As part of the growing up process, children of pre-adolescence and teenage years begin to question adult standards and tend to distance themselves from their parents in order to develop their independent personalities. At this stage of their lives, it is only natural for them to turn to their peers for advice, guidance, and for using them as a sounding board to try out their new ideas and values. Conforming to the crowd is also an important consideration for most young people. As a result, they come under 'peer pressure' to do as others do. Although such peer pressure may not always be a negative influence, at times it leads to seriously negative consequences. In this paper I shall look at the growing up process, outline the negative and positive influence of peer pressure on teenagers, and discuss how parents can help to minimize its negative effects on their children.
The Growing-up Process
The behavior pattern of children starts to change in their pre-adolescent age and the changes become more noticeable as they enter their teenage years. According to Dr. Elkind, most of the behavior changes in adolescents are due to the development of the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex that is taking place during the teenage years; it is the part of the brain that is known as the judgment center and as it matures, the adolescents start to develop their own ability to make judgment for themselves. As their brain is able to synthesize information into ideas, teenagers begin to exercise their new skill by arguing with their parents. Another effect of the teenagers' new found ability to synthesize information is that they start to see the world more realistically. Whereas younger children idealize their parents and are unable to see their flaws, adolescents begin to do so. Most parents are, of course far from perfect, and when the teenagers compare their parents to their "ideal" concept of parents, they are suddenly disappointed. (Davis 2003) As a result, most teenagers start to spend more time with their peers, instead of their parents. The increased contact with people of their own age-group, which is an important part of their growing-up process, along with the need to belong to a group, make young adolescents particularly vulnerable to peer pressure.
All Peer Pressure is not negative
Despite the common perception, the effects of peer pressure are not always negative. Peer groups can be a source of affection, sympathy and understanding and a place for experimentation. They provide a supportive setting for achieving some essential developmental functions such as in helping adolescents in finding their "identity" and achieving autonomy by discovering their selves as separate and independent individuals. (Lingren 1995)
Positive peer pressure includes support and encouragement of a number of constructive actions for one another by members of the peer group. For example, peer pressure often persuades adolescents to participate in healthy activities such as sports and pushes young people to excel in their studies and their professions. (Bernstein 2005)
Peer pressure can also be 'neutral' rather than negative. This includes the naturally occurring peer pressure to "go along with the crowd" without causing harm to others and should not be considered a problem by the parents. Examples of this type of peer pressure includes adoption of clothing and hairstyles, taste in music etc. The parents should ignore such 'neutral' peer pressures even if the results conflict with their way of thinking.
Negative Peer Pressure
The worst kind of peer pressure impairs the good judgment of a teenager and lures him or her into risk-taking or dangerous activities. Adolescents themselves realize the negative power of peer pressure and acknowledge how it can influence their actions. For example, a Gallup Poll of 13- to 17-year-olds conducted in 1999 found that 40% of them considered "peer influence" to have been responsible for the Columbine High School shooting
. The surveyed students quoted "taunting by other students," being "picked on," "teased," and "being left out" as possible reasons behind the shootings. (Lashbrook 2000)
Shooting other students due to "peer pressure" is of course an extreme example. Typical negative effects of peer pressure are alcohol and drug use, engaging in sexual activities earlier than one wants, or breaking the law such as shoplifting or robbery just because "everyone else is doing it."…