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For Short Kids, No Lack of Self-Esteem

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

There is good news for parents worried that their short child will be psychologically damaged from teasing, a new study gives reassurance that there will be no lasting effects from any exposure to short jokes.

The study shows that short children reported being teased only slightly more than their peers, but the teasing didn’t appear to affect their popularity or relationships with other children. The study, which appears in the September 2009 issue of Pediatrics, shows short children were no more likely than their peers to have symptoms of depression.

“The gist of our study is that parents and pediatricians should be reassured by this,” said study author Dr. Joyce Lee, an assistant professor in pediatric endocrinology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “For kids below the 10th percentile [on standardized growth charts], there didn’t seem to be any significant outcomes in terms of popularity or in peer victimization reported by the teachers.”

Dr. Lee and her colleagues did the study because many parents are concerned when their children fail to grow at a similar pace to their peers. Once medical conditions have been ruled out, parents often worry that being significantly shorter than other children the same age will have lasting social or psychological effects on their youngsters, according to the study.

Lee’s study included 712 sixth-graders who were part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The data included information from both teachers’ and children’s perceptions of peer victimization or teasing. It also included measures of depression, optimism, popularity and social support from peers.

According to Lee, the researchers found there were really no differences between short children and taller ones. The one factor where shorter children scored slightly higher was in the self-report of peer victimization. However, the teachers indicated no difference in peer victimization.

Lee said that teachers might miss out on some of the teasing, or that children might focus more on teasing. Also, short children may feel as if they’re being picked on solely because of their height. The good news, however, is that even with slightly higher levels of reported teasing, the shorter kids were still just as popular and had support from their peers, and didn’t appear depressed or less optimistic due to taunts.

As children get older, say in seventh or eighth grade, young teens may have a harder time if they’re smaller, Lee said. “Adolescence is a particular time when you have a lot of differences in growth, and one might predict it would be a little more difficult time if you’re of short stature,” she noted.

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