Causes of Psychosocial Problems

I am sure you have a few questions about what causes a child to have difficulties developing psycho-socially. You are also probably wondering what happens when a high school student does not have a healthy, normal psychosocial development? One question I am trying to address is how does this effect a student’s learning and why do teachers need to be aware of every child’s psychosocial development? Things that affect psychosocial development:


Poverty has a major negative psychosocial impact. According to studies by V.C. McLoyd, persistent exposure to poverty has a directly negative effect on a child’s health, cognitive development and ultimately, their school achievement, particularly when poverty happens in infancy or early childhood. The more obvious explanation for the reasoning of this are that lifestyle and living conditions for those who live in poverty affect a child negatively. Environmental deprivation is usually what we consider when we think about poverty, but it is not the only factor.

Stressors such as unsafe or life-threatening living conditions and violence play a part. Among these is deprivation of other essential necessities that are needed, such as food, medicine and a safe home. Deprivation of any of these things, especially in infancy or early childhood has a marked effect on psychosocial development. As McLoyd points out, children who live in poverty are exposed to more extreme living situations than those who are not living under similar circumstances. These conditions may have a more pronounced effect or influence on them. Studies have also shown that poverty has a direct effect on cognitive functioning and development, which has a direct impact on psychosocial development. If a child is unable to master the tasks that other children his/her age are, then their development may stall. Basically, poverty affects the physical, social, societal, and mental well-being of a child, therefore, its far-reaching effect can be devastating to the development of a child.

Cultural Values and Societal Roles

It may not come as a surprise that a person’s gender or cultural heritage can shape who they are and what they do in life. It also affects psychosocial development in positive and negative ways. A study of ethnic-racial socialization in early and middle childhood found that cultural socialization was associated with fewer behavior problems in both genders (Hughes). Discrimination of cultural values or ethnicity has a negative effect (depression and aggression) on psychosocial development and behavior. It also effects self-esteem, academic achievement, stigmatization and psychosocial functioning. There is a need for more research on the effects of these particular issues on development, as very few studies have been done and little empirical evidence exists.

Abuse or Neglect

It could hardly come as a surprise that abuse and neglect causes poor performance in a school setting. But many people do not understand why that is exactly. A study by Eckenrode, Laird and Doris showed that maltreated children tended to have test scores below that of peers who were not maltreated. Their study even broke down results to show what type of maltreatment resulted in the poorest performance. Neglected children scored lower in many areas than even sexually abused children. The findings of the study also showed a significant increase in disciplinary action and suspension for maltreated children. In terms of disciplinary action, students who were physically abused had the most instances of action. It could be easily concluded that students who are being mistreated at home, whether it be neglect, sexual or physical abuse, are more likely to perform poorly, halt development and have disciplinary problems in the classroom. Psycho-socially speaking, maltreated children struggle with impaired language development, less pro-social behavior, lower levels of cognitive maturity, more aggressive behavior and more insecure attachment to their mothers.

The Eckenrode study also concluded that students who are neglected perform at the lowest levels of academic achievement among any maltreated children. This is significant in terms of classroom management because it may not be as easy to spot neglect as it could be to see the signs of physical and sexual abuse. Another interesting finding of this study is that while gender did effect what type of abuse a student was likely to experience, it found no great difference between the genders in terms of the effects of maltreatment (with the exception that boys were more likely to have disciplinary problems. No matter what abuse a student suffers, it clearly impacts their psychosocial development and in turn, negatively impacts their education.

Family Dynamics

A study by Oshman and Manosevitz shows that the presence of an older male figure (such as that of a step-brother or step-father) can positively affect a child’s development. Theoretically speaking, this presence could also affect them negatively if it were the case of an abusive relationship. As far as testing, students in the study tested much higher if they had a father figure present. The study also showed that an absence of this father figure early on in the child’s life resulted in a negative effect on the child.

According to studies of adolescent socialization in families by Steinberg, children whose parents were authoritative (warm and firm) showed high levels of competence and psychosocial maturity than peers who have more permissive, indifferent or authoritarian with their child (Steinberg 88). What this means to teachers of high school students is that we may notice a maturity and seriousness in students who have a disciplined home life and caring parents. It was also found that authoritative parenting can lessen the effect of negative peer influence.

Peer Influences

During the transition into adolescence, we tend to rely more and spend more time with peers/friends than any other group. These interactions are important for self-esteem, development and learning the hidden curriculum. Peers can however have both a positive and negative influence on adolescent development. As stated in the above segment, Steinberg found through a study that the effects of negative peer influence can be blunted by authoritative parenting. The major influence of peers on development is their contribution to identity development. This is because peers influence the way an adolescent may view themselves and the world around them. Peers can effect self-esteem and establish norms for their peer group. Peer rejection can negatively impact psychosocial development, and so these established norms can delineate who is a desirable and undesirable peer. Very little research has been done in the function of teenage romantic relationships, but be assured that can effect development as well.

Mental Health

It might seem like an obvious cause of psychosocial dysfunction, but mental health can have a broad meaning. It can cover disorders but also emotional stressors that cause mental health issues. There is a correlation between stress and mental health, especially in young adolescents. In findings of a study by Roeser, adolescents who were well-adjusted or positively adjusted were less likely to affiliate with negative peers, skip school, exhibit at-risk behavior or have low self-esteem whereas parents of children with poor mental health were characterized as having low academic value and be more likely to associate with the above behaviors.

Physical Health and Malnutrition

Studies show that food insufficiency and malnutrition can affect not only physical development but also psychosocial development. A study by Katherine Alaimo, Christine Olson and Edward Frongillo Jr, analyzed data from nutritional surveys on US children and teenagers from age 6-16 years old. The results of their study were that the children who were food-insufficient had significantly lower scores in arithmetic and were more likely to have to repeat a grade, see a psychologist and have trouble associating with peers. Making sure that children are getting the proper nutrition and exercise or activity is vital to their success in the classroom (and of course, their livelihood).


Physical and learning disabilities can effect psychosocial development as well. Research on children with learning disabilities found a negative correlation with self-esteem, interpersonal relationships and juvenile delinquency (Pickar). It is suggested by older research that due to a negative educational experience, some adolescents with learning disabilities may engage in delinquent activity as a way to satisfy frustrated emotional needs that are not being met in other ways. There also seems to be high correlation school failure and delinquency in these cases. This could be the result of negative self-concept. In Pickar’s findings, adolescents with learning disabilities showed less resolution of the industry vs. inferiority stage. This could be attributed to perceived popularity and low self-esteem.


Stressors for adolescents can include any of the above problems and more. It is important to note the fragility of the emotional state of children this age. According to Roeser, studies show that if adolescents perceive themselves as competent academically, they generally get higher grades and are able to master school-related tasks more easily. There is a correlation between emotional distress and impaired ability to learn. Results from other studies on emotional distress in early adolescents find that it can have an effect on academic motivation and achievement.


4 thoughts on “Causes of Psychosocial Problems

  1. I believe these may not be the only psycho-social problems that may affect learning. Please send me more updates.

  2. Nanaishetu A Ekwemalor says:

    What is Psychosocial enviromentof students Education

  3. Nanaishetu A Ekwemalor says:

    What is psychosocial environmet of learning?

    • JUSTUS ORIKI says:

      The term psychosocial refers to the close
      connection between psychosocial aspects of
      our experiences (e.g. our thoughts, emotions,
      and behavior) and our wider social experience
      (e.g. our relationships, tradition and culture).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: