Rejection at school: when the group doesn’t like you, it becomes chronic


The need to belong is fundamental in the development of human beings. For the smallest humans, this need takes the form of having companions for learning, playing games and, somewhat later, friends.

But for some girls and boys, this does not work and they are systematically excluded from group relationships. His companions prefer to be with other members of the group, and even explicitly prefer not to do things with them. Research has confirmed that there is a high rate of boys and girls who throughout their schooling are rejected by their peers, with small variations throughout schooling, and very unequally in boys and girls (boys are more rejected than girls).

In our own data we find rejection rates between 12% and 16%, making it very unlikely to find a classroom without any rejections. In fact, around 75% of the classrooms have at least 3 rejected students.

Dislike, common experience

Most of us are not liked by everyone, we may even be the focus of active rejection by some people, so dislikes and rejections are part of everyday interpersonal and group dynamics. Once again , our data clearly shows that the exchange of dislikes or negative affects between classmates is a common adverse experience from the beginning of schooling.

Thus, in previous studies we have found that 96% of boys and girls aged 6–7 years negatively point out a classmate and 86% of boys and girls are negatively pointed out at least once by another classmate.

Chronic rejection and its effects

Despite the fact that rejection is a difficult part of our relationships, when it becomes chronic, it becomes one of the most important predictors of psychological, social and academic maladjustment for those who suffer from it.

Studying rejection and its evolution is complicated for various reasons. The first is that accessing negative information may involve asking sensitive questions, which is not always easy. But perhaps the fundamental one is that in our society there is a strong positive bias on relationships, forgetting the most negative aspects of personal exchanges, such as dislikes between equals, that is: situations in which two people do not like each other or he doesn’t like the other.

The result of people being less willing to express or share negative information, or expressing it in settings less accessible to the rejected, is that less information is available about negative attitudes or relationships.

All this means that situations of rejection generally have a covert character. Thus, we have found that 95% of children between the ages of 6 and 7 make some type of error in identifying their rejecters and that half fail to discover who they are. This situation seems to persist over time, given that around half of the fourth-year rejecters believe that the classmates they do not like are unaware of it and that, in a certain way, this happens because they hide it.

Why don’t I like it?

But why do certain boys and girls not like it? What do they have in common? Or perhaps a more appropriate question is: what has happened so that the group does not want them?

A quick and intuitive response would be to think that something is wrong with them. From this theory of characteristics , it is pointed out that there are traits that are considered desirable in themselves, such as empathy or prosociality, which would be reasons for acceptance, and that there are others, such as aggressiveness and withdrawal, that are not considered desirable and which will be grounds for rejection.

The accent is placed, then, on the behavior of the rejected people. A somewhat more complex answer would focus on the fact that preferences or rejections are made on the basis of the cost-benefit that it has for those who make the decision.

In this case, the focus would be on the interpretation that the rejecters make of the rejected person’s behavior in terms of costs for himself or for his group.

In addition to this objective assessment of behavior by the group, there is also evidence that we like people with characteristics similar to our own. This search for similarities also extends to groups, identifying us with different characteristics, such as gender (“girls” versus “boys”). This last theory proposes, in turn, that dissimilarity leads to dislike.

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A vicious circle

Thus, a boy or girl with poor social skills has withdrawn, aggressive or poorly adapted behavior to the group, which causes a certain rejection among their peers. On many occasions, we do not even find inappropriate behaviors at the beginning, but simply differences in behavior or play, little relationship, little affinity or belonging to different groups, including gender.

This initial rejection negatively influences the child’s perceptions of himself and others. This, in turn, influences the child’s behavior with peers, which becomes increasingly maladaptive, which, in turn, negatively influences the peer’s attitudes and behavior towards the child, thus forming “a negative spiral of development.

The chronification of rejection is especially serious because it is a situation that permanently distances the boys and girls who suffer from it both from the evolutionary advantages and benefits of their own relationships and from the mechanisms of influence between peers and which are crucial for the development of certain skills.

The absence of group learning

They are boys and girls, therefore, who do not belong to the group and who do not benefit from it as a learning context. It should also be added that rejection is usually a relatively stable situation when it is not intervened and that the stability of rejection is clearly related to a greater deterioration of socio-emotional adjustment.

Few problems during childhood carry the level of stress and long-term damage that chronic peer rejection causes .

In the short term, rejection causes emotional damage, such as loneliness, and poor academic performance; in the long term, it is related to internalizing problems (depression, low self-esteem, anxiety) and externalizing problems (school dropout, behavior problems, antisocial behavior, drug abuse).

Only interventions that focus both on prevention and on the promotion of coexistence, that combine individual attention with the involvement of teachers, the family and the peer group, that last over time and are adapted to the situations and Specific practices in each context will offer satisfactory solutions to girls and boys immersed in situations of rejection.

Author Bios: Francisco Juan Garcia Bacete is Professor of School and Family Psychology at Jaume I University, Ghislaine Marande Perrin is Professor ofEvolutionary and EducationalPsychologyalso at Universitat Jaume I, Irene Jimenez Lagares is Professor of Developmental Psychology and Maria Victoria Munoz Tinoco is Professor Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology both at the University of Seville