Saturday, 31 March 2012

Peer – Adolescent Relationships in Interpersonal and Social Context

The view that framed early research was that peer culture provides a negative and divergent source of influence from parents. An updated but similar view of peer influence has captured recent attention, although the research evidence does not support this view .Rather, parents and peers have been found to be influential
in different areas of adolescents’ lives. Parents remain important sources of influence regarding long-term issues (like career choices and moral issues and values), whereas peers influence orientations to adolescent culture such as matters of taste, style, and appearances, although antisocial conformity to peers peaks around ninth grade. Moreover, it has been pointed out that peer influence may range from direct peer pressure to much more indirect sources of influence. Ongoing concerns about the negative influence of peers have led to research examining parental influence on peer relations. Parents often serve as managers and consultants for adolescents’ peer relationships, and parental guidance (rather than direct prohibition) can effectively influence and change adolescents’ selection of friends.

Three levels of adolescents’ peer relations have been described. The dyadic level includes adolescents’ friendships, which remain the most actively studied area of adolescents’ peer relations, and romantic relationships (discussed in the following section). Adolescents also congregate in small groups of peers (generally 6 to 12), known as cliques, which are based on friendship and shared activities and provide contexts for interaction. Despite the popular image of adolescents as “cliquish,” research indicates that less than half of adolescents are members of cliques and that clique membership is somewhat fluid, although girls are more likely to be clique members than are boys. Clique members are likely to be of the same age, race, socioeconomic background, and during early adolescence, the same sex. The third level of peer interaction consists of crowds, which generally emerge during early to middle adolescence. Crowds are based on shared reputations or stereotyped images (e.g., jocks, brains, nerds or geeks, stoners) among youth who may not necessarily spend much time together. Crowds help to locate adolescents in the social hierarchy and channel adolescents into interactions with others who share the same reputation; therefore, they provide a context for developing identity. At each of these levels of organization, research has proceeded in a number of different directions.

Research on the quality of adolescent friendships has progressed considerably in recent years. Much research has focused on changes in the positive qualities of friendship over the course of adolescence; adolescents’ friendships become closer, more intimate, more disclosing, and more supportive with age. Close friendships provide adolescents with developmentally salient opportunities to improve their social skills and social competence. Adolescents’ friends are highly similar in background, values, orientations to school and peer culture, and antisocial behavior, and one of the persistent questions about adolescent friendships is whether this similarity is due to selection (choosing friends who are similar) or influence (mutual socialization), although most agree that both processes are at work. Furthermore, because friendships are nested within larger peer networks, the influence of friendships may be overestimated when larger peer influences are at work. Research also has looked beyond influence and selection to assess the processes of parallel events and assortative pairing on similarity.

During the past few years, some intriguing new topics focusing on the “dark side” of adolescent friendships and peer groups have emerged. At the dyadic level, research on corumination has shown that early adolescents (typically girls) may extensively discuss issues, revisit problems, and focus on negative feelings within relatively healthy and intimate relationships. Corumination may provide the link between the incongruent finding that girls have more intimate friendships but also more internalizing symptoms than do boys. Research also has explored the influence of jealousy in early adolescent friendships, which may occur when same-sex (again, typically girls’) friends begin to develop romantic interests. Jealousy, as perceived by others, is associated with greater loneliness, aggression, and maladjustment in social relationships. Research also has examined adolescents’ reasoning about peer group exclusion based on gender and racial stereotypes and as a function of adolescents’ peer group identification (e.g., cheerleaders, jocks, or preppies versus dirties, druggies, and Gothics); adolescents who belong to high-status crowds have been found to view exclusion as less wrong and less unfair than do adolescents who either do not belong to a group or who belong to low-status groups. But the picture is not all negative; it is also found that overall, adolescents have a high level of respect for peers from all backgrounds, and found that intergroup contact increased adolescents’ thinking about fairness and equality when considering racial exclusion.

The characteristics of popular and unpopular adolescents have been an enduring topic of research. Sociometric studies have indicated that there are different subtypes of unpopular adolescents, including adolescents who are rejected and withdrawn and adolescents who are rejected and aggressive, and that these different forms of peer rejection have different correlates and developmental trajectories. Adolescents who are withdrawn tend to be lonely, suffer low self-esteem, and be at risk for internalizing disorders, whereas youth who are rejected and aggressive area trisk for externalizing problems.

Popular adolescents are well known, attractive, athletic, and accepted by other popular youth, but differentiations also have been made among popular youth. Recent research indicates that popularity is associated with both prosocial and antisocial behavior, although popular-aggressive adolescents may be seen as socially skilled and socially prominent but disliked by peers. “Mean girls” have been a trendy topic, both in popular culture and adolescent developmental research. Consistent with the popular image, more popular early adolescent girls have been found to be more relationally aggressive, which leads to increased popularity overtime. Relationally aggressive behaviors (like excluding, ignoring, and spreading rumors) may allow young girls to control their peers in ways that lead them to be seen as high in status and popular. Finally, popularity is associated with better social adaptation and adjustment, but it also leads to significant increases over time in peer-sanctioned, minor deviant behavior, including drug and alcohol use and minor delinquency.

Perhaps in response to high-profile events such as the 1999 Columbine shootings by two teenagers at a Colorado high school, there has been a striking increase in research on antipathies in adolescent peer relations, including bullying, victimization, and harassment. Research on bullies and their victims has shown that up to three-quarters of young adolescents experience some type of bullying and that up to one-third of them experience more extreme forms of coercion. Bullying, which refers to repeated aggressive behavior that occurs within particular interpersonal relationships that are characterized by a power imbalance, peaks in early adolescence and then decreases in frequency? Direct bullying (e.g., physical or verbal attacks) is more frequent among males, whereas in direct (e.g., relational) bullying is more frequent among females, and white and Latino adolescents are bullied more than black adolescents. Research has shown that there are distinct characteristics of youth singled out as victims; they are perceived to be physically weaker and have fewer friends than non victims. The consequences of victimization include lower self-esteem in middle adolescence and depressive symptoms in early adulthood, as well as increased school-related difficulties (i.e., lower grades, disliking school, and absenteeism). Due to the pervasiveness of bullying and its damaging effects on adolescent adjustment, school-based bullying prevention and intervention programs are on the rise.

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