peers influence adolescents

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Parent and Peer Relationships

How do parents and peers influence adolescents?

As adolescents in Western cultures seek to form their own identities, they begin to pull away from their parents (Shanahan et al., 2007). The preschooler who can’t be close enough to her mother, who loves to touch and cling to her, becomes the 14-year-old who wouldn’t be caught dead holding hands with Mom. The transition occurs gradually, but this period is typically a time of diminishing parental influence and growing peer influence.

The point to remember Adolescence is typically a time of diminishing parental influence and growing peer influence.

As Aristotle long ago recognized, we humans are “the social animal.” At all ages, but especially during childhood and adolescence, we seek to fit in with our groups (Harris, 1998, 2002). Teens who start smoking typically have friends who model smoking, suggest its pleasures, and offer cigarettes (J. S. Rose et al., 1999; R. J. Rose et al., 2003). Part of this peer similarity may result from a selection effect, as kids seek out peers with similar attitudes and interests. Those who smoke (or don’t) may select as friends those who also smoke (or don’t). Put two teens together and their brains become hypersensitive to reward (Albert et al., 2013). This increased activation helps explain why teens take more driving risks when with friends than they do alone (Chein et al., 2011).

By adolescence, parent-child arguments occur more often, usually over mundane things —household chores, bedtime, homework (Tesser et al., 1989). Conflict during the transition to adolescence tends to be greater with first-born than with second-born children, and greater with mothers than with fathers (Burk et al., 2009; Shanahan et al., 2007).

For a minority of parents and their adolescents, differences lead to real splits and great stress (Steinberg & Morris, 2001). But most disagreements are at the level of harmless bickering. With sons, the issues often are behavior problems, such as acting out or hygiene; for daughters, the issues commonly involve relationships, such as dating and friendships (Schlomer et al., 2011). Most adolescents—6000 of them in 10 countries,

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from Australia to Bangladesh to Turkey—have said they like their parents (Offer et al., 1988). “We usually get along but…,” adolescents often reported (Galambos, 1992; Steinberg, 1987).

Positive parent-teen relations and positive peer relations often go hand in hand. High school girls who had the most affectionate relationships with their mothers tended also to enjoy the most intimate friendships with girlfriends (Gold & Yanof, 1985). And teens who felt close to their parents have tended to be healthy and happy and to do well in school (Resnick et al., 1997). Of course, we can state this correlation the other way: Misbehaving teens are more likely to have tense relationships with parents and other adults.

Although heredity does much of the heavy lifting in forming individual temperament and personality differences, parents and peers influence teens’ behaviors and attitudes.

When with peers, teens discount the future and focus more on immediate rewards (O’Brien et al., 2011). Most teens are herd animals, talking, dressing, and acting more like their peers than their parents. What their friends are, they often become, and what “everybody’s doing,” they often do.

Part of what everybody’s doing is networking—a lot. Teens rapidly adopt social media. U.S. teens typically send 30 text messages daily and average 145 Facebook friends (Lenhart, 2015). They tweet, post videos to Snapchat, and share pictures on Instagram. Online communication stimulates intimate self-disclosure—both for better (support groups) and for worse (online predators and extremist groups) (Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008; Valkenburg & Peter, 2009). Facebook, from a study of all its English- language users, reports this: Among parents and children, 371 days elapse, on average, before they include each other in their circle of self-disclosure (Burke et al., 2013).

For those who feel excluded by their peers, whether online or face-to-face, the pain is acute. “The social atmosphere in most high schools is poisonously clique-driven and exclusionary,” observed social psychologist Elliot Aronson (2001). Most excluded “students suffer in silence. . . . A small number act out in violent ways against their classmates.” Those who withdraw are vulnerable to loneliness, low self-esteem, and depression (Steinberg & Morris, 2001). Peer approval matters.

Parent approval may matter in other ways. Teens have seen their parents as influential in shaping their religious faith and in thinking about college and career choices (Emerging Trends, 1997). A Gallup Youth Survey revealed that most shared their parents’ political views (Lyons, 2005).

Howard Gardner (1998) has concluded that parents and peers are complementary:

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Parents are more important when it comes to education, discipline, responsibility, orderliness, charitableness, and ways of interacting with authority figures. Peers are more important for learning cooperation, for finding the road to popularity, for inventing styles of interaction among people of the same age. Youngsters may find their peers more interesting, but they will look to their parents when contemplating their own futures. Moreover, parents [often] choose the neighborhoods and schools that supply the peers.

This power to select a child’s neighborhood and schools gives parents an ability to influence the culture that shapes the child’s peer group. And because neighborhood influences matter, parents may want to become involved in intervention programs that aim at a whole school or neighborhood. If the vapors of a toxic climate are seeping into a child’s life, that climate—not just the child—needs reforming.

Multiple-Choice Question

How can self-disclosure on social media affect adolescents’ peer relationships?

It makes adolescents think more about the future than about the present. It makes it easier to receive both approval and rejection from peers. It increases adolescents’ nonverbal communication with their closest friends. It makes adolescents feel closer to their parents than to their peers.

Correct. Social media increases opportunities for self-disclosure, making adolescents more susceptible to the desire for peer approval and more vulnerable to criticism and rejection.

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