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Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries
or what other indirect (and often conflicting) signals parents give off (see, for example, Gorgen, Laier, and Diesfeld, 1993). Finally, many other family members besides parents can also play important and influential roles in young peoples’ lives. In some African cultures, for example, the responsibility for transmitting sexual information to children lies not with parents but with other adult relatives, such as grandmothers or paternal aunts (Blanc et al., 1996; Cattell, 1994; Gage, 1998).
Young people also rely on peers for information and support. As young people grow and develop their own self-identity, they often begin to call into question the values and principles of their parents and other adults. The peer group can become increasingly important, and many young people can feel an intense need to belong. Consequently, just as in the developed world, peer groups in developing countries tend to play a large part in shaping many young peoples’ values and beliefs during their formative years, particularly among young people from middle- and upper-class families. Peers provide young people with alternative viewpoints and sources of information as well as providing points of reference for certain norms and behaviors.
Peer influence can be positive or negative: for example, peers can support and reinforce family values, while they can also encourage certain problematic behaviors. There are many cross-national studies in developing countries that have investigated young people’s source of information about contraceptives or their decision to use or to forgo using them. But without the benefit of longitudinal data, it is not possible to assign causality. Nevertheless, perceived expectations of consistent condom use among one’s peers have been found to be an important predictor of young men’s consistent condom use with commercial sex workers in Thailand (see VanLandingham et al., 1995). Peer pressure may also have quite negative effects on decision-making behavior. In the same study in Thailand, young men who perceived that the group norm for condom use was one of nonuse were the least likely to report using a condom when having sex with commercial sex workers (VanLandingham et al., 1995). Similarly, Gorgen and colleagues (1998) found that young unmarried urban youth in Guinea reported that both their partners and their peers pressured them to have sex. While it is impossible to quantify the relative impact of parents, family members, and peers on the behavior of young people in developing countries, we do know that adolescents are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, especially at younger ages (Gage, 1998).
In many countries, peer educators have been deployed in combination with other intervention strategies to take advantage of the fact that young people spend a large amount of time interacting with each other. These programs typically recruit and train a core group of young people to serve as role models and sources of information for their peers. In some settings,