Do peer problems influence emotional problems?

Forrest, C. L., Gibson, J. L., Halligan, S. L., & St Clair, M. C. (2018). A longitudinal analysis of early language difficulty and peer problems on later emotional difficulties in adolescence: Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study. Autism & Developmental Language Impairments, 3.

Aim of the paper:

We wanted to find out if peer problems (difficulties with friends) had an effect on emotional problems. We used data from the Millennium Cohort Study to examine a huge group of children and adolescents. We grouped them into children at risk of DLD or children with no language difficulties. We used teacher and parent’s views on social problems and emotional wellbeing. We know there are higher rates of anxious and depressive feelings in young people with DLD. We tested whether the higher rates of anxious and depressive feelings were due to difficulties socialising, not just their language skills.

The Millennium Cohort Study is a large study of children born in the year 2000-2001 from across Britain. Children and their families were first interviewed at age 9 months and then followed up every few years at age 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14. The age 17 data has just been released. Using longitudinal data like this allows us to look at developmental patterns over time. We can also get a better understanding of why changes might be occurring.

What was found:

We found that even children and adolescents who are at risk of DLD, but do not yet have a formal diagnosis, experience more difficulties with social and emotional wellbeing than their peers who do not have language difficulties. We also found that this difference in emotional wellbeing between the two groups was partly ‘explained’ by peer problems. That is, peer problems were seen to be influencing emotional problems. This was found at age 7 and age 14. So, peer problems at age seven influenced emotional problems at age seven. Also, these peer problems at age seven influenced later emotional problems at age 14.

What does this mean?

This paper adds to a lot of other evidence that children and young people with DLD have more difficulties with social and emotional wellbeing than their peers without language difficulties. It also tells us that having difficulties with making friends can lead to negative feelings and emotions. Supporting a child to develop positive peer relationships and friendships may help to improve their emotional wellbeing.

Where can I read this paper?

This is an open access paper so anyone can read it. Click here for the full paper.