Friendship: Should Our Kids Make Social Goals?

friends, teen friendships, social circles, cool kids, in crowd, cliques, bullyingWhy are some children bullied and others are not? This is a question that plagues many parents, teachers, schools and researchers. A new research study has found that the types of social goals children set in their relationships help determine how they respond to being bullied.

What is a Social Goal?

A social goal is what a someone works for in their social relationships. For this study with 370 children and their teachers they had three choices:

Goal 1: Having High Quality Friendships (like learning how to be a strong friend)

Goal 2: Having Superior Friendships (like wanting to have prestige or “cool” friends)

Goal 3: Avoiding Negative Social Judgements (like not wanting to be seen as “uncool” or a “loser.”

How Did Social Goals Change Victim’s Reactions to Bullying?

Children who had a mentality toward Goal 1 actually were more likely to engage in solution oriented responses to bullying and were better able to manage their emotions after social upsets.

Children with Goal 2 were more likely to disengage, deny anything happening or pretending to do nothing. Most importantly, these children were more likely to retaliate against the bullies later.

The Goal 3 kids who wanted to avoid negative attention also ignored bullies but were less likely to seek revenge. These responses were the least effective and the kids had the most upsetting emotional reactions to bullies.

What Can We Do To Help Our Kids?

This study actually brings out a new aspect in the bullying dilemma–how we orient our children towards all of their social relationships. Have you ever talked to your child about what their social goals are when they walk into a friend’s party or go out for recess on the playground?

I encourage parents and teachers to begin to address social goals with their students. Ask them which goal they feel they most embody and why. This is important as kids get older and enter into new social situations.


“Youths’ social goals help determine response to bullying.” in Psychology & SociologySociety for Research in Child Development

*The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and a University of Illinois Arnold O. Beckman Award.


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  1. 11/18/11: Articles for Parents This Week | Radical Parenting - November 18, 2011

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