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Kids' School Success May Depend More on Their Friends Than Their Teachers

A new study looks at the impact of students' peers on how well they do in school.

friends in the classroom Syda Productions/Shutterstock
We know peer pressure is a real force in our kids' lives. Now new research out of Michigan State University and published in the International Journal of Educational Research finds that, when it comes to school performance, students may be influenced more by their peers than by their teachers.

For the study, university students enrolled in an online psychology course were randomly assigned to receive rationale from peers, from the instructor, or none at all, as to why the class was important and beneficial to their potential future careers as teachers.

Interestingly, students who received peer rationales scored an average of 92 percent on their final grades, while those who received the teacher rationale scored 86 percent. But would you believe those who didn't receive any rationale at all averaged 90 percent?

"These findings suggest that what instructors were good at was getting across cold facts, while the peers seemed to be tapping into an identification process," said study co-author Cary Roseth, associate professor of educational psychology. "In other words, as a student, I can identify with my peers and imagine myself using the course material in the same way they do. This gives the material meaning and a sense of purpose that goes beyond memorization. When I hear a peer's story, it connects to the story I am telling myself about who I want to be in the future."

When it comes to the fact that students who received no rationale fared better than those who received a rationale from the teacher, Roseth said: "This gives support to the idea that, motivationally, the fact that instructors control grades, tell the students what to do, and so on, may be working against their efforts to increase their students' appreciation of why the class is important."

In the end, it seems this research just lends credibility to the notion that the friends your child surrounds him or herself with matter. Kids who value school and its importance are likely very good influences, while those who aren't dedicated students may be doing harm to your child's academic successs, whether it's at the elementary or college level.

That being said, clearly there is more to how a child performs in school than just who their friends are. But having a positive peer group never hurts.

What's your take?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.