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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