How Academic Achievement Affects Your Teen's Peer Acceptance

Is Your Teen's Popularity Related to Academic Achievement?

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If you were to brainstorm factors related to tweens' academic achievement, you might think of the quality of their school, their teacher's credentials, their inherent ability, and your involvement in their schoolwork. If you stop there, though, you're overlooking a key factor: whether their peers like them.

Your Teen and the 5 Peer Statuses of Acceptance

You witness how important your tween's friends are, so you have an idea of how important peer relations are to your child's well-being.

If your tween was asked to rate herself and her peers in a classroom, what would be the result? That's how researchers study peer acceptance. For example, your tween would indicate whether they are best friends with any given student and rate how much they like or dislike that person. After assessing a room full of students, researchers are able to identify five categories of what they call "peer statuses." Where does your tween rank?

  1. Average children: Are liked by some peers, disliked by others, but an "average" amount.
  2. Popular children: Rarely disliked by peers. Frequently labeled as a "best friend."
  3. Neglected children: Not disliked, but rarely labeled as a "best friend."
  4. Rejected children: Disliked by most peers. Rarely labeled as a "best friend."
  5. Controversial children: Often labeled as a "best friend" AND often disliked.

How is Popularity Related to School Achievement?

Most research involving peer statuses focused on social outcomes until a classic study was performed with 11 to 13-year-olds in 1995, which found a clear relationship between popularity and achievement.

The researchers categorized each student's peer status and then asked teachers and peers what they thought about each student's academic success.

Read their findings to see how your child's academic status compares to their peer status. They found the following:

  • The most academically motivated students were the neglected children. They were also preferred more by their teachers compared to average children. Teachers viewed neglected children to be highly independent and behaviorally appropriate in the classroom.
  • Popular children were similar to average children, except that their peers perceived them as being better students than the average kids. The only difference teachers saw was an increased amount of helping behavior in the popular children compared to the average children.
  • The students who fared the worst were the rejected children, especially those who were aggressive. Teachers did not prefer these students, and peers perceived them to be poor students.
  • Controversial children were perceived by peers as similar to average children. Teachers, however, thought that controversial children were less independent and more unruly than average children.

What Does This Mean for Your Tween?

Too often we think of our children's cognitive and social abilities as separate. But this classic research shows that social skills seem to be highly related to academic achievement. However, it remains debatable whether social skills influence student success or vice versa. It's important to note that your child doesn't need to be "popular" to be perceived as a strong student - neglected children actually were highly academically motivated and liked by teachers, and average children did just fine.

The only children who fared poorly in the classroom were those who were disliked by many peers. Therefore, working to build your tween's social skills not only will help them socially and emotionally, but may just make a difference for them academically, as well.


Wentzel, Kathryn R., & Asher, Steven R. "The Academic Lives of Neglected, Rejected, Popular, and Controversial Children." Child Development 1995 66:754-763.

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