How important are peers to adolescents?

A teen's peers can be part of the most important social relationships in a teen's life, often contributing more to his/her development than families do. Strong peer relationships help teens achieve two of their most critical tasks: finding independence from their parents and developing their own personal identities. As such, close peer relationships are a normal part of adolescence. Indeed, lack of a strong peer group can cause concern regarding the full, healthy development in a teen.

Prior to adolescence, a child's friends and access to them are overwhelmingly controlled by parents. However, adolescence is a time when teens begin to select their own friends, spend considerably more time with them, and they often do so without parental supervision. They begin to share more intimate bonds with their friends, such as sharing of personal secrets and feelings. In fact, teens will often connect with other teens who have similar problems or situations as they look for social acceptance from other sources than their parents.

Peer groups also work together to develop new personal tastes and preferences. For example, a teen may start to dress differently, listen to new types of music, and use new slang language as a direct result of his new peers. As teens experiment with new identities, they often believe and feel that their peers will be more approving and supportive of their new choices; if not, their peer group will also likely be a more trusted critic of these new choices.

Because peer groups can have such a profound influence on teens, it is important that parents know who their teens spend their time with. While even a less than stellar peer group can contribute positively to a teen's social development in terms of creating independence and self-esteem, parents still want to exert some influence over their teens. They can most easily do this if they've developed a strong relationship with their children well before they reach adolescence.




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