Researchers studied kindergarteners' behavior and followed up 19 years later. Here are the findings.

Every parent wants to see their kid get good grades in school. But now we know social success is just as important.

From an early age, we're led to believe our grades and test scores are the key to everything — namely, going to college, getting a job, and finding that glittery path to lifelong happiness and prosperity.


It can be a little stressful.

All GIFs from "Billy Madison."

But a new study shows that when children learn to interact effectively with their peers and control their emotions, it can have an enormous impact on how their adult lives take shape. And according to the study, kids should be spending more time on these skills in school.

Nope, it's not hippie nonsense. It's science.

Researchers measured the social skills of 800 kindergarteners in 1991. Two decades later, they looked them up to see how things turned out.

Kindergarten teachers evaluated the kids with a portion of something called the Social Competence Scale by rating statements like "The child is good at understanding other's feelings" on a handy "Not at all/A little/Moderately well/Well/Very well" scale.

The research team used these responses to give each kid a "social competency score," which they then stored in what I assume was a manila folder somewhere for 19 years, or until each kid was 25. At that point, they gathered some basic information about the now-grown-ups and did some fancy statistical stuff to see whether their early social skills held any predictive value.

Here's what they found.

1. Those good test scores we covet? They still matter, but maybe not for the reasons we thought.

Traditional thinking says that if a kid gets good grades and test scores, he or she must be really smart, right? After all, there is a proven correlation between having a better GPA in high school and making more money later in life.

But what that test score doesn't tell you is how many times a kid worked with a study partner to crack a tough problem, or went to the teacher for extra help, or resisted the urge to watch TV instead of preparing for a test.

The researchers behind this project wrote, "Success in school involves both social-emotional and cognitive skills, because social interactions, attention, and self-control affect readiness for learning."

That's a fancy way of saying that while some kids may just be flat-out brilliant, most of them need more than just smarts to succeed. Maybe it wouldn't hurt spending a little more time in school teaching kids about the social half of the equation.

2. Skills like sharing and cooperating pay off later in life.

We know we need to look beyond GPA and state-mandated testing to figure out which kids are on the right path. That's why the researchers zeroed in so heavily on that social competency score.

What they found probably isn't too surprising: Kids who related well to their peers, handled their emotions better, and were good at resolving problems went on to have more successful lives.

What's surprising is just how strong the correlation was.

An increase of a single point in social competency score showed a child would be 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma, twice as likely to graduate with a college degree, and 46% more likely to have a stable, full-time job at age 25.

The kids who were always stealing toys, breaking things, and having meltdowns? More likely to have run-ins with the law and substance abuse problems.

The study couldn't say for sure that strong or poor social skills directly cause any of these things. But we can say for sure that eating too much glue during arts and crafts definitely doesn't help.

3. Social behaviors can be learned and unlearned — meaning it's never too late to change.

The researchers called some of these pro-social behaviors like sharing and cooperating "malleable," or changeable.

Let's face it: Some kids are just never going to be rocket scientists. Turns out there are physical differences in our brains that make learning easier for some people than others. But settling disputes with peers? That's something kids (and adults) can always continue to improve on.

And guess what? For a lot of kids, these behaviors come from their parents. The more you're able to demonstrate positive social traits like warmth and empathy, the better off your kids will be.

So can we all agree to stop yelling at people when they take the parking spot we wanted?

But what does it all mean?

This study has definite limitations, which its researchers happily admit. While it did its best to control for as many environmental factors as possible, it ultimately leans pretty heavily on whether a teacher thought a kid was just "good" or "very good" at a given trait.

Still, the 19-year study paints a pretty clear picture: Pro-social behavior matters, even at a young age. And because it can be learned, it's a great "target for prevention or intervention efforts."

The bottom line? We need to do more than just teach kids information. We need to invest in teaching them how to relate to others and how to handle the things they're feeling inside.

Ignoring social skills in our curricula could have huge ramifications for our kids down the road.

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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