Adolescence and middle childhood, although a time for exploration and the excitement of freedom and gaining maturity, is also a time of struggle when teens work endlessly to identify themselves and come to terms with forthcoming adulthood and separation from family (Berger, 2008). Changes in the intensity of peer relationships help the adolescents in self-discovery and surmount the difficulties of their heightened sense of self. Peer pressure supports the adolescent, although the choice of friends can be either a help or a hindrance depending on the interests of the peers. Adolescence is a time of self-centeredness and self-consciousness when peer pressure can be immense. As teens face social pressures that include experimentation with drugs and other substances, sexuality, and a changing perspective on relationships, their strong social network and the guidance of familial alliances are powerful relationships that mitigate stress during this time.
Changes in Peer Relationships
Peer relationships establish a social connection in which individuals attempt to find their place within a specific social group (Berger, 2008). Peer relationships provide a positive climate for social and moral growth and foster peer interaction (Blume, 2006). Peer interaction leads to friendship and social support, which plays an important role in social development. Peers become the significant relationships maintained by adolescents.
Middle childhood marks significant change in the perspective of friendships, and relationships established during this time can last for many years. Usually by the age of four, children have friends and establish friendship preferences ("Peer Relations During Childhood / How important is it?," 2008). During middle childhood, maturing peer relations depend upon a developing understanding of friendship (Blume, 2006). As children continue to interact within peer groups, their acceptance of friendship is an important part of the early stages of adolescence (Blume, 2006).
Changes in peer relationships during adolescence differ from middle childhood, as they are based on commonality rather than convenience (Blume, 2006) although they are also based on emotional connectivity (Berger, 2008). Members of peer groups often dress alike, have similar interests and music preferences, appreciate the same humor, and share secrets ("Peer Relations During Childhood / How important is it?," 2008). Adolescents commonly experience betrayal when rejected by peers ("Peer Relations During Childhood / How important is it?," 2008). As relationships develop, adolescents pay greater attention to social rules, and how teens are treated by their peers designates their social status (Blume, 2006).
The formation of cliques and clubs are venues where children bond together and often exclude others (Berger, 2008). Being ostracized by a group has a stronger effect during adolescence and can affect self-esteem (Berger, 2008, Blume, 2006). Maintaining the group's exclusivity is a typical phenomenon in adolescence that fuels their need for specialness (Blume, 2006). To help children foster good peer relationships, parents can create strong bonds with their children, build their self-esteem, assist in the development of their decision-making abilities, and take an interest in their activities and friendships.
Aspects of Adolescent Egocentrism
Adolescent egocentrism is a developmentally normal cognitive limitation in adolescents sustained by the belief others are interested in and attentive to their behavior and appearance (Rycek, Stuhr, McDermott, Benker, & Swartz, 1998). According to Berger (2008), adolescents construct an imaginary audience creating a heightened self-consciousness. Focus on oneself, to the exclusion of others is characteristic of this type of adolescent thinking (Berger, 2008). Unrealistic thinking characterizes the constant thought of how others see them, and they ruminate and analyze private thoughts and feelings and every aspect of their behavior, imagining the future and reflecting on previous experience (Rycek et al., 1998). Adolescent egocentrism creates a hyper vigilant and usually distorted self-consciousness and self-centeredness that limits the freedom of action.
According to Berger (2008), adolescent egocentrism leads to false conclusions including the invincibility fable which leads adolescents to act without consideration of consequence, and promotes the notion they are untouchable or invincible. Another false conclusion is the personal fable in which adolescents maintain an unrealistic, almost mythical perception of themselves and their experiences (Berger, 2008). Additionally, adolescent egocentrism leads to the creation of the imaginary audience when the teen imagines the intense interest and scrutiny of their behavior by others (Berger, 2008). Some research finds adolescent egocentrism more prevalent in females and it increases during early adolescence, peaks at about 14 to 16, and decreases during later adolescence (Rycek et al., 1998).
Common Pressures Faced in Adolescence
During adolescence, teens develop intense relationships with their peers in an effort to gain perspective and an understanding of their personal identity (Berger, 2008). The positive and negative aspects of peer pressure exert significant influence on the adolescent as they strive toward this goal (Oak, 2000). Although negative peer pressure is most commonly referenced, positive peer pressure can encourage adolescents to develop healthy values and positive attitudes, respect for others, and safe, yet challenging activities. Having positive peer relations is a constructive way to induce positive change in the adolescent's personality and lifestyle (Oak, 2000). On the contrary, negative peer pressure induces adolescents to please friends and take part in activities they may not necessarily choose by their own accord, and while working toward identifying the self, they tend to become lost in the identification of the group (Oak, 2000). Once a teen loses a sense of self, she may have a difficult time differentiating between herself and the group and experience identity confusion. Group decision making leaves the individual at the whim of the group (Oak, 2000).
Drug Use and Abuse
Experimentation with drugs is the product of peer pressure, curiosity, and the adolescent compulsion toward excitement and sensation ("Teens and Addiction," n.d.). Teens use drugs in an attempt to maintain status within the peer group, for personal enjoyment, to cope, relax, or relieve the stress of adolescent life (Berger, 2010). Although most teenagers do not become addicted to their drug of choice, many fail to address the needs that initially compel them toward experimentation with the drug. Peer pressure may promote continued use and within this cycle, the adolescent believes the drugs help them relax and relieve stress and other problems ("Teens and Addiction," n.d.).
Dating and Sexuality
During the teenage years sexual impulses are at their strongest (Berger, 2008). Changes in behavior occur, contrasting the childhood dislike of the opposite sex. Relationships begin to accommodate commonality and companionship, rather than sexual desire (Berger, 2008). During this period a teenager begins to explore sexuality and may begin relationships with the opposite sex. When the adolescent starts dating, balanced emotional support at home and with friends is essential (Berger, 2008). Peer support assists in the balance of emotions while they experience the positive and negative effects of teenage romance. Even though most romantic relationships begun during adolescence are short lived, they can cause the teen to experience rejection, sadness, depression, and anger (Berger, 2008). These experiences are usually manageable and are mitigated by a balanced and supportive family and social environment.
Changes within Family Relationships
As children become teens, they continue their search for independence, particularly from the family (Berger, 2008). Teens often argue with parents about daily decisions and other more significant issues, ethics, and beliefs. Family activities gradually change as adolescents choose to spend more time with peers than family. The pressures of complying with family activities can cause rebellious behavior when not handled properly by the parents (Berger, 2008).
Peer pressure is a common challenge faced by teenagers. The need to belong and connect to a group may cause an adjustment of behavior and physical appearance to accommodate the consensus of the group. Intense pressure occurs when teens compromise family values or religious beliefs for an opportunity to belong (Berger, 2008). Negative peer pressure can lead to the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs at an early age. Failure to inform teenagers of the consequences of such abuse can result in abusive behavior and future addiction issues.
Middle childhood and adolescence can be a difficult time fraught with acute self-consciousness, difficulties in peer and familial relationships, and the pressures of society, self, and culture (Berger, 2008). As teens continue to discover and create a personal identity, these pressures confuse and challenge adolescents with an unrealistic perception of scrutiny and judgment. Adolescent egocentrism produces faulty conclusions including the invincibility fable, personal fable, and the imaginary audience, all of which exert tremendous pressure on the child. Substance exploration and abuse cause critical issues with some teens and parental guidance and positive peer associations are essential for the success of this age group. Choices made by the teen during this time are consequential to their ultimate growth and development and may reflect their decisive nature to thrive or simply survive.
Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the life span (7th ed.). New York: Worth
Blume, L.B. (2006). Education.com. Education.com, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/peer-relations-middle-childhood/
Oak, M. (2000). Negative and Positive Effects of Peer Pressure. Retrieved January 14, 2011, from http://www.buzzle.com/articles/negative-and-positive-effects-of-peer- pressure.html
Peer Relations During Childhood / How important is it? (2008, February 5). Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development / Home. Retrieved January 16, 2011, from http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/en-ca/peer-relations-childhood/how-important-is- it.html
Rycek, R. F., Stuhr, S. L., McDermott, J., Benker, J., & Swartz, M. D. (1998). Adolescent egocentrism and cognitive functioning during late adolescence. Adolescence. Retrieved January 14, 2011, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2248/is_132_33/ai_53870290/?tag=content;col1
Teens and Addiction. (n.d.). Teen Drug Abuse Home Page - Teen Drug Abuse and Addiction - Find Help for Teen Drug Abuse. Retrieved January 14, 2011, from http://www.teen-drug- abuse.org/