Technology & Student Behavior

How Social-Emotional Programs Make a Difference

A recent brief has highlighted the link between social-emotional development and a reduction in aggression. According to the report, which did a survey of existing literature on the topic, sixth-graders who received intervention in one middle-school program were 42 percent less likely to report physical aggression than students in control schools. In another randomized, controlled trial, a specific anti-bullying program in grades 4-6 reduced bullying by 17 percent and victimization by 30 percent compared to control schools. The paper was produced by researchers at Penn State University and backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to "With A Little Help from My Friends: The Importance of Peer Relationships for Social-Emotional Development," being bullied in grade school by peers leads to poor social, health and economic outcomes — evident even decades later. In fact, the researchers suggested, for young adults, the effects of having been frequently bullied by peers can be equivalent to or worse than having been treated poorly by one's own family.

Social-emotional learning focuses on development of five competencies, according to the report: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. Putting an emphasis on those areas can help students build skills in communication, listening, cooperating with others, resisting peer pressure and negotiating conflict. It also lightens the prospect of bullying.

Among the findings:

  • Peer relationships offer opportunities for kids to learn a range of "critical social-emotional skills," both positive (for learning empathy and problem-solving, for example) and negative (through bullying or exclusion);
  • School-based programs can offer a good foundation for promoting healthy social-emotional development and creating positive peer cultures;
  • Children undergoing "peer difficulties" often need "additional, systematic, and intensive social skill coaching"; AND
  • Peers can be "powerful forces" for facilitating (or undermining) group programs, therefore, how teachers and intervention providers are trained needs particular focus.

"Learning how to get along with and enjoy others is a capacity needed throughout the lifespan and it is much more complex than learning how to learn to read or work with numbers — skills that are intensively supported in the early school years," the report concluded. "Attention to social-emotional learning in schools is on the rise; however, there is a pressing need for schools to be attuned to peer dynamics and enhance the harmony of peer relationships, especially for those students who are struggling to become accepted and liked by peers."

The brief is the 10th in a set being produced by Penn State and the Foundation. The latest report is openly available on the Foundation's website. The other articles in the series are also posted there.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.