Peer relationships help teens achieve two of the most critical tasks of their adolescence: gaining independence from their parents and developing their own personal identities. As teens bond with their peers, they begin to withdraw more from their parents’ social control over them. Also, the means of bonding with peers often involve shared challenges and tastes, both of which help teens create their own personal identity. As a result, close peer relationships are a normal, in fact necessary, part of adolescence.
Teens use their peer group to establish some independence from their parents by taking charge of their social relationships. When their offspring are children, parents are often the ones making play dates and selecting their children’s friends; they are omnipresent during the children’s social interaction. In contrast, during adolescence, teens start selecting their own friends, managing their own social schedules (albeit with parental oversight), spending most of their time with their peers and quite often enjoying themselves without adult supervision. The entire process of developing peer relationships helps teens find appropriate levels of independence from their parents.
In addition, the interaction with their peers helps teens go through the normal, healthy adolescent process of finding their own identities. Teens will often try on a number of new personalities as they try to figure out who they are. The details of these varied personae are often determined through consultation with their peers. Peer groups will make decisions together as to what kinds of clothes to wear, what music to listen to, what types of behaviors are acceptable and what types of activities are important to them. Even as a teen branches off to make a new choice about a taste or preference, he/she will often look to his/her peer group for support and feedback about the new choice, rather than his/her parents. Meaning, a teen’s peer group now becomes the more important source of approval and influence.