It’s no shocker that teens tend to get influenced by their peers far more than adults do. You may have already known it for years, which is why you’ve probably been making a focused effort to help your young ones, the naïve and gullible, resist peer pressure. However, recent research on peer pressure has found that the ability of teens to think rationally is not inferior to adults and thus has little to do with their susceptibility to peer pressure. Rather, it’s the way their brain evaluates rewards that decreases their resistance to the influence of their peers.
Understanding teens’ susceptibility to peer pressure
The influence of peer pressure on teenagers has been linked to their brain by the scientists. According to Beatriz Luna, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, emotions hamper rational thinking in both kids and adults in their 20s alike, as the brain is still in the developing stage during this time. With the reward centers in the brain getting more active during teen years, kids find the social approval and acceptance extremely gratifying. With the pursuit of pleasure inducing emotion in them, they become vulnerable to peer pressure. Research suggests that teens are most attracted to this form of pleasure at age 15 and then gradually develop resistance to it in the following years. Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, believes 18 is the age by which kids learn to set boundaries more effectively.
The recent research on peer pressure further revealed that kids that are unpopular or suffer from low self-esteem are more prone to following their peers like lemmings than their popular and confident counterparts. Ethnicity was also discovered to be a notable factor, with kids more likely to get influenced by peers belonging to same ethnic group than to others.
The negatives and positives of peer pressure
Peer pressure generally carries a negative connotation. This is hardly surprising, especially when one comes across stats highlighting its dire impact. About 30 percent of students have their first experience of drugs during middle or high school, while over 75 percent of students have tried alcohol during their high school years, and a substantial percentage of teens face constant pressure about their sexual activity.
Despite these disturbing figures, scientists and psychology experts are convinced that peer pressure is a crucial part of teens’ development to self-reliance. They not only consider standing up to the damaging influence of their peers important, but go a stride further by linking peer pressure to improved academic and athletic performance, provided the peers are focused on these things instead of perpetuating inappropriate behavior.
The role of parents to helping teen handle peer pressure
In an effort to shield their kids from the harmful effects of peer pressure, parents often tighten their grip on their young ones. According to Dr. Steinberg, this authoritative parent can end up having an opposite effect on the teens, hampering the development of their ability to resist the influence of peers. Letting go may appear risky, but it is necessary for teaching them to stand up to what others tell them to do. Even though parents are advised to let go of the control to a certain extent, they still have a responsibility of protecting their kids. This can be done by making their kids aware of the different situations of peer pressure and discuss the best way to handle them. Additionally, they need to access the social circle of their kids to ensure that they are friends with good kids. In case of a red flag, it’s important to handle the issue tactfully and thoughtfully instead of imposing a decision without taking the kid onboard.
It’s important to understand that peer pressure is not only common, but also quite normal. No matter how hard parents try, they can’t shield their young ones from it forever. Rather than trying to run away from it, it’d be far more effective to confront it and make the most of its beneficial elements while mitigating the threats.