Development Of Peer Influence
Normal adolescent development in European-American cultures involves a gradual movement from the importance of relationships with family towards those with peers for socialization, self-definition, friendship, and support. Adolescent peer groups function more autonomously than children's peer groups, with less guidance or control provided by adults. As teens distance themselves from adults, they simultaneously draw closer to their peers (Brown 1999). In middle school, individuals begin to form small groups of friends based on mutual attraction, called cliques, which can help bolster self-confidence and provide a sense of identity or belonging. In adolescence, these smaller peer groups associated with childhood expand to recognize larger peer collectives referred to as crowds. Bradford Brown (1999) suggests that crowds are large, loosely defined groups of youths who choose to associate with each other based primarily on a common identification with certain characteristics or activities. Crowds help adolescents to decide with whom to associate. Through these crowds and cliques, adolescents demonstrate their identity to others and to themselves (Brown 1999). Margaret Spencer and Sanford Dornbusch (1990) found that adolescents in the United States who are members of an ethnic minority, recent immigrants in particular, rely more heavily on the support of peer groups than European-American adolescents. The threat of not being accepted by their peers and the strain of belonging to two cultures can be especially difficult. Siu Kwong Wong (1998) found that Chinese Canadian youths who associate with Chinese Canadian friends are less likely to be involved in delinquent behavior than those who have cross-ethnic friendships. These various peer associations exert increasing pressure on the adolescent to adopt certain behaviors and attitudes—pressure to conform.
Peer conformity, sometimes referred to as peer pressure, occurs when individuals choose to adopt the attitudes or behaviors of others because of real or imagined pressure. In Western cultures, as the amount of time spent with peers increases, so does the influence and support they provide. Thomas Berndt (1979) traced the developmental patterns of family and peer influence in American families and found that in the third grade, the influence of parents and peers are often in opposition to each other. However, these children are influenced more by their parents than their peers. By sixth grade, the influence of peers rises dramatically, but it tends to be found in different situations from those of parents. Consequently, the influence of parents and peers are not in opposition. In ninth grade, conformity to peers peaks and is again in strong opposition to parents. At this time, peers often endorse the adoption of antisocial standards that inevitably conflict with parental values and standards. American adolescents' movement towards independence peaks around ninth grade and is met with maximal opposition from parents (Scholte, van Lieshout, van Aken 2001). Adolescent conformity to peer influence declines through late high school and college-age years, and the influence of parents and peers begins to coincide in a number of areas.