(Harter, 1990; Lord et al., 1994). The strength of these relationships declines as adolescents get older and more confident of their abilities, their social standing, and their own goals and values.
In part because of the importance of social acceptance during adolescence, friendship networks during this period often are organized into relatively rigid cliques that differ in social status within school and community settings (see Brown, 1990). The existence of these cliques probably reflects adolescents’ need to establish a sense of identity; belonging to a group is one way to answer the question: Who am I? Several theorists have argued that the peer group is a powerful place for identity formation and consolidation (Eccles and Barber, 1999; Mead, 1935; Sullivan, 1953; Youniss, 1980; Youniss et al., 1997). Vygotsky (1978) argued that peer interactions are also particularly important for the kinds of advances in cognitive reasoning associated with adolescence precisely because these interactions are more egalitarian than adult-child interactions.
Also, in part because of the importance of social acceptance, children’s conformity to their peers and susceptibility to negative peer influence peaks during early adolescence (Brown, 1990; Ruben et al., 1998). Much has been written about how this peer conformity can create problems for adolescents, and about how “good” children often are corrupted by the negative influences of peers, particularly by adolescent gangs (Harris, 1995; Steinberg, 1997; Steinberg and Morris, 2001). In fact, many of the prevention programs discussed in Chapter 6 were specifically designed to counter negative peer influences. However, although pressure from peers to engage in misconduct does increase during adolescence (see Brown, 1990; Ruben et al., 1998), most researchers do not accept the simplistic view that peer groups are primarily a bad influence during adolescence. More often than not, adolescents agree more with their parents’ views than their peer groups’ views on major issues, such as morality, the importance of education, politics, and religion (Ruben et al., 1998; Smetana, 1995; Smetana et al., 1991). Peers have more influence on such things as dress and clothing styles, music, and activity choice. In addition, adolescents tend to hang around with peers who hold similar views as their parents on the major issues listed above. Finally, adolescents usually seek out similar peers; this means that those involved in sports will have other athletes as friends; those serious about school will seek those kinds of friends.
These changes in the nature of peer relationships provide an excellent rationale for the availability of high-quality community programs.