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National Research Council (US) Panel to Review the Status of Basic Research on School-Age Children; Collins WA, editor. Development During Middle Childhood: The Years From Six to Twelve. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1984.

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Development During Middle Childhood: The Years From Six to Twelve.

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Chapter 1Introduction

Children between the ages of 6 and 12 are in the age period commonly referred to as middle childhood. As an age group, 6- to 12-year-olds are less obviously set apart than infants, adolescents, and even preschool children are in most Western societies. Nevertheless, the implicit grouping of ages 6-12 appears to be neither an idiosyncratic invention of Western cultures nor merely a category by default among arbitrarily defined periods of human development. Rather, these years universally mark a distinctive period between major developmental transition points.

In diverse cultures the 5-7 age period is regarded as the beginning of the ''age of reason'' (Rogoff et al., 1975). Children are assumed to develop new capabilities at this age and are assigned roles and responsibilities in their families and communities. Middle childhood has also been differentiated from adolescence cross-culturally, largely by the onset of puberty. Recent emphasis on cognitive differences between 10- to 12-year-olds and relatively mature adolescents has also contributed to popular and scholarly distinctions between middle childhood and adolescence.

Historically, in many cultures the age of 6 or 7 was the time at which children were absorbed into the world of adults, helping shoulder family responsibilities and fill work roles alongside their elders. Only in recent centuries have changing concepts of the family and the advent of formal schooling removed children of this age from wide participation in adult society (Aries, 1962). Today and for most of this century, the ages of 6-12 have continued to be set apart from younger ages because they correspond to the first 6 of the 12 compulsory school years. The segregation of children ages 6-12 in elementary schools provides a distinctive basis for the social definition of children and a social structure that constrains and channels development during this period.

Increasingly, however, the social norms and structures that determine the age grading of 6- to 12-year-olds are being blurred by secular trends toward earlier schooling and earlier puberty. Growing numbers of children younger than age 6 are beginning some kind of formal schooling, sometimes compulsory. The trend toward earlier puberty means that many 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds are experiencing the physical changes traditionally associated with adolescence but out of synchrony with the transition into the teen years. The impact of this secular trend can be seen in experiments with school organizations in the past decade in an attempt to find workable age groupings for children whose physical, cognitive, and social characteristics are in transition. The term preteen has emerged to acknowledge this earlier advent of teenage characteristics.

As social structures for delineating ages 6-12 become less definite, it becomes more crucial to understand the nature of development in this period, including the ways in which it is—and is not—linked to particular social and cultural structures and demands on children. Toward this end, the chapters of this volume represent distillations of research findings from studies of children ages 6-12 and assessments of the status of knowledge in a number of areas.

The panel's primary goal was to assess what is known about the distinctive characteristics—physical, behavioral, social, and emotional—and development of children across the age span from 6 to 12. Although we have devoted considerable attention to the societal contexts of development in this period, including the social structures that shape and constrain the course of individual growth, of primary concern in our deliberations have been the implications for individual children—in particular, long-term individual outcomes of development.

In our view, developmental change is continuous and any segmentation into age periods is somewhat arbitrary. The widespread cultural demarcation of a period roughly corresponding to ages 6-12 raises important questions about the characteristics of children in this age group and, equally significant, the implications of segregation along these age boundaries for the developmental tasks, limitations, and possibilities encountered by individual children. The period is clearly not a static one developmentally, despite what has sometimes seemed to be a lack of concern among scholars about the significance of changes in middle childhood. We have viewed the middle childhood years as part of a continuous process as well as a period characterized by distinct abilities and age-related changes. Two questions recur in the chapters that follow:


What is known about characteristics that distinguish children in middle childhood from those in the preschool years?


What significant developmental changes ordinarily occur within these years?

During middle childhood, children gain access to new settings and encounter pressures that present them with distinctive developmental challenges. The widening world of middle childhood is marked especially by the entry into school of children from all strata of U.S. society. School entry signifies a new set of social contacts with both adults and other children as well as a wider variety of settings than those that characterize early childhood. Consequently, school experiences and influences were central considerations in the panel's deliberations, as was the role of peers both in and out of school. The implications of a widening social world for family relationships—and their continuing functions for children in middle childhood—also occupied a primary role in our discussions. Fundamental to the topics we have chosen is the problem of characterizing the environmental constraints and options for children in diverse settings across the society.

The developmental difficulties and subsequent dysfunctions associated with children ages 6-12 also were major issues in the panel's deliberations. Although a detailed assessment of evidence on problem behaviors such as delinquency, drug use, runaways, and the like could not be undertaken within the scope of the panel's work, we did address both psychological and physical health in middle childhood—in particular, what is known and what needs to be known about the long-term implications of development for physical and mental health.

In this introductory chapter we first outline some of the important theoretical views that have shaped research in middle childhood. We present a group portrait of children in middle childhood in this country in order to give a demographic and social context to the research that is covered in the remainder of the volume. Finally, we give a brief overview of each of the topics covered in the individual chapters.

Theoretical Views of Middle Childhood

The body of research concerned with children ages 6-12 encompasses disciplines ranging from psychology and sociology to medicine and public health. Surprisingly, few theoretical formulations have included extensive treatments of this age group, in contrast to the amount of theoretical attention given to infancy, early childhood, and adolescence. The two major views of the child between 6 and 12—those advanced by Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget—focus on some possible reasons for the common belief in middle childhood as a distinct developmental period.

Sigmund Freud assigned to the years between ages 5 or 6 and adolescence the vital tasks of skill development and the consolidation of psychosexual achievements from earlier periods. Freud's characterization of this period as one of latency has been widely misconstrued as indicating it is relatively insignificant, perhaps because the psychosexual events of earlier and later periods appear more dramatic in psychoanalytic thought. This aspect of Freud's formulation is also captured by Erik Erikson's emphasis on the development of a sense of industry and Harry Stack Sullivan's interpretation of the importance of interpersonal relationships during the same period. Although none of these three theorists has had a substantial impact on research on middle childhood, Sullivan's ideas have frequently been invoked in connection with research on social relations with peers in the elementary school years. All three, however, underscore the occurrence of significant psychological developments in middle childhood and the importance of recognizing the culturally defined tasks associated with the period.

The second major view, represented by Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development, emphasizes the extent to which children in this age period become capable of logical thinking, reasoning, and problem solving in a variety of tasks. Whereas preschool children are inordinately tied to the concrete, readily perceptible characteristics of tasks, the thoughts of children ages 6-12 are more fully logical and more systematic. Thus, in Piaget's view the significant psychological accomplishments of middle childhood are in the realm of intellectual competence. The goal of most of the research emanating from Piaget's theory has been understanding the logical model of intellectual functioning; indeed, the major contribution of Piaget-inspired scholars has been an image of the child at every stage of development as an active, integrating organism in interaction with the environment. Cognitive-developmental formulations such as Piaget's undergird a core of studies of children ages 6-12 that have contributed substantially to knowledge of specific aspects of this age period; these include not only studies of cognitive development per se but also studies of concepts and understanding of the social and subjective worlds. In recent years research on self-concept, social interactions, family and peer relationships, school functioning, and health has been influenced by cognitive-developmental perspectives. In each of these domains the focus has been on differences between the intellectual capabilities of children in middle childhood and those of younger and older children.

Rich though these theoretical traditions are, they offer only part of the relevant background to a consideration of the status of research on middle childhood. Throughout this volume our focus on middle childhood encompasses a variety of factors in development and individual functioning that make up a broad consideration of the years 6-12.

Demographic Overview of Children in Middle Childhood

We begin with a sketch of children in middle childhood in the United States today. Our purpose is not an exhaustive demographic analysis of middle childhood but rather an impressionistic overview of the lives of such children. Through the presentation of data from large-scale data sources, the following sections serve as background to the analyses of children's development in the remainder of this report.

Several limitations on the type and scope of information presented should be made clear at the outset. First, despite repeated calls for an integrated system of childhood social indicators that tracks the welfare of children in this country, such a system has yet to be developed. Data based on sources with long histories, such as the Current Population Survey, are a major source of information about population trends, the types of families in which children are growing up, and the schools they attend. Less is known, at least from a national perspective, about the quality of children's lives and their perceptions of their worlds. Several recent studies, such as the National Survey of Children (Zill, in press), have begun to fill this gap. Nevertheless, we have only a rudimentary understanding of children's own views of their lives.

Besides the relative scarcity of certain types of information, other limitations mark these data. For our purposes the preferable unit of analysis is the child. The following sections reflect this preference, but in many cases information in which the family is the unit of analysis was the only kind available. In addition, data are most frequently reported in broad age categories that are not consistent across data sources or over time. Whenever possible, we report information on children between the ages of 6 and 12. Often, however, data were available only on expanded age groupings, such as 5-13 or 6-13.

A hallmark of these data is the diversity of the population of children in middle childhood. National averages often mask important differences between subgroups—racial differences and regional differences, for example—and national surveys often inadequately report information about minority groups (Zill et al., 1983). In this overview we focus on racial differences because of the frequently striking contrast between white and black children in our society. We recognize, however, that the presentation of data would be facilitated by further disaggregation into more finely differentiated subgroups. We also recognize the need for information on children ages 6-12 in other cultural and minority groups in the United States, particularly Asian-American, Hispanic, and Native American groups.

The Population of School-Age Children

In 1982 the population of U.S. children ages 6-12 was 23.6 million, representing slightly more than 10 percent of the total U.S. population of 232 million. This age group is approximately equally divided by sex (51 percent were boys, 49 percent were girls). Of the total number of children, 15 percent were black. Relative to children of all ages, a higher proportion of black children (12.6 percent) than white children (9.7 percent) were between the ages of 6 and 12.

Current data are not available for racial and ethnic group breakdowns of children ages 6-12. These data are published, however, for children ages 5-13 or 5-14 (see Table 1-1). Table 1-1 presents the number of children in six racial and ethnic groups and their proportion in the population and provides additional data on children of Hispanic origin.

TABLE 1-1. Racial and Ethnic Origins of School-Age Children (numbers in thousands).


Racial and Ethnic Origins of School-Age Children (numbers in thousands).

The proportion of all children in middle childhood has been steadily declining during the past two decades. In 1960 children ages 6-12, part of the postwar baby boom, represented slightly less than 16 percent of the population; by 1970 they represented 14.1 percent. With the simultaneous rise in the average life expectancy, the population on average has been gradually getting older.

Census Bureau projections estimate that the population of children ages 6-12 as well as the percentage of the population ages 6-12 will continue to decline through 1985. Their number will then gradually increase through the remainder of this century before once again declining in the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Children's Environments

The racial and cultural diversity of children ages 6-12 in the United States raises questions about how their lives are different and what components of the differences may be significant to their development. Although at present we can only speculate on the implications, we can see a number of dimensions on which children in this age group vary.

Children ages 6-12 were fairly well distributed across the country in 1981, but the geographical distribution varied by race (Table 1-2). More than half of black children, compared with less than a third of white children, live in the South. In contrast, white children are more likely than blacks to live in the Northeast and in the West.

TABLE 1-2. Region of Residence of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.


Region of Residence of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.

Nearly half of all children live in a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA) with a population of at least 100,000 people (Table 1-3). Black children are more likely than white children to live in or near a city of 500,000 or more people. In contrast, white children are more likely to live outside the city limits and in areas defined as non-SMSAs (population less than 50,000). For example, while 44.1 percent of white children live in nonurban areas, only 27.5 percent of black children live outside central cities.

TABLE 1-3. Size of Residence of Children Ages 6-12.


Size of Residence of Children Ages 6-12.

To further underscore the disparate environments of black and white children (Tables 1-4 and 1-5), 84 percent of white children live in single-family dwellings, and their families typically own the place in which they live. Black children are much less likely (61 percent) than white children to live in single-family dwellings and much more likely to live in an apartment, project, or two-family dwelling. Two-thirds of white children live in dwellings with six or more rooms, while two-thirds of black children live in dwellings with no more than five rooms.

TABLE 1-4. Type of Dwelling of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.


Type of Dwelling of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.

TABLE 1-5. Status of Dwelling of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.


Status of Dwelling of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.

Nearly one-third of all families with children ages 6-11 report that they live in a neighborhood in which street lighting is poor and where there is considerable street noise, and 25 percent live near heavy traffic, according to data from the 1977 Annual Housing Survey. Approximately 3.7 million children, 17.1 percent of the age group, live in neighborhoods in which street crime is common.

Family Environments

The majority of children ages 6-12 live in nuclear-type families—that is, with either one or two parents and children (see Table 1-6). But there are some differences between the family composition of white and black families. Black children are more likely than white children to live in extended families—families that contain other people related to the head of the household. The proportion for both groups is small, however. Furthermore, as Table 1-7 shows, there is a greater likelihood for black parents to have more children, spanning a wider range of ages. Black children ages 6-12 are likely to have more siblings in general and more siblings close to their own age. Black and white families also differ according to parents' marital status, parents' employment status, and financial resources. Hispanic families differ from both black and white families in that they appear likely to have more and younger children. Comparable information is lacking on other ethnic groups.

TABLE 1-6. Family Composition of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.


Family Composition of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.

TABLE 1-7. Characteristics of Families With Children (percentage).


Characteristics of Families With Children (percentage).

Most school-age children (about 80 percent overall) live with two parents, according to Census Bureau estimates and estimates from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. There are sizable racial variations, however. Table 1-8 shows that, while 83 percent of white school-age children lived with two parents in 1981, only 51 percent of comparably aged black children lived with two parents. Further differences emerge between the races among children living with only their mothers: 75 percent of white children who lived with their mothers in single-parent families did so because their parents were divorced, compared with 26 percent of black children. In contrast, one-third of black children lived with their mothers alone because they were single and never married and one-third because their parents were separated. According to Census Bureau estimates, approximately 72 percent of Hispanic children live with two parents (Bureau of the Census, 1981), a figure similar to that for white children.

TABLE 1-8. Marital Status of Parents of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.


Marital Status of Parents of Children Ages 6-12, 1981.

Cumulative percentages of children who experience some form of family disruption (e.g., their parents divorce, and some then remarry) present a more long-term perspective on the changes that families undergo during their children's school-age years. Table 1-9 describes the likelihood that a child's family will be disrupted by the time he or she is 13. By the age of 6, 24 percent of children born between 1965 and 1967 and 29 percent of those born between 1968 and 1969 had experienced some change in their parents' marital status. By age 13 the percentages increase by 30 percent for each birth cohort.

TABLE 1-9. Cumulative Percentage of Children Experiencing Family Disruption.


Cumulative Percentage of Children Experiencing Family Disruption.

When the probability of marital disruption is examined separately by race, striking differences can be observed. By the age of 6, approximately 35 percent more black children born between 1968 and 1969 had experienced some family disruption. The difference in proportion does not change substantially over the middle childhood years for this cohort, although the percentage of black children experiencing family disruption climbs to 70 percent by the time they reach age 13. These figures are high in part because of the large number of black children born to single mothers. Still, a comparison of the figures in the rows of Table 1-9 that have a superscript a reveals that in the early 1980s half of black children and almost a third of white children, born after their parents were married, by the age of 13 were not living with both biological parents.

Labor Force Participation and Family Income

Not surprisingly, children ages 6-13 are more likely to have mothers in the labor force than children who are under 6. In 1982, approximately 14,835,000 children ages 6-13 had mothers in the labor force; this number represents 58 percent of children in this age group. In contrast, in 1970, 43 percent of children ages 6-13 had mothers in the labor force. (It should be noted that not all mothers in the labor force work full time; see Chapter 5.)

As Table 1-10 shows, mothers of black children ages 6-13 are much more likely to be in the labor force than mothers of white or Hispanic children. They are also more likely to be unemployed. Although children in single-parent families are also more likely to have mothers in the labor force than those in two-parent families, the mothers of black children in single-parent families and, to a lesser extent, mothers of Hispanic children, are less likely to be in the labor force than those in two-parent families.

TABLE 1-10. Employment Status of Parents of Children Ages 6-13, March 1982 (numbers in thousands).

TABLE 1-10

Employment Status of Parents of Children Ages 6-13, March 1982 (numbers in thousands).

The importance of the employment of black mothers to family income is seen in Table 1-11. In a two-parent family in which the father is employed, the mother's employment in a black family increases family income by two-thirds. In the same situation, a white mother's employment increases family income by an eighth, possibly because many of these e women work only part time. The employment of Hispanic mothers falls between the two, increasing family income by 41 percent on average. Also clear in Tables 1-11 and 1-12 is the financial disadvantage of being a single mother, particularly a single black mother. The average income of single white, black, or Hispanic mothers is near or below the poverty level. Approximately half of white children and almost two-thirds of black and Hispanic children who live with single mothers have family incomes below $10,000 a year.

TABLE 1-11. Mean Family Income for Families With Children Ages 6-13, March 1982.

TABLE 1-11

Mean Family Income for Families With Children Ages 6-13, March 1982.

TABLE 1-12. Income Groups of Families of Children Ages 6-13, March 1982.

TABLE 1-12

Income Groups of Families of Children Ages 6-13, March 1982.

In 1981, 15.1 percent of white children ages 6-13 and 43.8 percent of the same-age black children lived below the official poverty level ($9,287 in 1981 for a family of four). Comparable data were not available for children of single mothers. Among children ages 6-14 living with their single mothers, 40.8 percent of white children and 64.8 percent of black children had family incomes below the poverty level. The greater financial need of black families is also reflected in the amount of transfer monies they receive. According to data from the 1982 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, approximately 6 percent of white children ages 6-12 lived in families receiving AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) in 1981, compared with nearly 23 percent of black children. Black children represent 15 percent of the total population of children ages 6-12, but they represent 36 percent of all children in families that receive AFDC monies.

The population of children ages 6-12 thus is marked by physical, economic, and social variations that almost certainly constrain the nature of the experience and the course of the development of individual children. In the chapters that follow, a central theme is the incorporation of environmental diversity into research on development in middle childhood.


Despite the diversity of children in middle childhood, there is one common factor in their lives: Nearly all (99 percent) children of elementary school age are enrolled in school. Public school enrollment statistics, which include about 89 percent of the population of children ages 6-12, have mirrored population statistics. By 1976, following the enrollment bulge produced by the baby boom, the number of children in school had fallen to the 1960 level of approximately 30.5 million (Bureau of the Census, 1981). Enrollment as of 1980 was approximately 26.7 million. On the basis of projections of the elementary school population (according to fertility expectations), enrollment is expected to continue its decline until 1985, at which point the number of school children should gradually increase. By 1988 they will reach the 1978 enrollment levels.

Private school enrollment, two-thirds of which is in Catholic schools, is less strongly tied to population growth than is public school enrollment. Private school enrollment reached a peak of 15 percent of school children in 1964 and 1965 and declined to about 11 percent in 1980. Black enrollment, however, has increased as white enrollment has decreased. In 1980, 12 percent of white children and 5 percent of black children were enrolled in private schools.

Educational achievement among elementary school students still varies substantially by race and age. Table 1-13 shows the percentage of students below modal grade of enrollment for students ages 6-9 and 10-13. The difference in the proportion of black and white students ages 6-9 below grade level is very slight, but among those ages 10-13 the percentages diverge. Black boys ages 10-13 are 60 percent more likely than white boys to be enrolled below their modal grade level, and black girls are 50 percent more likely than white girls to be enrolled below their modal grade level. The issue of disparities in educational achievement is clearly a factor in the experiences of children in the middle childhood years.

TABLE 1-13. Percentage of Children Ages 6-13 Below Modal Grade of Enrollment.

TABLE 1-13

Percentage of Children Ages 6-13 Below Modal Grade of Enrollment.

Children's Lives Out of School

According to 1981 data from the Panel Study of Time Use in American Households, approximately 60 percent of children's time during the week is spent in activities that, for the most part, they must do: sleeping, attending school, washing and dressing, and doing housework (Table 1-14). When these are accounted for, however, the average child has approximately 67 hours of discretionary time each week.

TABLE 1-14. Hours per Week Spent Doing Selected Primary Activities by Children Ages 6-12 (standard deviations in parentheses).

TABLE 1-14

Hours per Week Spent Doing Selected Primary Activities by Children Ages 6-12 (standard deviations in parentheses).

Two types of activities dominate this out-of-school discretionary time for most American children: television viewing and time ''on their own,'' including time spent with peers in play and other activities without adult supervision or involvement. A recent major study of time use (Medrich et al., 1982) estimates that these two activities consume 70 percent or more of children's roughly 7 hours of out-of-school time daily. Time with parents and organized activities (including sports) constituted a relatively small percentage of children's daily time in the urban area in which the research was conducted.

For most children ages 6-12 in the United States, television viewing constitutes the largest single portion of free time on a typical weekday. Current estimates for school-age children put the amount of viewing at 3-4 hours daily (Comstock et al., 1980; Medrich et al., 1982), a larger figure than is reported for preschoolers and adolescents. Eleven- and twelve-year-olds, particularly boys, watch television more than any other age group. Viewing preferences show distinct shifts from children's fare toward general programming, such as action-adventure dramas and other programs that contain a wide range of realistic behavioral and role models. Economically disadvantaged children are three times more likely to be heavy television viewers than are more advantaged youngsters. Perhaps because of the confounding effect of socioeconomic status, black youngsters are more likely to view television heavily than are whites overall, although disadvantaged whites are also heavy viewers.

As children get older, more time is spent doing homework. Still, American children spend only an average of one-half hour per weekday studying, compared with the 2 to 3.5 hours a day that Japanese children, for example, spend studying (Nakanishi, 1982).

Table 1-14 also suggests that children spend little time reading, although older children spend more time reading than younger children. Data from the Panel Study of Time Use refute the assumption that children would spend more time reading if they did not watch so much television. Medrich et al. (1982) note little relationship between patterns of television use and reading, but they did find that children who read every day are more likely to be light viewers.

Organized activities also consume many hours of time for large numbers of American children. More than 8 million youngsters between 6 and 16 are involved in sports activities each year, and many participate in clubs, religious programs, and organized groups; take private lessons; attend camp; and so forth. Both the degree of participation in out-of-school activities and the contents of the programs in which children participate are strongly associated with social group and ethnic status. For example, black boys are more likely than boys in other ethnic groups to participate in team sports, while white boys are more likely to be involved in individualized sports, such as swimming or tennis (Medrich et al., 1982). Socioeconomic factors also affect whether activities that are available to children are primarily privately funded and organized or publicly supported. Nevertheless, children from all socioeconomic strata show some level of participation in organized activities. The impact of participation in out-of-school activities has been studied very little. Because of the increased number of children involved and the opportunities available, however, these activities should be considered a significant dimension in the expanding social worlds of children ages · 6-12.

Themes of the Report

In the chapters that follow, the status of knowledge on children in middle childhood is assessed within the framework of the three major foci that guided the panel's work:


the distinctive characteristics of children ages 6-12 compared with children in other developmental periods and the typical changes that occur during these years;


the impact of access to new settings and changing qualities of relationships, including the tasks, options, and limitations that are characteristic of the environments that school-age children encounter; and


the nature and long-term implications of developmental difficulties and the different developmental trajectories followed by individual children during middle childhood.

The distinctiveness of middle childhood development depends, in the first analysis, on the characteristics of children as they enter and traverse the period. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 focus on the child's physical and cognitive growth and the fundamental psychological processes of developing a sense of self and capabilities for self-regulation during middle childhood.

In Chapter 2, Jack P. Shonkoff addresses the nature of physical changes leading to puberty—a physical event that now occurs by age 12 for large numbers of American children. He devotes attention to research on neurotransmission processes and hormonal factors in behavior and their contribution to knowledge of the biological substrate of middle childhood development. Studies in these areas offer promising approaches to the understanding of gender differences as well as to a range of specific behavior patterns. Research on brain-behavior relations can facilitate better understanding of both basic intellectual and behavioral functioning and the various dysfunctions that are commonly grouped together as learning disabilities. Difficulties with school performance are a major social and psychological problem in the elementary school years, and the long-term problems associated with them are now well established.

The intellectual capabilities of children ages 6-12 have been extensively studied, and these studies are a major source of knowledge about the distinctiveness of middle childhood and its links to other developmental periods. In Chapter 3, Kurt W. Fischer and Daniel Bullock distill the major information that has emerged from this research. The impetus for much of this work has come from the Piagetian tradition, in which the more elaborate conceptual and reasoning skills of school-age children were attributed to a capacity for concrete operational thought. Fischer and Bullock also identify a major shift in cognitive functioning for Western children between ages 5 and 7 and another between ages 10 and 12. A primary theme in their review is the way in which children's environments and typical experiences "collaborate" in the process of cognitive change. They urge an approach to cognitive change and cognitive performance that focuses on the environmental supports for certain skills and approaches to tasks and problems that children develop. They also explore the linkages between these changes and other developmental changes, such as emotional knowledge and expression.

Hazel J. Markus and Paula S. Nurius (Chapter 4) extend the analysis of cognitive components to the school-age child's task of forming a self-concept from the diverse new sources of information about his or her characteristics and capabilities. Much new information derived from a wide range of settings must be incorporated into knowledge about the self in these years. This knowledge, together with knowledge about social norms and expectations and about strategies for managing one's own behavior, is crucial to the increasingly greater responsibilities that 6- to 12-year-olds can assume and fulfill. These authors, like Maccoby in Chapter 5, view middle childhood as a time when social controls become coregulatory in nature. In contrast to the extensive adult regulation of children's behavior in early childhood, children ages 6-12 must assume a larger share of responsibility for their own behavior in coordination with parents, peers, and others.

The impact of a dramatically shifting social context—transformations in relationships with parents, more extensive involvement with peers in terms of both time and the number of contacts, and entry into the traditional structures of schooling—is the topic of Chapters 5, 6, and 7. In Chapter 5, Eleanor E. Maccoby attempts to tie major developmental changes in school-age children to changes in parental roles and expectations and to issues that typically are dealt with in parent-child relationships. She addresses questions of the linkages between cognitive changes and the process of increasing coregulation between parent and child. She also reviews social-strata, subcultural, and ethnic-group differences in parent-child relationships and examines the currently limited information on variations in family structures such as single-parent and dual-career families. Her perspective acknowledges the systemic nature of family relationships, and she addresses the nature and distinctive influence of father-child and sibling relationships in middle childhood.

The increasing amount and variety of contact between school-age children and their peers are the focus of Willard W. Hartup's review in Chapter 6. Organizing the literature in terms of different types of peer contexts (e.g., interactions, relationships, groups), Hartup reviews the status of knowledge on the settings, tasks, and persons involved in children's experiences with other children. The functional significance of peer relationships for such issues as gender-role learning in the elementary school years and the regulation of behaviors such as aggression and cooperation is central to the review. Other topics of particular importance are the long-term implications of the quality of a child's peer relationships in middle childhood and the nature of dysfunctions in middle childhood that may result in poor adjustment in adolescence and adulthood. Hartup reviews the small body of literature on interventions to improve children's skills for successful peer relationships as well as the descriptive literature on the normal growth of these skills between ages 6 and 12.

In Chapter 7, Edgar G. Epps and Sylvia F. Smith consolidate an extensive body of literature on schools and schooling to assess the implications of school experiences in middle childhood. They address both manifest (e.g., skill acquisition, achievement aspirations) and latent (e.g., social role learning, status expectations) functions of schooling. In this context they discuss the implications of social changes in schools, such as desegregation, and the implications of specific instructional approaches for eliminating educational inequality. The linkages between school and other significant social contexts, particularly the family, are also reviewed in terms of their implications for development.

These broader and constantly changing social contexts in middle childhood help determine the course of developmental changes and thus must be considered in analyses of the middle childhood period. In Chapter 8, Thomas S. Weisner outlines a perspective on the role of environmental influences. Construing environment broadly, Weisner argues for incorporating conceptually the cultural, social, and economic conditions that determine the influences on communities, families, and individual children in middle childhood. He identifies several dimensions of variations in environments found in cross-cultural studies (e.g., responsibilities required of children in middle childhood, caretaking systems, pressures for individualism versus cooperation, definitions of "problem" behaviors) and suggests hypotheses for study in Western societies. Since many Western nations include diverse subcultural and socioeconomically varied groups, Weisner's approach should be a useful framework for careful formulation of further research on children ages 6-12 in their social contexts.

The health of school-age children and long-term implications for healthy functioning are addressed by Thomas M. Achenbach in Chapter 9 and by Jack P. Shonkoff in Chapter 2. Shonkoff examines the implications of middle childhood for the development of healthful life-styles in adulthood. The years 6-12 are a time of primary learning relevant to concepts of health, illness, and disease. It is also a period of increasing responsibility for interacting with the health care system and for many specific practices that have long-term health implications (e.g., physical exercise, eating patterns). Shonkoff discusses the importance of approaches to health education that take into account cognitive and psychosocial characteristics of children in this developmental period. He also provides an illuminating discussion of the problems of chronically ill and disabled children and their families and the special difficulties encountered by them in middle childhood.

Thomas M. Achenbach's concern in Chapter 9 is the nature of psychological health in middle childhood. He focuses on the difficulties of specifying the nature of dysfunctions in this period, because of the overuse of nosological disease categories to describe behavioral difficulties. He describes research approaches that will enable researchers to differentiate various conditions more precisely and to examine the long-term consequences of different patterns of problem behaviors in middle childhood.

Chapter 10 summarizes the conclusions of the panel. W. Andrew Collins describes what is known about children ages 6-12 and their development and attempts to characterize some general issues that face future research on middle childhood. The principal concern throughout is on identifying prospects for enhancing our knowledge of this period of life.


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Copyright © National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK216770


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