By their very nature, these programs create and support peer groups. By providing a setting in which youth in peer groups can be actively and regularly involved in social, productive activities, these programs likely can increase the positive and decrease the negative influence that peers can have in each other’s development. Such experiences are likely to be especially important during the early and middle adolescent years, when there are such dramatic increases in involvement in delinquent and antisocial behaviors (Moffitt, 1993) and when susceptibility to negative peer influences is at its peak. Later in adolescence, community programs can provide opportunities for middle and late adolescents to both work with and supervise younger adolescents and be mentored by older adolescents and young adults. Such experiences both provide the older adolescents with a feeling of being respected and making an important contribution to the organization, as well as the opportunity to see concrete examples of successful transitions into adulthood.
Youth-serving organizations do have to be careful about one thing: programs that enroll or attract a disproportionately large number of adolescents who have antisocial values and are already involved in criminal, aggressive, and otherwise problematic behaviors. Work by Tom Dishion and his colleagues have shown that one can get increases in problem behavior when programs specifically target youth already involved in problematic behaviors (Dishion and Andrews, 1995; Dishion et al., 1999a). This is particularly likely if such youth are the majority of program participants.
Although the extent of actual disruption in parent-adolescent relations is not as great as one might expect given stereotypes about this period of life, there is little question that parent-child relations do change during adolescence (e.g., Buchanan et al., 1992; Collins, 1990; Paikoff and Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Petersen, 1988). As adolescents mature, they often seek more independence and autonomy and may begin to question family rules and roles, leading to conflicts particularly around issues like dress and appearance, chores, and dating, particularly during the early adolescent years (see Collins, 1990; Smetana, 1995; Smetana et al., 1991). However, despite these conflicts over day-to-day issues, parents and adolescents agree more than they disagree regarding core values linked to education, politics, and spirituality.