It can be easy to stereotype when talking about demographic groupings. It is no different for those of us who talk about teenagers all day – we can generalise from time to time. So in order to appear balanced and nuanced I offer this post about peer pressure in teens.
The point is a simple one. Not all teens respond to peer pressure the same way.
Already new that didn’t you?
But did you know why some teens are more influenced than others? In this post I want to highlight that both social and physical factor affect how a teen responds to peer pressure.
Previous posts (here & here) have mentioned the influence parents have on teenagers and how they develop socially. Teenagers who feel a secure connection with their parents are better able to disengage and form healthy relationships in the rest of life. This includes forming positive and constructive relationships with peers.
A specific way that parents can help their influence their teen’s response to peer pressure is by influencing the peer group the teen associates with. Researchers have demonstrated that specific parenting practices are related to specific adolescent behaviours, and that they are also associated with specific patterns of group or clique membership. Teens will usually choose a peer group with goals and values similar to their own. Who shapes the goals and values of teens the most? Parents.( )
Other developmental theorists have found that adolescents who are able to talk to their parents about issues that are important to them and who get emotional support from their parents are less likely to rely on peers for advice on important issues. Teenagers who have an open and secure relationships with parents are more likely to heed their parents advise and hence less likely to succumb to peer pressure that may contradict their parents.
However we are also learning that peer pressure, and particularly the manner in which teens respond to it, is not purely a social phenomena. It is a physical one as well.
It’s all in the brain.
Over the last decade research has mad some real gains in understanding how the still forming teenage brain effects behaviour (If you are not familiar check out this great article from Time magazine as a helpful introduction.) To put it really simply the teen brain develops unevenly, with the bit the processes emotion and prompts impulsive behaviours (amygdala) developing before the bit that makes rational decisions (pre-frontal cortex).
Research from University of Nottingham have examined how this is now has also being linked to how teens respond to peer pressure. Teens whose pre-frontal cortex had more activity were less susceptible to peer pressure.
Children with high resistance to peer influence have more interconnections between the brain regions that regulate different aspects of behaviour. The study found that while the brains of all children showed activity in regions important for planning and extracting information about social cues from movement, the connectivity within these regions was stronger in children who were marked as less vulnerable to peer influence.Image by porsborg