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A study on the effects of social withdrawal

individuals appear content to spend most of their hours and days removed from others. These individuals include those who spend significant time alone, working, playing, and otherwise acting on their computers. Conversely, there are those individuals who, while in social company, avoid their confreres, or who actively choose lives of solitude to escape the initiation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. And finally, there are individuals who have little choice in the matter of solitude because they are isolated or rejected by others in their social communities. In the cases of the avoidance of social company and the isolation from social company, solitude could hardly be construed as psychologically or socially adaptive. It is not the display of solitude per se that may pose a problem; rather, the central issue is that social withdrawal may reflect underlying difficulties of a social or emotional nature (Kenneth et al, 2009). It has been considered by clinical psychologists to have limited developmental significance.

Social withdrawal is a form of social isolation. It is an absolute form of avoidance of social contact and communication. Social withdrawal refers to the consistent (across situations and over time) display of all forms of solitary behaviour when encountering familiar and/or unfamiliar peers. Simply put, social withdrawal is construed as isolating oneself from the peer group (Rubin et al 1993).

In this essay I would be discussing social withdrawal in children and the important /common reasons for social withdrawal behaviour in children. The study of children’s and adolescents’ solitary and withdrawn behaviour has been associated with such constructs as shyness, behavioural inhibition, isolation and rejection, social reticence, passivity, and peer neglect (Rubin et al 1993, 2004). Social withdrawal is viewed as emanating from such internal factors as anxiety, negative self-esteem, and self-perceived difficulties in social skills and social relationships (Rubin & Asendorpf 1993). The expression of social withdrawal represents the developmental outcome of particular temperamental dispositions (Fox et al. 2005). Some believe that social withdrawal in childhood, depending upon the age at which it is observed, reflects the lack of a social approach motive and a preference for object manipulation and construction over interpersonal exchange (Coplan et al. 2004). Finally, there are those who believe that social withdrawal is linked to psychological maladaptation as it represents a behavioural expression of internalized thoughts and feelings of social anxiety or depression (Vasa & Pine 2006).

Looking at the reasons for social withdrawal in children, Anxiety disorders represent one of the most common disorders of childhood (Achenbach 1982, Rapee & Sweeney 2001). Anxiety-disordered children often withdraw from social company. A child’s mind is not developed to the point where he or she can effectively recognize that their thoughts are irrational – contrasted with the adult sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder who often know that they are thinking in an irrational manner, but simply cannot control their own thoughts without treatment. In the case of a child, irrational thoughts that they are constantly being evaluated are often as real to them as the ground on which they walk. This is why social anxiety withdrawal is even more common in children than it is in adults. Unfortunately, for children suffering from social anxiety, withdrawal from social interaction is the exact opposite of what they need from a developmental standpoint. Childhood is the period when most people learn the social and coping skills that sustain them for the rest of their lives. A child whose fears cause him or her to withdraw from social interaction and turn ever more insular will, if untreated, tend to grow into an adult with severe anxiety and withdrawal issues. Proper treatment at an early age is critical in preventing the disorder from growing worse as the child gets older. Of all of the ill effects of this disorder, social withdrawal is the worst. It is the one reaction to anxiety that ensures the condition’s survival and power over the individual’s life (Walter Shustikov, 2009) However, the relation between withdrawal and anxiety is likely transactional and cyclical in nature. Social withdrawal and avoidance interfere with the normal development of social skills. Such deficiencies in social skills will then serve to reinforce social anxiety and to foster negative self-appraisals and negative self-esteem (Nelson et al. 2005).

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Studies also show that depression has a part to contribute to social withdrawal in children. Social withdrawal accompanying depression may have different social consequences. Whereas social withdrawal induced by social anxiety may yield sympathy, interest, and social overtures from others, depressed-withdrawn individuals may attempt to elicit support in a way that actually causes others to withdraw from them or even ignore or reject them (Mullins et al. 1986). Social withdrawal appears to be not only a concomitant but also a predictor of depression (Bell-Dolan et al. 1993, Rubin et al. 1995). Recently studies have found that social withdrawal predicted depressive symptoms for those children who had insecure attachment relationships with their parents (Gullone et al. 2006). Social withdrawal is listed as a symptom, or marker, of anxiety and phobic disorders and major depression. It may be that the forms of solitude and the motivations underlying these behavioural expressions vary from one disturbance to another (Rubin et al 2009).It has become increasingly clear that there are long-term costs associated with childhood inhibition, shyness, and withdrawal. It is known that internalizing problems (e.g., loneliness, anxiety, and depression) are contemporaneous correlates of childhood and early adolescent social withdrawal (Boivin et al. 1995, Morison & Masten 1991, Ollendick et al. 1990).

Autism and Schizophrenia in children leads to social withdrawal too. Autism is a withdrawal from contact with the world and a consequent overemphasis on one’s own thoughts and fantasies. The schizophrenic becomes unable to distinguish between his own imagining and reality is often spoken of as “being out of contact.” Because schizophrenics are often buried in their own private and inner world, they lack interest in what is happening around them, being particularly withdrawn from any sort of social interaction. They frequently have few friends, little interest in the opposite sex and a history of actively avoiding close social contacts with others.

Recent studies have found out that the Avoidant personality disorder is common in young children. It is one of several personality disorders listed in the newest edition of DSM-IV-TR. This disorder is characterised by marked avoidance of both social situations and close interpersonal relationship due to an excessive fear of rejection of others. Persons with this disorder exhibit feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and mistrust toward others. The cause of avoidant personality disorder is not clearly defined, may be influenced by a combination of social, genetic and biological factors. Avoidant personality traits typically appear in childhood, with signs of excessive shyness and fear when the child confronts new people and situations.

Many studies have also shown that peer rejection and peer influence also plays a major role in social withdrawal in children. The earliest statements concerning the significance of peer relations in determining normal social and social cognitive growth was made by Piaget (1926, 1932). Rejection, victimization, and submissiveness in a child’s life can make him a victim to social withdrawal. When socially withdrawn children attempt to meet their social goals in the company of their peers, they are more likely to directly experience peer neglect and rejection than their more sociable age-mates (Chen et al. 2006, Nelson et al. 2005, Rubin & Krasnor 1986, Stewart & Rubin 1995). It is also well known that socially withdrawn children are actively disliked by their peers (Boivin et al. 1995, Gazelle & Ladd 2003, Hart et al. 2000, Ladd 2006, Oh et al. 2008, Ollendick et al. 1990, Rubin et al. 1993). In fact, social withdrawal is one of the strongest correlates and consequences of peer rejection during middle childhood and adolescence (Deater-Deckard 2001, Newcomb et al. 1993). Approximately 10% of the school population experiences victimization by peers (Natl. Inst. Child Health Human Dev. 2001, Olweus 1984). Children who are victimized experience repeated and consistent physical and verbal abuse from their peers and classmates. Given the reserved and quiescent demeanor of many socially withdrawn children and given that they often attempt to avoid social company to begin with, one might expect that they would be protected from a bullying experience. By the time children reach the mid-to-late childhood years, social withdrawal becomes a full-fledged risk factor. Socially withdrawn children become salient to peers and many become rejected by them. Whether the existence of friends, or even a single close friendship, buffers withdrawn children from feeling negatively about themselves and their relationships is not yet known (Rubin et al, 1990).

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These are the few common reasons for withdrawal seen in children. Different assessments can be done to measure social withdrawal in childhood and its associated constructs, including behavioural observations, parent and teacher ratings and also peer and self-reports. The extant battery of measures captures the various forms and meaning of social withdrawal. It was also seen that little evidence was found to suggest that sex differences exist in the prevalence or frequency of inhibition, shyness and social withdrawal in childhood and early adolescence. Some researchers show that beginning in early childhood, shy-withdrawn boys are more likely to be excluded and rejected by peers than are shy-withdrawn girls (Coplan et al. 2004, Coplan & Arbeau 2008, Gazelle & Ladd 2003).Across the lifespan, shyness-withdrawal appears to be more strongly associated with socio-emotional difficulties for boys than for girls. Thus, socially withdrawn boys but not girls describe themselves as more lonely, as having poorer social skills, and as having lower self-esteem than their typical peers (Morison & Masten 1991, Nelson et al. 2005, Rubin et al. 1993). Although it is difficult to ascertain whether dispositional factors lead to different parental responses or whether different parenting behaviour leads to different social behavioural profiles for boys versus girls, the bottom line is that passive, inhibited, withdrawn boys experience socialization and social relationship histories that differ from their female counterparts. (Rubin et al, 2009).

Early intervention and preventions must be done to avoid more cases of children in social withdrawal. But not much studies and research has been gone into this field. Perhaps the most popular intervention strategy has been social skills training (SST), which involves training in verbal and nonverbal communication skills and incorporates components of coaching, modelling, and training for solving social problems. Some SST programs have demonstrated moderate short-term success in enhancing the social skills of withdrawn children and adolescents (Bienert & Schneider 1995, Jupp & Griffiths 1990, Sheridan et al. 1990).

Through my studies on this topic I was able to understand few of the common or frequent concerns of young children with social withdrawal. It helped me realise a few cognitive as well the environmental influence for the withdrawal symptoms in a child.


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