Lunchroom-Specific Peer Acceptance and Children's Internalizing Symptoms

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Prior research suggests the elementary school lunchroom is an important context for children’s social development. Using a sample of 659 fourth-grade students in 10 public schools (50.7% female; 42.7% Hispanic/Latinx, 30.3% White, 10% Pacific Islander, 7.8% bi/multiracial, 2.2% American Indian, 2.2% Black, 1.9% Asian, and 2.9% other), we examined the association between lunchroom-specific peer acceptance and internalizing symptoms (i.e., depression and social anxiety symptoms). We hypothesized that lunchroom peer acceptance would predict self-rated depression and social anxiety symptoms when controlling for social preference scores. Using hierarchical linear modeling, results indicated self-rated lunchtime peer acceptance scores in December significantly predicted depression symptoms in May when controlling social preference scores and accounted for changes in depression scores across a school year. However, some significant gender differences emerged. Results suggest that elementary school lunchroom interventions should attend to children’s perceptions of lunchroom likability and their experiences of depression symptoms.

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Child Psychiatry & Human Development

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