Just how important is it for human beings to establish and maintain harmonious relationships with their peers?  Apparently it is very important.  One recent review of more than 30 studies revealed that youngsters who had been rejected by their peers during grade school are much more likely that those who had enjoyed good peer relations to drop out of school, to become involved in delinquent or criminal activities, and to display serious psychological difficulties later in adolescence and young adulthood. (Parker & Asher, 1987; see also Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990)  So merely having contact with peer associates is not enough to ensure normal developmental outcomes; getting along with peers in important too.

How can we measure children’s peer acceptance and identify those youth who are at risk of experiencing adverse outcomes later in life?  Researchers generally rely on sociometric techniques. In a sociometric survey each child in a peer group might be asked to name several peers whom she likes and several whom she dislikes; or, alternatively, each child might be asked to rate all peer-group members in terms of their desirability as companions.  By analyzing the choices that kids make, it is usually possible to classify each group member into one of the following categories: (1) popular children (those liked by most peers and rejected by few), (2) amiables, or “accepteds” (those who are chosen less frequently than “populars” but who receive a clear preponderance of positive nominations), (3) neglectees (children who are rarely nominated as liked or disliked and who seem almost invisible to peers), and (4) rejectees (those who are disliked by many peers and accepted by few).*  And it seems that rejected children fall in roughly equal numbers into two distinct subcategories: those who are highly and inappropriately aggressive (aggressive rejectees) and others who are anxious, low in self-esteem, and inclined to withdraw from peer contacts (nonaggressive rejectees) (Boivin & Begin, 1989, French, 1988).

Notice that both neglectees and rejectees are low in peer acceptance.  Yet it is not nearly as bad to be ignored by one’s peers as to be rejected by them.  Neglectees do not feel as lonely as rejectees do (Asher & Wheeler, 1985), and they are much more likely than rejected children to eventually become accepted or even popular should they enter a new class or new peer group (Coie & Dodge, 1983).  In addition, it is the rejected child, particularly the aggressive rejectee, who faces the greater risk of displaying deviant, antisocial behavior or other serious adjustment problems later in life (Asher & Coie, 1990; Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990; Roff, 1974).

All of this underlies the importance of community.  Not psuedo-community but genuine community.  See, Jesus came to bring reconciliation.  He came to bring it to those who have been rejected and neglected.  His chief aim was to reconcile them first to Himself and then to community with others.  This is why we, as God’s people, must actively seek out relationships with those marginalized.  It is because of God’s original design for community that this is how He choses to be known, through relationships.

We have the task of redefining what is “acceptable” or the “norm” and what is “valuable” when it comes to relational capital.  Those factors, such as; attractiveness, economic status, and position do not determine placement in God’s relational economy.  We must fight against adopting the worlds class system and embrace those who have been cast off as not having value because it is what God did with us.  Our families and ministries should reflect God’s heart for all of mankind.  If it doesn’t then we’ve missed the mark.

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