As children move into early adolescence they grow and develop, and involvement with their peers and the need for peer identification increases. (Lingren, 1995) Adolescence is both an exciting and challenging time in our lives, a time which may also be challenging for parents and teachers. (Teen advice?, 1996) For the first time, in adolescence, a child becomes introduced to the world outside the home and may not even want to be seen with parents. (Kassin by Berndt, 1996) As they go through rapid physical, emotional and social changes, pre-adolescents begin to question adult standards and the need for parental guidance. They tend to find it reassuring to turn for advice to friends, who understand and sympathize with them, friends who are in the same position themselves. By experimenting with new values and testing their ideas with peers, there is less fear of being ridiculed. (Lingren, 1995) Adolescence is also the beginning of new types of relationships, which can be highly intimate. For example, it s not unusual for best friends to talk freely about their thoughts and feelings and to reveal some of their deepest, darkest secrets. (Kassin by Berndt, 1996)
Most adolescents tend to retain the fundamental values of their parents, but they would most likely look to peers for guidance on how to dress or wear their hair, what music to listen to, how to speak, and how to behave in ways that are acceptable. Conformity satisfies important needs in a teenager s life. As social beings, we all exhibit a tendency to conform to some extent. However, this tendency is more prominent in adolescence, especially during the early stages of adolescence. In a 1979 study, Thomas Berndt noted that conformity rose steadily with age, peaked in the ninth grade, then declined. The tendency to conform is much weaker for actions that are immoral or illegal, but the most likely followers are consistently younger adolescents , wanting desperately to fit in. (Kassin by Brown et al., 1986; Gavin & Furman, 1989 )
In adolescence, the importance of peers increases because the child and parent become more distant from each other. Some reasons for this include, family strains, the issue of dating, part-time employment, and an increase in parent-adolescent conflict and disagreement. Increases in family strains may include divorce or economic pressures, which may encourage teenagers to depend more on their peers for emotional support. During high school years, teenagers feel closer to friends than parents because of the stress caused by their family stress. The issue of dating is important because the formal dating patterns that parents may remember have been replaced with informal socializing patterns in mixed-sex groups. This may encourage casual sexual relationships. The increase in part-time employment among youth has had little impact on peer relationships, but to find time for work teens often withdraw from family interactions. This causes additional strain on parent-adolescent relationships. In 10 to 20 percent of families, there is also a pattern of distressed relationships characterized by emotional coldness and frequent outbursts of anger and conflict. Unresolved conflicts can produce discouragement and withdrawal from family life. (Lingren, 1995)
The adult perception of peers as having one culture or a unified front of dangerous influence, is inaccurate. (Lingren, 1995) Adults usually see peer pressure as horrible thing because it is laden with negative connotations. To most adults, the idea that someone or something lures their children into learning dangerous and destructive behavior by discarding all parental behaviors and values, is frightening. The fact is, peer pressure can be positive. It can keep youths participating in religious activities and playing on sports teams, even when they are not leaders. It can also keep adults going to religious services, serving on community committees and supporting worthwhile causes. The peer group is a source of affection, sympathy and understanding; a place for experimentation; and an attempt to discover that self that is separate and independent from their parents. Obviously, more often than not, peers reinforce family values, but they have the potential to encourage problem behaviors as well. Although, the negative peer influence is much more overemphasized than the positive. (Lingren, 1995) Teenagers become more like their friends over time. Those whose friends do well in school raise their grades, however on the negative side, those whose friends are frequent drug users increase their own usage. Interestingly, adolescents with warmer and more demanding parents are less vulnerable in this regard to the influence of friends. (Kassin by Mounts & Steinberg, 1995) At any rate, there is an incredible range of experience among today’s teens. Intact families, for example, are often the exception rather than the rule. (Teen Advice?, 1996)
Sometimes communities falsely believe it is the family s total responsibility to monitor the negative effects of peer relationships over which they have little control. It is critically important that communities provide a safe, supportive, nurturing environment for adolescents as they grow up. At the same time, families must provide limits and expectations for all members to live by. The community an adolescent lives in has a major impact on whether he or she will pay more attention to adults or to other young people. (Lingren, 1995)
Although adolescent behavior seems to demonstrate a large influence from peers, a study from the University of Cincinatti found no significant effects on adolescent prejudices and stereotypes from attitudes of friends. Psychologist Harold D. Fishbein, PhD, and a sociologist Neil Ritchey, PhD, administered questionnaires to 426 ninth and eleventh graders at two predominantly white catholic schools, one for males and one for females. The students answered questions that measured prejudice and stereotyping, including prejudice against those with AIDS, blacks, homosexuals, and overweight people. The study also looked at sex-role stereotyping. Each student listed up to five of his or her closest friends in the classroom and answered questions about closeness to each. Based on their experiment, the researchers did not find significant effects of friends attitudes on an adolescent s prejudices or stereotypes. There are three possible reasons for the lack of influence. First, the basis of adolescent friendships is mainly shared activities and not discussions of prejudice or stereotyping. Another reason is the discrepancy between attitudes and behavior, and the possible influence of adolescents on one another s behavior only. A third is the relatively low level of prejudice and stereotyping in the studied group. In contrast, people who are very prejudiced, Fishbein said, may choose friends who have the same beliefs. (Kass, 1999)
During adolescence, peers play a large part in a young person s life and typically replace family as the center of a teen s social and leisure activities. But teenagers have various peer relationships, and they interact with many peer groups. Often peer cultures have different values and norms. Thus, the adult perception of peers as a united front of dangerous influence is inaccurate.