Adolescent Autonomy with Parents as a Predictor of Low Susceptibility to Peer Pressure Charlotte A. Geary Distinguished Majors Thesis University of Virginia
Advisor: Joseph P. Allen Second Reader: E. Mavis Hetherington
Running Head: PEER PRESSURE
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Abstract Theorists have proposed that adolescents who are independent from their parents become dependent on their peers and susceptible to peer pressure (Blos, 1979; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986). This paper examines the relationship between adolescent autonomy within the family and susceptibility to peer pressure. Autonomy was measured from the teen reports, parent reports, and observed family interaction of 88 adolescents when the teens were 16 years old. Then susceptibility to peer pressure was measured from teen reports when they were 18. The study examined three aspects of family relationships that affect teens’ behavioral or socialcognitive autonomy: parental control, decision-making, and conflict resolution. Results indicated that high parental control and decision-making by parents or teens alone was related to high susceptibility to peer pressure. In addition, teens whose mothers undermined their autonomy during conflict resolution were also high in susceptibility to peer influence. However teens who participated in joint decision-making were lower in susceptibility to peer influence. Overall, it was found that autonomy at age 16 could predict low susceptibility to peer pressure at 18. These findings suggest that adolescents may not move from a dependency on parents to a dependency on peers. Instead, autonomy seems to be a consistent trait over time and across different social relationships.
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Adolescent Autonomy with Parents as a Predictor of Low Susceptibility to Peer Pressure Peers become an important influence on behavior during adolescence. As adolescents search for identities separate from those of their parents, they experiment with new identities by participating in the different behaviors of their peers (Allen, Moore, & Kuperminc, 1995). Because they are unsure of their own identities, peer acceptance is important to many adolescents. Acceptance enables a teen to join a particular peer group and identify with the behaviors and attitudes of that group. Adolescents are often willing to conform to their peers’ behaviors in order to be accepted (Newman & Newman, 1976). Conformity may create problems, however, when peers influence each other to participate in deviant activities. For instance, several studies have revealed connections between peer pressure and substance abuse (Flannery, et al., 1994; Dielman, 1994; Thomas & Hsiu, 1993), cigarette smoking (Newman, 1984), and early sexual behavior (Duncan-Ricks, 1992; Janus & Janus, 1985). Certain teens show more susceptibility to such deviant peer pressures than others (Berndt, 1979; Wall, Power, & Arbona, 1993). Therefore it is important to determine the factors that may predict high susceptibility, in order to find ways to prevent adolescents from conforming to deviant peer pressures. Developmental theorists have offered conflicting explanations for the differences in susceptibility to peer influence among various adolescents. Psychoanalysts and other early theorists viewed the growth in peer influence as the result of adolescents’ increased emotional autonomy, which involves individuation from parents, deidealization of parents, and relinquishing of childish dependencies on them for basic needs (Douvan and Adelson, 1966). In this perspective, adolescents establish identities by detaching emotionally from the family and shifting attachments to their peers. These theorists suggested that teenagers become dependent on their peers as they become independent from their parents (A. Freud, 1969; Blos, 1979; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986). Current researchers, however, emphasize the importance of the ongoing emotional
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