“Belongingness” (sometimes referred to as “relatedness”) is a measure of the depth and quality of the interpersonal relationships in an individual’s life. The need to belong, or the need to form strong, mutually supportive relationships and to maintain these relationships through regular contact, is a fundamental human motivation that can affect emotional patterns and cognitive processes. Supportive relationships can serve to buffer the impact of stressful life events, leading to superior adjustment and well-being.
Both peer relations and teacher-student relationships are vital to maintaining high levels of motivation and engagement in school. Positive peer relations in the school setting can refer to either the number of supportive, intimate friendships maintained by a student, or to general popularity among the wider peer group, which leads to a sense of being accepted and respected at school. Both types of positive peer relations have been found to influence school competence, involvement in the classroom, and academic achievement. Positive teacher-student relationships are also important in that they can enhance student motivation, engagement, coping with failure, and achievement.
In contrast, socially rejected students show lower levels of engagement, have higher levels of academic and behavioral problems, and can be at significant risk of dropping out of school and eventually running afoul of the law. In the school setting, socially rejected students are defined as those children nominated by others in the classroom as being someone who, for example, is “liked least” or “fights a lot”. In addition to social rejection, friendships with negative features (i.e., regular conflict, rivalry) can predict poorer school adjustment and more disruptive behavior.
Belongingness also has a profound impact on adolescent mental heath and well-being. Intimate, supportive adolescent friendships can enhance adjustment, perceived competence, and self-esteem, as well as reduce emotional distress and suicide ideation and lead to lower levels of involvement in high-risk behaviors, including violence, drug use and teenage pregnancy. Children with low levels of perceived friendship support are at a higher risk for depression than children who report supportive friendships. Belongingness becomes especially important to well-being as children enter adolescence. During this phase, the ability to establish and maintain positive peer relations is linked to higher levels of sociability, perceived competence and self-esteem, and reduced hostility, anxiousness and depression.