As children grow and move into the teen years, the role peers play in their lives grows as well. Although not all peer influences are negative, the pressure to fall in with the crowd can lead to risky behaviors. Not all youth violence is peer-led, but children and teens may be more likely to follow the lead of friends who engage in negative behavior.
At its most basic, peer pressure is a force to conform. Whether the pressure is to smoke, drink alcohol or engage in other unhealthy behaviors, children and teens may feel like they need to do as their friends do in order to gain acceptance or popularity. When it comes to violent acts -- such as bullying a classmate or physical assault -- kids may feel just as much pressure to act out.
Children are more likely to act violently and bully their peers when they have friends who also engage in the same behaviors, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's website, Stopbullying.gov. This differs from the desire to conform as the child or teen is already friends with the bully. Instead of engaging in violence to gain status or fit in with a popular clique, a child who witnesses a close friend bullying other children may view the behavior as acceptable and be tempted to emulate it.
The effects that peer pressure have on the incidence of youth violence aren't always direct. While some kids and teens may feel pressure from friends or classmates to engage in abusive or bullying behaviors, others may act out in violent ways as a result of peer-initiated drug or alcohol use. Youth who regularly use drugs or alcohol are more likely to engage in violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This may mean that they are more belligerent or aggressive when using drugs or alcohol. The pressure to fit in and use or abuse substances may have the end result of violence.
Although a child or teen often follows the group's peer pressure in order to fit in and gain acceptance, the end result isn't always inclusion. Youth who don't meet the group's standards are often rejected. Social rejection is a leading case of youth violence, notes the CDC. A child who is shunned after failing to meet the group's standards may experience significant inner turmoil and feelings of impotence. Committing acts of violence may offer a way to release the emotional pain of rejection, impart a sense of being "better" than another person, and create an illusion of being in control.
Even though teens may seem to listen to their friends more than adults, parents can play a pivotal role in helping them to overcome peer pressure. If you suspect that your child is being pressured to act violently, let him know that you're there to listen and discuss. Other ways to reduce the effects of peer pressure on your child include teaching him to act assertively, helping him to feel confident and giving him ideas on how to remove himself from a potentially serious situation, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Spending time with your child on a consistent basis can help combat peer pressure that leads to physical aggression, says the CDC.