“…a funny thing happened as Allen continued to follow these kids every year for the next 10 years: the kids who felt more peer pressure when they were 12 or 13 were turning out better.”
According to every pop theory of adolescence, peer pressure is peril. Being able to resist it should be considered a sign of character strength. But a funny thing happened as Allen continued to follow these kids every year for the next 10 years: the kids who felt more peer pressure when they were 12 or 13 were turning out better.
Notably, they had much higher-quality relationships with friends, parents, and romantic partners. Their need to fit in, in the early teens, later manifested itself as a willingness to accommodate ─ a necessary component of all reciprocal relationships. The self-conscious kid who spent seventh grade convinced that everyone was watching her learned to be attuned to subtle changes in others’ moods. Years down the road, that heightened sensitivity lead to empathy and social adeptness.
Meanwhile, those kids who did not feel much peer pressure to smoke, drink, and shoplift in seventh grade didn’t turn out to be the independent-minded stars we’d imagine. Instead, what was notable about them was that within five years they had a much lower GPA ─ almost a full grade lower. The kid who could say no to his peers turned out to be less engaged, all around, socially and academically. Basically, if he was so detached that he didn’t care what his peers thought, he probably wasn’t motivated by what his parents or society expected of him, either.
Allen has found that vulnerability to peers’ influence can be just as much of an asset as it is a liability. Many of the pressures felt by teens pull them in a good direction ─ they feel pressure to do well in school, pressure to not act childish, and pressure to be athletic. “We think of susceptibility to peer pressure as only a danger, but, really, it’s out of peer pressure that boys learn to take showers and not come to school smelly.”
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