You don’t have to spend much time around teens to be aware of the power of peer pressure. From fanatical fashionistas to drug dealing deviates, the teenage peer group has an infamous reputation as the primary corrupting force responsible for transforming darling children everywhere into high-maintenance juvenile delinquents. Never mind how ridiculous the idea, if a young teenager’s friends say it’s the right thing no amount of contrary, straight talking, common sense from anyone old enough to vote can convince them otherwise.
This lemming like tendency to be helpless against the tide of peer opinion is nearly always portrayed as a negative. However, believe it not, peer pressure can actually be a force for good on occasions. And what a powerful force it can be.
Peers Influence Student’s Studies
Recent studies have shown in the arena of academic performance the calibre of a teen’s classmates can have a significant difference – especially for girls.
I have heard on more than one occasion in my years working with teenagers, mainly from males, stories of smart students intentionally under performing, or consciously not trying, in order to keep their marks within a range that would be less noteworthy to their peers. There are apparently significant social costs for producing academic results that peers deem to be too far ahead of the pack. So scholastic endeavour is sacrificed for the sake of social acceptability.
So it comes as no surprise to find research that demonstrates students, male and female, who are surrounded by underachieving peers, have an increased chance of lowering their own academic performance.
What is interesting to note is how the opposite can also be true. Placing teenagers in classes with higher achieving peers can assist in improving their academic outcomes. Apparently this is largely due to the same basic principle of peer pressure – the desire not to be too different from the pack. Just as some don’t like to be seen as too smart, apparently it doesn’t pay to appear too dumb.
Before you rush out and enrol your under performing son in the nearest selective private school, the research suggests girls are far more likely to be positively influenced by diligent classmates than boys. In fact a class full of high achievers may actually discourage boys, consequently their marks suffer due to a sense of intimidation.
The take away learning is to avoid surrounding male or female teenagers with low performing peers, as both genders will descend to the lowest common denominator. For girls there appears to be definite advantages associated with surrounding them with academically ambitious classmates.
I can’t finish this post without a reminder for all of us that there are many other positive aspects to the apparently unstoppable force that compels teenagers to conform to their peer group. Positive peer pressure encourages healthy pursuits such as:
- Participation in sport and physical activity
- Active interest in learning music (i.e. bands, orchestra’s etc)
- Commitment to social causes and charities
- Participation in religious groups and pursuing spiritual development
- Plus many more
Teenager’s peers matter a great deal. Adults who care about teenagers do well to take friendships amongst teens seriously, make an effort to know who their friends are, and encourage those relationships that are positive and healthy for the teenager.