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Between the ages of twelve and nineteen is a period in a teenager's life that determines what kind of adult he or she will become. This period of adolescence, also known as the "formative years", is the subject of much study and research to determine why adolescents are vulnerable to the phenomenon called peer pressure. The disturbing number of incidents of teenage drug use, teenage pregnancy and teenage suicide is most assuredly the reason that fuels the need for such research. Perhaps it is because as children they are taught the importance of having and maintaining friends. Or perhaps they don't feel that they can talk to their parents or teachers when problems arise. Or maybe they simply want to rebel against the pressures placed on them as youths. Because adolescents spend their time either at home or in school, it is within these confines that the answers to adolescents' behavior lay. In other words, family and school can sometimes cause adolescents to give in to peer pressure because of an overemphasis on the importance of social adjustment, a lack of interest or communication on the part of the parents and teachers, and the unrealistic expectations that these entities create.
Although the purpose of attending school is to receive an education, it also provides children with a medium through which they can develop relationships with other children that eventually turn into friendships. The ability to form friendships can be traced back to even the pre-school years and its importance henceforth emphasized by eager parents who want their children to fit in at school. "Interactions with friends or other peers are crucial for the development of a mature morality." (Juvonen, p.11) Most would agree that social interaction is important but sometimes parents are guilty of over-emphasizing this importance. Let's recall the numerous birthday parties where every child in the neighborhood was invited to come regardless of whether or not they were actual friends. This desire to socialize children also occurs in the classroom at school. "The classroom setting represents not only an educational arena but a powerful social context in which the psychological adjustment of children and adolescents can be affected."(Juvonen, p.248) Teachers tend to promote social interaction by assigning exercises that require working in pairs or groups. Furthermore, when a teacher spots a child playing alone, they will encourage him or her to join the other children while overlooking the possibility that the child might have preferred to be alone.
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A second cause that contributes to the vulnerability of adolescents in the face of peer pressure is the lack of interest or communication on the part of the parents and teachers. "Under ordinary circumstances, parents and children rarely do things together, except at meal times. Ever since work and school have pulled adults and children away from the home, conflicting schedules keep family members circling around each other in eccentric orbits."(Csikszentmihalyi, p.145) If the parents are not around or simply do not show interest in their children's affairs, then it should not be surprising that adolescents will be more influenced by their peers with whom they spend the majority of their time. "In terms of sheer amount of time, peers are by far the greatest presence in the adolescent's life."(Czikszentmihalyi, p.71) Since the adolescent also spends a good deal of time at school, it would seem that the teacher would serve as a sort of parent model in the classroom to whom students could come for guidance. However, not so much a lack of interest but rather a lack of communication exists in this setting as well, due to the ratio of students to teacher in the classroom. This inhibits the possibility of the teacher having a true personal relationship with each student. Of course, this is a situation not easily remedied but nonetheless it is still a factor in an adolescent's tendency to turn to their friends as role models. If there are no adults available to provide negative feedback, then once again it is not surprising that they give in to the pressures placed on them by their peers.
"Adolescence is a period of biological growth and maturation, self discovery and social adaptation."(Vega, p.4) By this definition it can be seen that the adolescent world is significantly different from the adult world. This point of view renders the expectations placed on adolescents by family and school unrealistic and therefore causes of rebellion and conformity to peer pressure. In the home environment, relations between parents and adolescents tend to be strained because each has different goals that come into conflict. "Davis also argues that there is inevitable conflict between adult realism and youthful idealism within the family."(Csikszentmihalyi, p.131) Parents expect their children to see things the same way they do, overlooking the fact that they have more experience in life that thus accounts for the difference in perspective. School as an institution is also responsible for placing unrealistic goals upon these adolescents, who are only concerned with immediate gratification. Because they can not yet visualize the long-term benefits of a good education, their goals conflict with those of educators. These conflicting interests eventually lead adolescents to rebel against these unrealistic expectations and thus give in to peer pressure as a demonstration of their rebellion.
Of course, there are those who say that it is not the parents and teachers who are responsible, but the teenagers themselves. Furthermore, it has been argued that despite the methods used to understand the behavior of adolescents and to relate to them on their level, adolescents seem to have a mind of their own. They are completely conscious and aware of their actions when giving in to peer pressure. Although this may be the case, it does not follow that society should not make any more efforts to help teenagers as they go through the difficult transition from adolescent to adulthood.
Because it is the parents and teachers that instilled in them the value and meaning of friendships, it should be the parents and teachers who help them to see that friendships also have limits. If adolescents realize that social interaction is important but only to a certain point, then they will have the strength to say no to their friends. Likewise, if parents and teachers somehow found a way to better communicate with their children and students respectively, these adolescents would most likely come to share their feelings with them and not rely so much on their peers for feedback. And lastly, if parents and teachers became aware of the unrealistic expectations they place on teenagers, the result would be a decrease in conflict as well as a decrease in the number of adolescents who feel the need to rebel through conformity to peer pressure. In other words, examining the ways in which family and school cause adolescents to give in to peer pressure leads to a resolution of the causes. What is the overall result? Adolescents have a healthier sense of the meaning of friendships, they have an alternative other than peers to whom they can turn to and they are freed from any unrealistic expectations that they themselves can't understand. But most importantly, they become less susceptible to the traps of peer pressure.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly and Reed Larson. Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years. Basic Books, Inc. 1984. New York
Juvonen, Jaana and Kathryn R. Wentzel. Social Motivation: Understanding Children's School Adjustment. Cambridge University Press. 1996. Cambridge
Vega, William A. and Andres G. Gil. Drug Use and Ethnicity in Early Adolescence. Plenum Press. 1998. New York