Parents place a lot of emphasis on making sure their teenagers aren’t hanging out with the “wrong crowd.” However, a Northwestern University study revealed that whether an adolescent succumbs to peer pressure actually depends on the situation.

“Opposite to what a lot of researchers think would happen, some kids in the groups, for example, neglected or didn’t even care about school, while others were dedicated students,” said study author Robert Vargas.

The study was mostly comprised of Hispanics living in a low-income neighborhood. It found that in mixed groups, some of the youths were insulated from the bad influences of others, such as those kids who had certain characteristics that their peers and friends respected.

Vargas pointed to neighborhood violence and territorial boundaries as the reason why some adolescents fall victim to negative peer pressure. “It wasn’t that these kids thought the bad behavior was ‘cool,’ but rather neighborhood violence constrained their friendship choices,” he said.

Vargas said these results show that policy changes need to be made in regards to peer pressure.

“The study demonstrates the need for policymakers and educators to move beyond public campaigns that convey to adolescents that undesirable acts are ‘not cool’ and consider factors that make adolescents dependent on friends or adults,” he said. “As adolescents were influenced by individuals they depended on most, policymakers and educators should consider trying to make young people more dependent on positive role models by, for example, requiring community service hours.”

Source: American Sociological Association

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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