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Topic: Peer Pressure (07/05/04)
TITLE: Keeping up with the Jones's
By Karen Treharne
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And, don’t think that as adults, we have escaped the powerful pull of peer pressure. We just call it something else. It’s “keeping up with the Jones’s”. We, too, find ourselves seeking to conform to the standards set by the world about us, but hopefully our maturity allows us to be less influenced by them. But let’s not kid ourselves either. We are influenced by our culture to interpret success in terms of money, status, and power. We, too, like our youth, desire to be in the “right” social groups.
As children grow, develop, and move into early adolescence, involvement with ones peers increases. As pre-adolescents begin rapid physical, emotional and social changes, they start to question adult standards and the need for parental guidance. They find it reassuring to turn for advice to friends who understand and sympathize – friends who are in the same position themselves. By “trying on” new values and testing their ideas with their peers, there is less fear of being ridiculed or “shot down”. Yet, mention the word “peer pressure” and many adults cringe because the words are laden with negative connotations. The idea that someone or something lures our children into learning dangerous and destructive behavior scares adults.
The fact is peer pressure can be positive. It keeps youth participating in religious activities, going to 4-H meetings and playing on sports teams, even when they are not leaders. It keeps 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 a supportive setting for achieving the two primary developmental tasks of adolescence. These are: (1) identity – finding the answer to the question “Who Am I?”, and (2) autonomy – discovering that self is separate and independent from parents.
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. "Peer cultures” often have very different values and norms. Thus, the adult perception of peers as a “united front of dangerous influence” is inaccurate.
More often than not, peers reinforce family values, but they have the potential to encourage problem behaviors as well. Although the negative influence of peers is over-emphasized, more can be done to help teenagers experience the family and the peer group as mutually constructive environments. To accomplish this, families, communities, churches, schools, 4-H and other youth groups must work together because it “takes a whole village to raise a child”.