Sociology | Wiley | Peer Group Socialization, D___Name:

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you a member of a “friend group” or “clique”? If so, how would you describe that group? What status is ascribed to the group by outsiders? Is the group stratified and exclusive, or is everyone of equal standing and welcoming to outsiders who would like to join? If you do not feel that you are a member of a friend group, describe what that experience has been like and how you think that has influenced your personality.
  2. To what extent have your friends—both past and present—been positive/negative influences in your life?
  1. Describe a time when a peer or friend had a large impact on your thought processes or behaviors.

Overview of Peer Group Socialization:

When children move out from family to child-care centers, school, and the community at large, they begin to form attachments, and friendships emerge through their play. These relationships influence behavior. Even infants and toddlers are observed reacting to other infants by touching them, by crying when others cry, and later by offering nurturance or comfort. By about age three, early friendships begin to form and children’s peers begin to have a more lasting influence.

Peer influence on behavior gradually becomes more dominant. Children discover that others can share their feelings or attitudes or have quite different ones. The perspectives of others will affect how children feel about their own families. Children usually have a “family” view of their own and of other cultures. So, when confronted with other perspectives, they often need to rethink their own viewpoints. It is often difficult for children to adjust to the idea that other families can function radically differently from their own and yet hold many of the same attitudes and beliefs and be equally nurturing and secure. The peer group serves as a barometer for children examining themselves and their feelings about self and family.

The peer group also influences development of children’s socializing skills. These early friendships help children learn how to negotiate and relate to others, including their siblings and other family members. They learn from peers how to cooperate and socialize according to group norms and group-sanctioned modes of behavior. The peer group can influence what the child values, knows, wears, eats, and learns. The extent of this influence, however, depends on other situational constraints, such as the age and personality of children and the nature of the group.

In its most acceptable form, the peer group is a healthy coming-of-age arbiter, by which children grasp negotiating skills and learn to deal with hostility and to solve problems in a social context. Peers serve many important roles in the life of a developing child. From toddlerhood through adolescence, peers serve to meet the child’s need for acceptance and belonging. They provide valuable messages regarding the child’s socialization, informing the child, through words and actions, which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Peers serve to provide children a source of support in times of difficulty or stress, they share in times of joy and excitement, and they participate in learning activities providing motivation, competition, and companionship. We cannot ignore the powerful impact of the peer group on a child’s healthy growth, development and socialization.

In order for a child to successfully get along in group settings, to establish a peer group and to form lasting friendship, the child must have the necessary social skills. This requires the child to be capable in a “give and take” relationship. The child must learn to consider another person’s perspective, use effective communication skills, listen, observe body language, compromise, negotiate, and effectively balance the needs of him/herself and another person. Sometimes, as children learn and develop these skills, they need feedback to monitor and adjust their behavior. Peers can give some of the most effective and clear feedback. Consider a child who has just knocked down a peer’s block tower, or run over a sand creation in the sandbox. That child is likely to hear, loud and clear, that the behavior is NOT accepted and will not be tolerated. While this may not teach the child a better strategy, it certainly does give the child the motivation necessary to learn one.

Peers are invaluable in providing the support necessary for a child to become independent of adults. We see this support in four different formats:

Physical Support: the provision of physical belongings or material possessions

Social Support: the provision of acceptance, belonging, and companionship

Intellectual Support: the provision of information and intellectual dialogue

Emotional Support: the provision of empathy and understanding

In its most destructive mode, the peer group can demand blind obedience to a group norm, incentivize mistreating others, result in stigmatization of others, result in narcissism, and/or erode self-esteem.

  1. List some of the various ways in which peer groups impact young peoplein a given society. What do we learn and gain from peer groups? What might we lose out on without healthy peer groups?

A Teen’s Friends Are a Powerful Influence, Los Angeles Times, Dr. Valerie Ulene (April, 2011)

Behavior is almost contagious among teenagers. Good behavior by peers can spread through the group. But bad behavior can also be modeled.

My parents had it pretty easy with me when I was a teenager. I was a bit of a nerd. I earned straight A's in school, ran for student government and spent much of my free time watching reruns of "Little House on the Prairie." And they had little to complain about when it came to my friends — most of them were as straight as I was. My mom and dad considered them a positive influence.

Many parents aren't nearly this lucky. Their teens run with kids who prefer partying to homework or fistfights to team sports. It's only natural for these parents to worry about the way their children are being influenced. And it's only logical for them to wonder: Should I allow my child to spend time with these kids at all?

"It's a tricky issue," says Mitch Prinstein, director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and editor of the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. "It's a fair and appropriate question for parents to be asking themselves."

The influence that friends exert over one another as teenagers is clearly powerful and, far too often, undesirable. Unhealthy behaviors can be almost contagious among kids this age. Teens whose friends smoke, drink or use drugs, for example, are more likely to indulge in these behaviors themselves. Aggressive, illegal or self-injurious behaviors also have a tendency to cluster among friend groups, as do concerns about body image and eating.

A study published in February in the Journal of Early Adolescence showed that friendships can also make the difference between good and bad grades at school. Researchers at the University of Oregon surveyed more than 1,200 middle school students and asked them to identify their three best friends. They found that students whose friends were prone to misbehave didn't do as well in school as kids whose friends were socially active in positive ways, such as participating in sports at school or completing their homework on time.

Even though it's easy for parents to blame their children's bad behavior on peers and assume that other kids coerce them into doing things like drinking, smoking, stealing or cheating, poor decision-making among teens isn't all about pressure. Kids actively want to emulate their peers. During adolescence, they are looking for ways to separate from their families and begin to define themselves as individuals. To that end, they turn to friends for guidance and direction. They tend to mimic their peers' behaviors and adopt the same attitudes. Conforming to social norms helps them redefine themselves while earning them acceptance and approval. Fitting in simply feels good.

Parents, discouraged by the changes they see in their children, naturally try to intervene. They may encourage their kids to spend less time with friends they perceive as troublemakers or forbid these friendships entirely. But interfering in a teenager's life too much, particularly with friendships, can make matters worse. "Meddling with children's relationships has a high potential for backfiring," Prinstein says. "It can actually fuel rebellion."

There are things parents can do, however, to temper the influence that teenagers have on one another. "Helping your child develop a sense of identity and feel secure in that identity is probably the best antidote," Prinstein says. That's not easy. Adolescents can no longer be told what to believe or how to behave. They have to be allowed to develop their own sense of what's important.

Teens require a certain amount of independence. But that doesn't mean they should have free rein. Adolescents aren't exactly known for their good decision-making, and parents need to impose some boundaries. When rules are broken and friends are involved, there need to be consequences — reasonable ones. Rather than trying to break up a friendship, parents might want to "ground" a teen's social life, allowing the child to see friends at home under watchful parental eyes but not to go out with them.

The good news is that adolescence doesn't last forever. Kids are most susceptible to their peers' influence during middle school, around the age of 13 or 14. By high school, there's already a dramatic shift in the way their brains are working, and the sway that other kids hold over them isn't nearly as strong.

I have two teenage daughters, and both have wonderful friends. The girls they choose to spend time with are hard-working and bright, and I can count on them to make good choices most of the time. It's my 9-year-old son I worry most about at this point. Though with him, I'm not sure what I'm most afraid of: The influence his friends will have over him or the naughty behavior he'll model for his pals.

  1. What does the author suggest parents can do to offset potential ill-effects of peer groups?
  2. Have you personally seen evidence of what Ulene describes? Explain.

Students’ Work Ethic Affected by Peer Groups, Desire to be Popular, NPR, 2015

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST: We have research this morning on what may stop some students from succeeding in school. To be more precise, it is what causes some students to stop themselves. Teachers get frustrated when kids don't seem to try very hard in school. This research points to a reason why that may be. NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam is with us to talk about it. Hi, Shankar.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so what's the research?

VEDANTAM: Well, the research is what I'd call a new look at an old idea, Steve, and that idea is peer pressure. There's new research that shows that students desperately want to fit in with their peers. And if their peers are not motivated, this can affect the academic choices that students make. I especially like the way the researchers tested this idea. Leonardo Bursztyn at UCLA and Robert Jensen at the Wharton School, they went into four low-income LA schools and offered 11th grade students access to free SAT prep courses.

INSKEEP: So this is an opportunity to get ahead in the world and maybe get into a better school?

VEDANTAM: Exactly. Now, there was a catch in the way they conducted the study - by going into these schools at random times, they sometimes caught students sitting in honors classes and sometimes they caught them sitting in non-honors classes. And Bursztyn says that when students were sitting in the honors classes, among peers who were more high-performing, they were more likely to sign up for the SAT prep course. But when they were sitting in the non-honors classes, among lower-performing peers, something else happened.

LEONARDO BURSZTYN: When they believed that the other students will find out about their choice, the sign-up goes down by 11 percentage points. So instead of 72, we see 61 percent, big drop. Many students are forgoing this opportunity just because they don't want their peers to find out.

INSKEEP: Wow, so students essentially don't want to be seen as a nerd, or in any case, they don't want to be seen as different than what their peers are doing.

VEDANTAM: That's exactly right. One of the things that the researchers tried to establish this is that they offered these courses either in public or in private in the different classes. And what they found was that students sitting with lower-performing peers were more likely to sign up for the SAT prep course when their choice was private. When the sign-up was made public, these students were declining to sign up because they thought their peers would find out. Now, what's interesting, Steve, is that peer pressure worked in exactly the opposite direction in the honors classes. Now students sitting with the high-performing peers, where the norm was to do well academically, these students were more likely to sign up for the SAT prep course when the choice was public. In both cases, students were using sign-up for the SAT prep course to signal to peers that they were adhering to the norm of the individual classrooms.

INSKEEP: Does this confirm the old wisdom of parents who would be concerned about the kind of kids you're hanging out with when you're young?

VEDANTAM: It totally would, Steve. And I mean, you can't always control the peers that your kids are with. But I think what the study is pointing to is the idea that you might want to be mindful about how you present choices to your kids, depending on which peers are around them at that point.

INSKEEP: Does this peer pressure work the same on all the kids in a classroom?

VEDANTAM: You know, that's a really interesting question, Steve, because Bursztyn and Jensen find that in fact that's not the case. These peer pressure affects are strongest among students who care a lot about being popular. Here's Bursztyn again.

BURSZTYN: We find a large - very large drop amongst students who care about popularity when they're sitting non-honors classes, OK, and a very, very small one for people those who don't care about popularity, which is again suggestive of these peer pressure affects that we're looking at.

VEDANTAM: What Bursztyn and Jensen are finding, Steve, is that when a student cares about popularity, they are massively affected by their peers. When they don't care about popularity, they're really not affected by their peers at all.

INSKEEP: And they're able to decide for themselves.

VEDANTAM: Exactly.

INSKEEP: So what should parents and teachers do with this information?

VEDANTAM: Well, I think, as you just said a second ago, Steve, teachers and parents need to be keenly aware of how much peers affect the choices that students make. Sometimes it's not the best idea to say everyone who wants to go the extra mile in class put up your hand because sometimes it's better to allow students to make those choices in private so they don't feel ostracized by their peers.

  1. Which of the following best describes a central idea of the text?
  2. Students are susceptible to all sorts of outside influences.
  3. Students, teenagers especially, always desire the approval of their peers, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  4. The pressure to conform or ‘be popular’ with one’s peers may negatively affect their choices in education.
  5. It is considered undesirable, or ‘uncool’, to want to better oneself in school, and therefore many students conform to this idea in order to gain popularity.
  1. Summarize how the research was conducted in this study:
  2. Make a list of the key results of this study:
  1. Should adults (teachers, parents, etc.) be more mindful about how they present choices to students, being aware of the presence of others and student privacy? Or, should society refashion the way in which we socialize children so that they are not as affected by their peers in the way this study demonstrates? Explain.
  1. Why do you think some people care about being popular and others do not? Do you value popularity or being well-liked?

Clique Dynamics, by Patricia and Peter Adler (Sociologists), 1998 (See attachment article)