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Peer groups dominate adolescent life

There is so much change in society today, however the fundamental tasks of growing up still exist. An adolescent seeks to find a place in a valued group to have a sense of belonging, to identify and master skills that are recognized of having value and earn the respect to cope with them, to acquire some self-worth and to develop relationships with others. Adolescents have an enormous amount of pressure today and seek a place of acceptance. Peer groups are a place where adolescents can find that sense of belonging, negatively or positively.

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We each know from experience how compelling peer groups are. It is almost impossible to go against a peer group, whose rules are to conform or you will be rejected. If one tends to sway they become an “outsider” or an “outcast.” For adolescent children who are just learning their way in the world, unsurprisingly they get sunk into peer group rules. For boys their athletic ability, coolness, and physical strength gain them popularity. In girls, as long as they had a beautiful physical appearance and an ability to attract popular boys they gain popularity. Oddly enough if a boy succeeds academically his popularity would decrease and if a girl made good grades that would increase her standing among her peers.

Standards of peer groups dominate adolescent life. If your fellow peers listen to a certain genre of music, it is almost inevitable that you will also prefer that kind of music, It is the same for clothing styles, movies, video games and dating styles. Peers can influence you other ways as well, if your peers

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are going off to college and striving in the world, it is more than likely you will be also. However, if

your peers are using drugs, drinking alcohol, lying, stealing, you are also likely to do so.

At an early age, children become less dependent on their parents and caretakers. Children become self-reliant and begin to prefer playing with their friends. At first, play is a time of independence, however later children interact with one another, modify one another’s behavior and exchange roles in play. At the school age period of development social interactions begin to follow set patterns and become more frequent. They participate in games with more rules. The play is more then just entertainment but a way to mature in social interactions with others. Play allows children to think of others, their thoughts and feelings. Social interaction does allow children to interpret others behavior and how to respond to different situations. Children learn physical and emotion self control too. When a child losses at a game, for instance, they learn to avoid hitting their playmate. (McWhirter, Newman 2007) Social interactions are healthy. Situations that provide an opportunity for a child to grow socially may enhance their social development.

Through the developmental childhood years and adolescence, peer groups play an important role. Parents have a crucial influence on whether a child plays a negative or positive role in peer groups. If a family is not close or unsupportive, a peer group will become of more importance. If a child’s parents work long hours, and rarely see their child, this can cause the child to look for emotional

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support within a peer group. Also, if a child is constantly arguing with his parents, this may drive them away for emotional support. Children and adolescents show no discrimination when finding a peer group. As long as the child feels some sort of acceptance they will join a peer group, even if illegal and negative activity occur within the group.

A common antisocial, organized peer group is a gang. Youths in gangs is not a new concept in the United States. Gangs have been present since the 1800’s. In 1791 the city of Philadelphia had a problem with adolescents roaming and disrupting the city. New York City has acknowledged gang activity as early as 1825. (Focus Adolescent Services) Unfortunately, gangs will always be around or at least hard to eliminate. Gang involvement is full of youths who come from broken families due to alcohol or drugs, financial burdens and broken relationships. Gang affiliation is more important then anything else for the adolescent because the gang creates a family image taking away all feelings of abandonment and isolation. Being in a gang provides adolescents with acceptance and security which is not provided from home or other peer groups.

There are signs that a teen has been introduced to a negative peer group. If the teen no longer spends time with his old friends and hangs out with a new group of friends. If there is a drop in his grades at school or even skips classes, if there is a change in appearance, mannerisms or the child seems withdrawn and secretive. Phone calls at odd times and if a teen wants to go places that was

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never an interest to him before could all be signs of having negative peer group membership.

A parent should have non-judgmental talks, encourage other interests, show love and support

and to get help if grades are dropping. A parent should not ignore the problem at all. Make sure a parent introduces himself to friends and parents and do not restrict the teen from seeing friends. Forbidding contact with other teens will only attract the teen to want to see them more often.

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Peer groups can have a positive effect on adolescents also. Positive peer relationships have an effect on a child’s academic motivation and performance, emotional well-being and their overall state of mind. A positive peer group member has a less likelihood of being bullied or harassed. In such a peer group children will look out for one another and they simply do not participate in such behaviors that are verbally or physically abusive. There are key principles that can promote an adolescent to steer towards positive peer groups. Making sure a youth has leadership, attends and participates in positive youth activities. Civic involvement and engaging in every element of the community; school , church, and home. (Find Youth Info) Adults and adolescents can work together and frame our communities.

Preventing an adolescent from joining negative peer groups and having more positive roles with peers can occur with some key environmental factors. Any youth program can integrate factors so our youth develop positive development skills. Structure, creating the opportunity where youth can engage

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in healthy relationships, creating a respectful environment to implement diversity and culture in activities, having opportunities to explore workforce and personal goal settings, and creating an environment where adolescents can have a sense of belonging are key factors. More importantly, programs should develop ways to involve parents in considering the above factors in programs.

Society has created adolescence, it is a social invention. Adolescents create their own subcultures with distinctive apparel, hairstyles, and music. In this industrialized world, adolescents must make an identity for themselves. Being that society is a social creation, it is a contemporary society, not a biological age, that makes the adolescent years a time of turmoil. ( Henslin, 2003) Peer groups assist children in becoming healthy adults. Having a reduction in risk and an increase of resiliency along with positive relationships can create positivity in our youth. Parents and communities have the power to play an active, loving and supportive role in our youths lives to steer them in a positive direction into young adulthood. We as a society can join together to make adolescence a period of positivity instead of negativity.

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