Peer Pressure: Using It For Good

According to a recent study from Temple University, teen decision-making about taking risks is drastically impacted by the presence (or even the belief of a presence) of friends. Thanks to Tara Parker Pope for highlighting this study in her recent New York Times article.

Previously, we thought about peer pressure as teens coercing each other into bad behavior.  But this recent study shows that a teen’s brain actually receives more reward when taking risks in the presence of their friends (or even in the belief that their friends are present- they don’t actually have to be present).  This is unique to teens!  College students and adults, however, don’t receive the same brain activity as teens, when taking risks.  This explains all that “showing off” that we see amongst teens, and we can re-evaluate how we think about peer pressure.

At my recent workshop for parents in Whistler, I talked a bit about how parents aren’t the greatest influence on their own children.  Teens are more influenced by their peers.  So instead of always looking to influence your own teen, I suggest trying to influence their peers.  Become the awesome parents on the street, taking your own tween/teen and their friends to new things like laser tag or bungee jumping or the movies (with parental permission, of course!).  Because the more you influence your child’s friends towards positive risk-taking, the more you’ll influence your own child.

This new study also confirms that we can put ideas like “I heard [insert your child’s friend] is doing really well in science” into your child’s head, to help motivate them towards the positive.

Together, let’s reinvent peer pressure for the purposes of good!

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