Peers, Problems, and Patterns of Behavior During Adolescence

Do teens have more behavior problems when they associate with peers who resist conformity? Although the teens may say no, evidence suggests otherwise. As children enter adolescence, their choice of friends tends to ebb and flow. Some teens may be close to studious peers early on, and then may find themselves attracted to a more rebellious crowd. Others may feel right at home with extroverts and troublemakers because they provide the acceptance they seek. Existing research has shown that teenagers’ behavior is linked to the peers they associate with. But until now, no study has examined how this pattern of peer association and behavior changes throughout adolescence.

Suzan M. Doornwaard of the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Science at Utrecht University in the Netherlands sought to determine how initial peer selection affected future peer selection and behavior in a sample of 1,313 adolescents. She evaluated the teens five times throughout, with teens of varying ages, to capture the most accurate evidence relating to peer affiliation and behavior. Doornwaard discovered that the most common groups included nonconventional peer groups, such as “Metal Heads,” “Hip Hoppers,” and “Brains,” and conventional peer clusters including “Normals” and “Jocks.” Analyses revealed that the teens followed one of several paths. Some teens identified with nonconformists most during early adolescence and then stabilized, while others identified with conventional groups and then increased or declined prior to stabilizing their affiliations.

With respect to behavior, the teens who were part of nonconventional groups demonstrated more negative behaviors and risk taking than those who were part of conventional groups. However, the teens who were part of the “Brains” cluster reported higher levels of anxiety in general. Doornwaard notes that the data used for this study was gathered from self-reports. Future research should evaluate peer reports of association in addition to self-reports to get a more accurate picture of peer affiliation. Regardless, the results underscore how much influence an adolescent’s friends have on his or her behavior. “As such, our findings highlight the importance of studying peer crowd identification and its relation to problem behaviors from a developmental perspective,” Doornwaard said.

Doornwaard, Suzan M., Susan Branje, Wim H.J. Meeus, and Tom F.M. Ter Bogt. Development of adolescents’ peer crowd identification in relation to changes in problem behaviors. Developmental Psychology. 48.5 (2012): 1366-380. Print.

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  • marcus

    September 19th, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    rather than changing into what your peer group is,I think seeking out a peer group just like you would be more common.after all,everybody looks for ease within a group and that can be best achieved when with similar people.

  • Caroline

    September 20th, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    The question then becomes how do you keep your child away from the kids who are going to lead to them making bad choices and getting into trouble? I feel that parents walk a very fine line when they try to outwardly control who their children hang out with. You remember how it was when you were young, the people that your parents least wanted you to hang out with were the people that you wanted to be around even more! This is why it is so important to establish a strong, communicative relationship with your children very ealy on, so that later on when you do have something meaningful to say, then hopefully the chances will be better that they will actually listen.

  • Mysti

    September 20th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    I think more research into WHY adolescents are choosing these affiliations is needed too. What draws a teen to want to hang out with other kids who are non-conformists, or brains, etc. Attributing a teen’s behavior to whom they affiliate with seems short-sighted. All of those kids in each of those groups is drawn to those peers for a reason, right? What I’ve observed is that kids going through a more tumultuous time in their private lives (whether due to family conflict or their own personal experience of the world) are often drawn to more dramatic others, and when a group is formed, outlets develop that may be dangerous or destructive. Getting to the bottom of why these kids are drawn together (boredom, need for acceptance, similar interests, etc) will help to better understand the after-effects it seems.

  • alice

    September 20th, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    never easy for a kid,is it?one side the parents are saying stick with these kids and not those and another side there is peer pressure and the willingness to be ‘cool’.

    what I don’t understand is this – why is it that non conformist groups are always viewed as being cool and not the ‘nerd’ group? is this not what leads the kid into drifting toward the rebel group?

  • Frannie

    September 20th, 2012 at 2:22 PM

    We have this ideal in our head of what the perfect child is and looks like, and then when our child comes home and wants to pierce his nose or dye his hair black because all the cool kids are doing it, well that just throws a monkey wrench in the perfect family portrait!

    Over the years I have had my own ups and downs with my children, some big and some small, but I have always just kind of trued to roll with the punches. Many times it felt like the harder I pushed the more they would pull, so I began trying to just choose my battles a little more wisely.

  • terra

    September 20th, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    with me and most of my friends this attraction to the “bad kids” did not start until much later, more like late middle school and high school, and mostly for the shock value

  • sam

    September 20th, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    kids always seem to do the opposite of what’s told use expecting them to listen to you with their choice of friends..better approach would be to help them arrive at the right decision themselves..!

  • Ashleigh T

    September 21st, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    There have been many good kids gone bad simply by choosing the wrong crowd to hang out with. As a parent it is my job to stay on top of the kids that my kids are hanging out with and being influenced by, and ensuring that I have given them all the necessary things that they need to be able to make the right decisions about life when the time comes and I am not there to make those hard decisions for them.

  • Gregg

    September 21st, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    The “Brains” and high anxiety levels have always kind of gone together don’t you think?

  • DES

    September 22nd, 2012 at 5:16 AM

    These non conventional peer groups are going to be the ones most likely to receive higher levels of discriminatory behavior from teachers and parents. The teachers like the kids who are predictable and don’t cause a fuss or behavior problem in class. Parents are the same. Maybe the kids in these groups that have been historically viewed as deviant and more apt to have behavioral problems are just looking for a way to express themselves in way that are new and creative. Yet they get punished for thinking a little outside the box.

  • Vincent.L

    September 22nd, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    I think those that flock to a group just because of their appeal are bound to go down anyway.If you do not really belong to a group,whether it is the geek group or the metal heads, and get into it just cause then that’s definitely not gonna work!

  • Immanuel

    September 22nd, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    Your friends and the company you have dictate who you are,generally.And it is especially true for youngsters who sometimes want to create an identity for themselves by being part of a particular group.So I would say yes,behavioral problems may increase in those that are friends with others who resist conformity.

  • Nancy Jones

    September 23rd, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    Any studious group will have certain unsaid rules and conformity.Those that cannot follow those end up in other groups, its as simple as that. So if a child is attracted to or is showing interest in any one particular group it is because he wants to be a part of that group,nothing else.

    Although I certainly believe parents have a huge role to play in making their children aware of everything related to all this,it finally comes down to the child and the environment at school because kids generally are prone to seeking out what is told to be out of bounds..

  • lee

    September 24th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    I guess that overall I am less than overwhelmed by this study just because I think that all of us have recognized for many years just how influential our peer groups can be even when we are older. Children are heavily influenced by the kids that they hang out with and this has been true for, well pretty much for all time, right? I don’t know that so many of them make a conscious decision to hang with one group or another- generally I think that we fall in line with the kids that we end up feeling the most comfortable around.

  • Camille

    September 25th, 2012 at 5:50 AM

    If we as adults are always presching that at some point we have to own up to our own responsibilities and take responsibilities for our actions. then at what age do we beging teching our kids the same thing?
    I realize that we have all been influenced under peer pressure, but don’t you think that eventually we have to let our kids know that no matter what other people are doing that this is no excuse for them to behave badly too?
    There has to come a point in time where you atop pointing the finger of blame at other people and own up to your own involvement in the matter.

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