The issue of peer influence and pressure is one which has received considerable attention in recent research on child and adolescent development. There is a growing consensus that peer influence is just as, if not more, important in adolescence than parental guidance. Some researchers claim that peer pressure is more important for aspects of adolescent education than parental influences. As Anita M. Smith, Vice President of The Institute for Youth Development, has stated; "From the time children are toddlers participate in play groups, parents wonder and worry about what seems to be an ever powerful and permeating force in our children's lives - the influence of their peers." (Smith) There is also a realization of the influence and power of peer pressure among adolescents themselves." Most children freely acknowledge the reality of peer pressure in their lives. The majority of adolescents who participated in IYD focus groups recognized the power of peers in their lives" (Smith).
This paper will therefore attempt to asses to what extent, if any, the traditional influence of parents has been eroded by peer influence and what questions and problems this raises for the teaching profession as well as for teaching methods and approaches. This research also hopes to show why an awareness of the phenomenon of peer pressure is important for the teacher in contemporary society.
According to many educationists and developmental psychologists, adolescence is that age when the young person "...must set up an identity to escape identity diffusion and confusion..." (Boujlaleb) Therefore at this stage of development young people tend to pay more attention to friends and peers than to parents in the process of developing character and personality traits that are acceptable to their age group. "Peer Pressure" is the term that is often used to describe the increased influence and force of peers at this age. Peer pressure is defined as the "...influence from members of the same group"... And this influence may be both positive and negative. (Boujlaleb) Peer groups and friends form part of the locus of influence that is essential for the initial development of adolescents into adulthood. "...the first level of the ecology or the context of human development is the micro system... [that is] family, school, peer groups as well as the specific culture within which the family identifies." (Boujlaleb)
However, recent research has found that in this locus of influence peers and peer groups often have an influence that outweighs and is more influential than family and parental influence. This is particularly the case when it comes to academic development. (Oswald, and Suss, 1994) In many models and theories of development "... family comes before outer world, which is school and peers" (Boujlaleb). Research however has shown that "... The role of peers is more significant than parents' role "(Boujlaleb). This factor is related to the need for personal development within the structure and framework of friends and individuals in the same age group, as well as the need for acceptance by others.
The above point-of-view that peers are more important than parents in the adolescent years is supported by researchers such as Judith Harris, a writer of developmental psychology textbooks. She claims that the meaning of the term "nurture," which usually associated with parental care, is more extensive than is commonly understood. According to Harris, ".... parents influence their children with their genes, but have less importance later in life than peers do. This "group socialization theory" asserts that children's friends and other groups are dominant forces in the nurturing that helps shape personality and behavior." (PEERS OR PARENTS?)
On the one hand peer influence is a necessary and positive factor in the development and growth of the adolescent. Mixing with one's peers and being accepted in a group is seen as healthy part of the process of "growing up." It is also important as part of this process for the teenager to develop a sense of independence and self, outside of the sphere and ambit of parental and family influence. (Adolescent Rebellion can be Quelled) Among the positive influences that peers can exercise on the young individual is that the peer group acts as 'sounding board' or a test to ascertain physical, psychological and social development. Approval of their peers is also a form of psychological security for the developing teenager. (Adolescent Rebellion can be Quelled)
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health surveyed more than 90,000 adolescents on many health-related issues and found that peers can have a positive influence on various problems, such as teen pregnancies.
On average, a girl's risk of pregnancy decreases by one percent for every one percent more low-risk than high-risk friends she has. In fact, a couple of high-risk female friends in a girl's crowd are not that dangerous, meaning, in this context, that such friends do not necessarily hasten first intercourse or increase the risk of pregnancy.
On the other hand peer influence can undermine positive family and parental influence and lead to negative and even self- destructive patterns of behavior. Researchers have found that;
Teens who feel isolated or rejected by their peers -- or in their family -- are more likely to engage in risky behaviors in order to fit in with a group. In such situations, peer pressure can impair good judgment and fuel risk-taking behavior, drawing a teen away from the family and positive influences and luring into dangerous activities.
Peer Influence and Peer Relationships)
The above quotation refers to a fairly common assessment of peer pressure and there are numerous studies which indicate how this more negative peer influence can undermine parental guidance. For example, peer pressure has been seen as one of the central causes for teenage girls entering into early sexual relationships in the search for acceptance and love. Peer pressure can also result in behavior that goes against the normal propensity and inclination of the individual. "Some teens will risk being grounded, losing their parents' trust, or even facing jail time, just to try and fit in or feel like they have a group of friends they can identify with and who accept them" (Peer Influence and Peer Relationships).
Another example of behavior that goes against parental advice and values is drug abuse. For instance, in one study it was found that, "...13% of teens are introduced to drugs by the intermediary of peers" (Boujlaleb).
Kawaguchi (2004) also states that, "Peer effects or peer pressure is identified as a critical determinant, since the use of substance is considered to be a highly social behavior." (Kawaguchi 351)
The parent and the teacher are faced with the reality of peer influence and pressure and must be aware of the power of this influence in the classroom as well as in the home. As has been noted in the above discussion, peer influence is not necessary a negative aspect and the creation of relationships and the sharing of interests among peers should be encouraged by the teacher. However the problems arise when peer pressure is negative and when it is contrary to the good advice of the educator and parent. In this situation the teacher should firstly be aware of any changes in the teenager's behavior which may be as a result of peer pressure and act to reduce the negative impact of this form of pressure.
One of the ways that negative peer pressure can be combated by the educationist are structured opportunities in which adolescents can engage in various behaviors; as well as the setting of norms and standards that can be applied to this stage in life. (Smith) Being aware of the type of relationships that the teenager is involved in is crucial to any form of intervention or remedial strategies. Just as parents should be aware of the type of friends…