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Peer Rejection: Developmental Processes and Intervention Strategies

reviewed by Daisuke Akiba - 2005

coverTitle: Peer Rejection: Developmental Processes and Intervention Strategies
Author(s): Karen L. Bierman
Publisher: Guilford Press, New York
ISBN: 1572309237, Pages: 299, Year: 2004
Search for book at Amazon.com

Although there has been a considerable amount of empirical research on peer rejection, providing useful descriptive, assessment, and intervention strategies, most has been too technical to be appreciated and utilized outside of the academic and professional communities. Peer Rejection: Developmental Processes and Intervention Strategies by Karen L. Bierman successfully breaks this barrier and provides useful information not only for scholars and practitioners, but also for parents, educators, and other concerned readers. Bierman accomplishes this difficult task through her review of empirical research, delivered in clear and friendly language with a range of concrete examples to illustrate her discussion. This multichapter book consists of three sections with distinct foci: (a) description of problematic peer relations, (b) assessment of social competence and peer relations, and (c) intervention strategies.

Throughout the book, Bierman emphasizes that peer rejection is a complex phenomenon for which there are no simple explanations, assessments, or solutions. Although some readers may find this declaration disappointing, it demonstrates the author’s awareness—and her scholarly integrity—that most human behavior cannot be understood, measured, or reliably changed through “quick recipes” commonly seen in the popular media. Though this is not explicitly discussed, it is evident that Bierman’s view of peer rejection follows the ecological perspective frequently attributed to Bronfenbrenner (1979). According to this perspective, human development is best understood in terms of reciprocal transactions between each individual and the surrounding contexts that interactively and fluidly expand within and across layers of systems. This theoretical perspective is consistent with many of the monumental points Bierman makes. For instance, she stresses the importance of understanding the ways in which rejected children often conceptualize relationships with others—concepts that are embedded in children’s self systems through their previous relational experiences. According to the author, coercive behavior, which frequently causes children to be rejected, may stem from self systems that include aggressive interactions as part of relational schemas. So it would be unproductive simply to attempt to “fix” the coercive behavior, Bierman contends, because the foundations of this behavior would remain unaddressed. She instead suggests that we examine factors beyond the surface behaviors that ostensibly contribute to children’s rejected status and consider a variety of factors across time and contexts, such as children’s earlier experiences and behavioral flexibility.

In addition, Bierman firmly establishes that the significance of being rejected by peers exceeds the immediate threat and discontent children experience. She discusses the long-term snowballing effects peer rejection has, pointing out that rejected children are often—as a result of their rejected status—deprived of valuable opportunities to develop and refine their social skills, further aggravating the situation, as these children’s social skill levels consequently continue to diverge from the levels necessary for them to establish and maintain peaceful peer relations.

Without a doubt, Bierman does an exceptional job presenting research she finds relevant to the discussion of peer rejection in great depth; however, her treatment of the topic may be far from satisfying to some. First, although nowhere in this book are the demographic characteristics of children being discussed explicitly, it is clear that Bierman’s discussion primarily targets children from a limited range of backgrounds. Most of the studies she cites exclusively revolve around rejected children in middle childhood, and most of the assessment and intervention strategies seem unsuitable for children outside of this age group. This could be unsettling, since peer rejection often emerges in early childhood, and it can escalate in the adolescent years, when it may take on much more complex and severe forms (see Hardy, Bukowski, & Sippola, 2002). Similarly, many of the examples and descriptions Bierman gives seem to concern primarily boys, despite the recent surge in peer victimization among girls. Also, Bierman’s discussion of culture is limited to a brief mention of numerical minorities; in fact, it can readily be deduced from Bierman’s description that race, ethnicity, and other cultural aspects were not addressed explicitly in the studies upon which she bases her work.

Second, although Bierman ostensibly follows the ecological perspective, as discussed earlier, her application of the perspective is restricted. Akiba and Garcia Coll (2003) state that the reciprocal match between a child’s own characteristics and the ever-changing demands and characteristics of the surrounding contexts may dictate the social and developmental experiences of the child. For instance, aside from children’s own characteristics, such elements as the characteristics of peers, sociocultural factors (e.g., interethnic dynamics, oppression, socioeconomic inequalities, and gender role expectations), and the general climate in the classroom, schools, neighborhoods, and larger contexts may all greatly contribute to the trends of peer victimization (e.g., Bailey & Whittle, 2004; Karweit & Hansell, 1983). However, Bierman’s incorporation of the ecological perspective is limited to a discussion of how contextual factors may shape children’s psychological profiles to make them prone to be rejected. In fact, her discussion throughout the book focuses almost entirely on the psychological characteristics of the victims of peer rejection, which some may even characterize as following a limited, “blame-the-victim” paradigm. Bierman’s work would have been far stronger had she extended her scope slightly and introduced these contextual notions.

In Bierman’s defense, her approach of analyzing a phenomenon based on individual psychological characteristics epitomizes what has traditionally been valued in mainstream psychology. So Bierman’s “context-free” approach may simply reflect the general trends in the literature rather than her own bias per se. Still, Bierman would agree that intervention efforts, for instance, would be greatly enhanced by including strategies beyond the methods she promotes (e.g., training rejected children through cognitive-behavioral coaching) and considering contextual factors she does not discuss. A book entitled Peer Rejection should have treated the issues of peer rejection more holistically and pluralistically; hence, a more appropriate title for this book would have been Rejected Children in Elementary School: Developmental and Counseling Processes.

On the whole, despite these concerns, Bierman should be congratulated for effectively synthesizing, interpreting, and applying a vast number of previous studies on the psychological characteristics of rejected children in middle childhood in a friendly format even non-experts can appreciate. This, however, is not to say that her book provides an exhaustive or even comprehensive discussion on the topic of peer rejection. This book may therefore be most useful if supplemented with other works that consider the contextual aspects of peer rejection.


Akiba, D., & Garcia Coll, C. T. (2003). Effective interventions with children of color and their families: A contextual developmental approach. In T. B. Smith (Ed.), Practicing multiculturalism: Internalizing and affirming diversity in counseling and psychology. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bailey, S., & Whittle, N. (2004). Young people: Victims of violence. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 17, 263–268.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiences by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hardy, C., Bukowski, W. M., & Sippola, L. K. (2002). Stability and change in peer relationships during the transition to middle-level school. Journal of Early Adolescence, 22, 117–142.

Karweit, N., & Hansell, S. (1983). School organization and friendship selection. In J. L. Epstein & N. Karweit (Eds.), Friends in school: Patterns of selection and influence in secondary schools. New York: Academic Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 7, 2005, p. 1438-1441
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11804, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 8:55:17 AM

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About the Author
  • Daisuke Akiba
    The City University of New York
    E-mail Author
    DAISUKE AKIBA (Ph.D., 2000, Brown University) is an assistant professor at The City University of New York, where he is jointly appointed to teach child development and research (Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Queens College) and educational psychology and urban education (Doctoral Programs at the Graduate School and University Center). Reflecting his interdisciplinary interest in psychology, sociology, and education, his recent publications have ranged in focus from the multiplicity of cultural identities (in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development), motivational analyses of culturally sensitive behavior (in Small Group Research), the history of Japanese-American communities (in Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues, Second Edition, P.G. Min [Ed.], Sage Publications), to the educational attainments of children from immigrant families (in Parenting: Science and Practice).
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