CEHD researcher discovers gender differences in trajectory of children’s social skills growth
Social skills are the tools an individual uses to communicate and interact with others. These skills are affected by many different factors, but as Dr. Daniel Hajovsky recently uncovered, they are significantly affected by gender.
Hajovsky, school psychology expert in the Department of Educational Psychology, investigates these gender differences in children’s social skills growth trajectories in his most recent research published in Applied Developmental Science.
In this study, he focuses on the previously collected data of over 1000 elementary school kids, and tracks their social skills growth trajectory from kindergarten through sixth grade. For each year of school, teachers would rate their student’s on three social skills components, referred to as assertion, cooperation and self-control.
The teachers’ ratings were based on their perception of how competent both male and female students were in asking for information or introducing themselves, helping others and sharing and responding appropriately to others actions by taking turns and compromising.
Hajovsky explains the reason for this study is to look at gender differences in social skills development, because of the potential national and even global implications and to date, there has not been a lot of research within this topic.
“We study a lot of different developmental processes within the concept of diversity, however, one of the areas where we need to continue to do more research is looking at gender or sex differences,” Hajovsky says.
Findings of this study show that girls were consistently rated higher than boys by teachers, which means females were demonstrating relatively better social skills than boys as early as kindergarten, and this advantage persisted from elementary school to sixth grade.
He explains the teachers’ ratings may relate to broader findings that girls tend to better adjust and adapt to the social nature of the school learning environment. After all, learning environments in the classroom, especially in the elementary years, are a social learning process.
“One of the things we found was that when you measure girls’ social skills in kindergarten, it is a good predictor about where their social skills will be later on in life, in terms of teachers’ ratings,” Hajovsky says. “But for boys, boys actually showed a decline in social skills over time.”
He explains that girls were rated moderately higher in social skills from kindergarten to sixth grade, and boys generally exhibited more variability in social skills over time.
The current study findings overlap with findings from other research. For example, females also show advantages in processing speed on IQ tests across the nation, both as children and adolescents (and, in some cases, through adulthood), and they also show significant advantages on writing skills.
This may suggest a broader female advantage in language skills, including speed and accuracy of word retrieval, which is likely partly reflected in the higher social skills ratings found in the current study.
Overall, this research shows that young boys may be at greater risk of social skills difficulties, which can contribute to educational and behavioral problems in the classroom or to an educational disability (e.g., autism, ADHD, language impairment).
Why is this research important?
Social skills, especially early on, are important for navigating the educational environment, which is largely social. These skills affect how children access instruction, request help, facilitate academic engagement, navigate social circles and form attachments or friendships.
“Social skills are directly correlated with behavioral functioning and academic functioning, which means lower social skills put children at increased risk for behavioral or academic difficulties,” Hajovsky says.
He explains that understanding the developmental differences between males and females is important to designing a more effective educational system for today’s youth.
There have already been adjustments made in the education system to support these findings, such as the implementation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum in schools. This curriculum helps teach students the social and emotional regulation skills necessary to be successful.
He says curriculum like SEL is important to implement early in education to help promote the proper social skills for kids at a young age. Implementing this curriculum and other intervention tactics will help teachers and parents monitor how their kids are doing socially.
“I think understanding those differences and why they persist, especially in the presence of mostly similarities, can help us better understand human cognition and educational progress, which I think is one of the big takeaways from this study,” Hajovsky says.
About the Writer
Emily Knight is a writing assistant for the Marketing and Communications office in the College of Education and Human Development. She is a senior in the Agricultural Communications and Journalism program at Texas A&M.Articles by Emily
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