covered. The lesson ended by investigating how children’s sexual orientation may develop, and the benefits of developing more androgynous qualities in children.



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