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J Youth Adolesc. 2013 Sep;42(9):1319-30. doi: 10.1007/s10964-012-9882-4. Epub 2013 Jan 1.

Do academically-engaged adolescents experience social sanctions from the peer group?

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  • 1University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA. davschw@usc.edu


Existing theoretical perspectives suggest that adolescents who are characterized by high achievement may experience social sanctions from peers. The central premise is that, in many North American settings, adolescent peer groups are characterized by negative attitudes toward the school environment. To test these hypotheses, we examined associations between indicators of low social power (unpopularity and victimization by peers) and academic competence for 415 adolescents (193 boys; 222 girls) attending an urban high school. This school served neighborhoods that were characterized by a moderate degree of economic distress and the students were predominately of Hispanic American descent. A short-term longitudinal design was used, with two waves of data collected over consecutive school years. The adolescents completed a peer nomination inventory assessing relational and overt victimization by peers, unpopularity, and social rejection. In addition, we obtained math and language arts grades from school records, and we assessed behavioral engagement in school with a self-report inventory. Structural equation models did not reveal a strong pattern of longitudinal change in social standing with peers or academic functioning. However, we found positive correlations between academic achievement and problematic peer relationships in both years of the project. We also found evidence that gender moderates these associations, with the effects reaching significance only for boys. Our results provide evidence that, in some settings, high achieving adolescents can be prone to negative treatment or marginalization by peers.

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