There is a lot of talk about the negative influence of "peer groups" on teenagers these days. People often forget that peer pressure can apply to all age groups, and that peer influence can also be positive.

Social expectations are an important part of our culture. They are supported and reinforced by peer pressure. For example, how many business executives would go to an important meeting dressed in a T-shirt and shorts?

Peer groups are a normal, necessary and healthy part of adolescent development. As teenagers are struggling to develop a personal identity and become less dependent on parents, peer groups provide the security of a "safety net". Peer groups provide an opportunity for teenagers to interact with equals. Their friends give teens companionship, emotional support, and a sense of belonging. Peer groups allow teens to question values, discuss problems, share information, and practice social skills. Teens learn that they aren't alone in feeling scared and insecure, and others have problems too.

Peer influences can also be very negative. Unhealthy, destructive peer groups can cause much pain and suffering for both parents and teenagers. Teens whose friends are involved in risky behaviors, illegal activities or experimenting with drugs, may easily be persuaded to join in. Parents may dislike their teenagers' friends, and possibly for good reasons, but it is impossible to force teens to choose healthy friends. Most often, when teens are forced to choose between their parents or their peer group, they choose their friends.

Although parents can't force their children to avoid negative peers, there are some things parents can do to help encourage their teens to become associated with positive peer groups.

  • Learn to work with peer influence, not against it.
  • Encourage involvement organized activity groups, such as school events, sports and clubs.
  • Make a special effort to spend time alone with teens, doing something you both enjoy.
  • Invite your teens friends to your home to meet them spend time doing things with your teen that involves friends.
  • Set limits that eliminate the opportunity for negative activities. For example, do not allow unsupervised activities for long periods of time, or late at night.

For more information on peer influence or for other questions or comments, call the Trinity Adolescent Program at (515) 574-6596.

This article was written by Pam Lehman, a counselor with the Trinity Recovery Center at Trinity Regional Hospital. Pam has a Master of Science degree in counseling.