Social development of the majority of children is learned by trial and error, while interacting with peers of similar age and gender. Preschoolers ’interactions become progressively social, evolving from time spent in independent solitary play, to cooperative play, using peer-to-peer determined roles and rules. A child’s increasing complexity in social development is significantly linked to this early pattern of interactive play.
Cognitive development can best be explained as the progression of thought processes from birth through childhood and adolescence, into adulthood. The processes involved are remembering, problem solving and decision-making. Basic precepts of cognitive development include heredity, intellectual capacity and emotional capacity in determining how a human’s ability to learn, experience and adapt to life surroundings and events, is achieved over time.
Childhood cognitive development has been traditionally understood in terms of observed, overall age-range, learning patterns: from birth to 2-years a child primarily develops through sensor-motor skills, in which the child differentiates self from objects; recognizes self as agent of action and begins to act intentionally (shakes rattle, pushes a button, stacks blocks, etc,); achieves object permanence (things continue to exist, even when out-of sight). From ages 2-7, a child continues to progress through pre-operational skills: learns to use language and represent objects by images and words; thinking remains egocentric (viewpoint of others is difficult to incorporate); classifies objects according a single characteristic (sorts all red blocks or all square blocks). All though a child’s first 11 years, his/her cognitive-operational skills continue to develop: Ability to think logically about objects and events; understands function of numbers (age 6), mass (age 7), and weight (age 9); classifies objects according to diversified features and can sort in a series by factors such as size. From 11 years old and up, the adolescent hones formal-operational skills: Thinks logically about abstract concepts and tests hypotheses systematically; becomes concerned with the hypothetical, the future and ideological problems
In addition to all the variables inherent to free-play, childhood social development is also impacted by his /her nuclear family’s economic status, social beliefs, opinions, values, interactions, prejudices, religious practice, etc. Play interaction and family-of-origin play roles in a child’s social development that cannot be understated; they fulfill the fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Esteem Needs-Personal worth, social recognition and accomplishment.
Three personal capabilities contribute to ongoing, human social development: extraversion/introversion (talkative, sociable, adventurous vs. shy, reticent and withdrawn), agreeableness/antagonism (good natured, cooperative, helpful, likable vs. hostile, resistant, aggressive) and experiential/conforming (original, creative, curious, adventurous, interactive, flexible vs. conforming, rigid, noncreative, conventional, timid) styles are generally well-established before a child reaches school age. The extent to which the child’s personality falls within the extremities of these personality styles may greatly enhance or hinder a child’s social development.
If one thinks of society as a universe, then family would be viewed as analogous to a microcosm of that universe. The family environment, imparting endless variations in everyday interactions, surroundings, tasks, rituals and activities, plays the leading role in a child’s social development. Each family inner dynamic is unique and a child typically learns how to love, win, lose and even fight fairly though daily interaction within the family unit. In short, the family first fulfills the child’s need for belonging, love and affection.
Parental style is another major contributor to the social development of a child. An authoritative parenting approach that offers consistent, clear, supportive discipline, expectations of good behavior, along with gentle and loving guidance is paramount to the development of a child’s self-confidence and social adeptness.
In contrast, authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting and neglectful parenting styles, ranging from rigidly controlling to extremely permissive to disengagement and indifference, result in a child who may experience fear, anxiety, frustration, poor emotional control over emotions, often immaturity, antisocial behaviors and difficulties in relationships with peers.
So how is today’s Net Generation developing? This new demographic group comprised of an unprecedented generation possessing heretofore unimagined levels of digital mastery, has created an epoch social transformation. We all live in an era of over-stimulation, often unrealistic expectations and high demand. Youths are turning to electronic gadgetry, the internet and commonly, the negative influence of unsuitable peers and mentors. Their time utilizing electronic media is often an attempt to connect by expressing their feelings, thoughts and personality. The Net Generation encompasses a demographic wave of tech-savvy youth that is the virtual heart of the digital media culture. Young people today have grown up in a technology-saturated world. The implementation and lightening-speed dissemination of digital technology during the past two decades have fundamentally changed the information sources and interaction patterns of today’s youth. They have never have known life without this new technology. They have spent their entire lives using computers, playing video games, listening to digital music, communicating via text messaging and cell phones and more recently, texting and tweeting. As a result, today’s youth process information and think differently than preceding generations. One positive note - while children, with the exception of schoolmate interaction, appear to be more physically disconnected from one another, they also appear to maintain nearly constant contact and interaction with each other, through utilization of their available technologies. Only the passage of time will tell whether heavy reliance on technology has enhanced cognitive-social development, or interfered with and diminished it.
Yes, during our growing-up years there were dangers and bad people. One of my kindergarten classmates had a cousin who was kidnapped and killed by a man in a car with no interior door handles. (1954) Tragic. Perverts are perverts. One neighbor boy died from leukemia, at age 6. (1960) Tragic. Disease is disease. They were present then. They are present now. But, my peers and I were allowed to develop cognitively, emotionally, socially and intellectually as human children had from the beginning…according to our own biological time-clocks.
As children, we drank water from tap, garden hose and public fountains, not from plastic bottles. We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back for lunch, supper and when the streetlights came on. Pre-arranged “playdates” were unheard of.
No one was able to reach us all day. We played dodge ball and tag and touch football and neighborhood softball, without a single adult anywhere in proximity and often wandered woods and fields for hours on end. We climbed gigantic trees and high bluffs and wallowed in muddy creeks and played with snails and caterpillars and bugs lizards and tadpoles and the occasional garden snake, under our front porches. We rode bikes and scooters and roller-skated without wearing helmets or padding and, yes, we got cuts and scrapes and scratches and bumps and bruises and black eyes and chipped teeth and stitches and once in a while, a broken bone. It was way cool to have all your friends sign your cast. We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, drank sugar-laden soda and Kool-Aid, devoured potato chips and candy bars and penny candy, but we were never over weight; we were always outside playing.
We played with Tonka trucks, jump ropes, marbles and jacks. We built tree houses and forts out of branches and pieces of plywood and rummaged from our garages. We played King of the Hill on piles of gravel left on vacant construction sites and when we got hurt, one of the moms pulled out the 48 cent bottle of mercurochrome.
We preferred swimming in the public pool or quarry, to the private club pool. If we had heard the term cell phone we would have immediately thought of a call from a jail cell. The school PA system was the only pager with which we were familiar. We all participated in gym class, not PE. We wore high-top sneakers, instead of cross-training athletic shoes with air cushion soles and built in light reflectors. Flunking gym was unheard of! Just how much harder is PE compared to gym?
It was recognized that every kid was not equally talented in every endeavor. Organized kids’ teams and school plays and other activities had tryouts and not everyone made the cut. We were taught that we were supposed to work hard and actually accomplish something or perform an act of generosity or kindness before we were allowed to be proud of ourselves.
Most of “us” were our parents’ remote controls, “Please, change the channel for Dad. Thanks.” We could only see movies as they were released, at the theater or Drive-in; no DVD players, NetFlix, Blockbusters or movie channels. If someone called and we weren’t home and if the call was important, they’d call back later; no answering machines or message retrieval. Our music had to be left inside when we went out, until the invention of small transistor radios. The batteries lasted just a couple of hours and the sound was tinny, but they were a liberating means to having portable tunes, as selected and played by our favorite radio DJs, at least. What a novelty!
We, Parochial school kids (girls and boys) dressed in uniforms from elementary through high school. We complained because they were so downright ugly, but you couldn’t tell the rich kids from the less wealthy, by their designer clothes and high-priced shoes and accessories. We learned to form and value friendships based on personalities and common interests, rather than on social status.
We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got some of it on our birthdays and Christmas. We earned a modest “weekly allowance’ by actually doing assigned daily chores around the house...work left undone? …no spending money for the coming week.
We were courteous and respectful to our elders, calling them Miss, Mr, or Mrs. “Surname.” We were expected to do as we were told and back-talk, arguing, interrupting adult conversations, pouting and grumbling was unacceptable. We said “please’ and “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”
When we stepped out of line too far, we were grounded for a day, or week, or month, depending on the offense. And few of us were, because to be grounded then, meant no leaving the house for anything but school or church, no friends over and no telephone calls for the duration.
All through elementary school, almost everyone took the bus or walked. Most moms didn’t have access to cars during the week (the one family car was parked in our dads employee parking lots throughout the day) We told our parents who we were going to be with and where we were going and were expected to call them if our plans changed. And we did…mainly because if we didn’t and they found out, none of us would be allowed out of our own yard for some time.
We were properly prepared to protect ourselves from foreseeable harm. We were indoctrinated with, “Look both ways before crossing the street,” “Don’t run with sharp objects in your hands,” Never play with matches,” “Never eat or drink anything from the medicine cabinet or cleaning supply closet,” “NEVER talk to strangers,” and “NEVER get into a car with a stranger.” And we believed our parents, mainly because they had so few rules and the ones they did have were obviously important and needed to be obeyed.
Truth is, our parents loved us every bit as dearly as parents love their children today. They simply refused to live their lives in a constant state of anxiety and fear. They fed us and clothed us and sheltered us and educated us and played with us and talked with us and sang to us and read to us and comforted us and tucked us into bed and attended our performances and sporting events and took reasonable steps to protect us from imminent dangers. But their entire worlds did not revolve around our “happiness’ or “wants.” And, yet, we were…gloriously carefree and happy in the ways that only the innocence and freedoms of childhood can offer.