As we all know, peers/friends are probably the most important thing in a teen’s life. This can be a particular conundrum depending on who the friends are, of course. We know that along with attitudes, values, and beliefs, negative peer associations are a very strong risk factor for anti-social behavior. We also know peers have a dramatic affect on attitudes, values and beliefs.
Much of an adolescent’s self-image, “beliefs” and “attitudes”, are in synch with and shaped by their peers – good, bad or ugly. For most adolescents for example, it would be unthinkable to act in ways that were inconsistent with the norms of their peer group.
For approval, sometimes the most shocking acts are the best to perform, even if they totally are against their values. For acceptance, the desire for conformity and loyalty to peers often outweigh consequences, values, and even family loyalty. Paradoxically, despite often blind adherence to the peer group’s norms, teens will often externalize the bad decision-making on the people they hang out with. For teens, choice of peer group is crucial to doing the responsible thing and the irresponsible thing.
For parents, it is crucial to be aware of the choices their teen is making regarding friendships. Parents should be as informed as possible about their teen’s friends, their parents, and have as much personal contact information as possible. Parents must not apologize for being vigilant; it is a riskier world out there than ever before. Keep your kids close and don’t abandon them to their peer group.