The peer group

Adolescents have a greater dependence than do younger children on peer relationships, because ties with parents become progressively weaker as greater independence is achieved. Because relationships with members of the family are often charged with conflicting emotions, an adolescent needs peers to share similar problems and feelings. These peer relationships tend to serve as prototypes for later adult relationships. Friendships, work associations and behaviour with the opposite sex in later life will partly follow patterns established in early adolescence, although modified as the person matures. During adolescence an individual needs, possibly more than at any other time in life, to be able to share strong and confusing emotions, dreams, expectations and doubts. Although adolescence is a time of intensive socializing, it can paradoxically also be a time of loneliness. Adolescents usually need to feel accepted by their peers.

For this reason, as already stated, most teenagers need membership of a peer group for guidance, support and the sharing of emotions. These needs arise because adolescents are facing the struggle to be accepted as adults, and to understand a self that is developing rapidly both physiologically and psychologically. By affiliating with peers, they can gain reassurance that they will achieve adult identity and status. They sense that adolescents have success- fully made the transition into the adult world, generation after generation, and that by sticking together they will make it too. The increasing importance of the peer group during adolescence is related to an increased conformity within the group. Peer culture demands acceptance of its values, fads and customs, sometimes after some form of initiation. Peer acceptance results in social rewards, being accepted as ‘one of the team’, whereas rejection can lead to loneliness and misery. The need to conform to peer culture is highest during the pre-adolescent and early adolescent years, and steadily declines through late adolescence.

Adolescent peer culture may seem different from and incompatible with adult culture. However, there is considerable overlap between the two, because of similarities in cultural background: teenagers often associate with peers from similar background to themselves and their parents. In fact, peers can actually reinforce parental values. The relative importance given to peer or parental opinion depends on its value in a particular circumstance. In music, fashion or language, peer influence is often the more important. But in matters involving social or moral values, and understanding the adult world, parental influences often prove to be more powerful. The degree to which an adolescent is influenced by peers or parents depends also on his or her self-confidence and autonomy. The effect of the peer group