Do Friends Change a Teen's Attitude?

Social activity often increases during the teenage years, so parents might worry about the possibility of friends changing a teen’s attitude, including important values related to school, work and morals. In fact, peers do have the ability to affect a teen’s attitude. This can have a positive, negative or neutral effect, according to clinical psychologist Neil Bernstein in a NBC News article, “Sex and Peer Pressure.” Since parents can’t directly supervise their teen all day, explicitly talking about peer pressure and the influence of friends can help him build resilience and the confidence to make the right decisions 1.

Increased Risks

Teens are often with friends when making the decision to take risks, according to a 2011 Psychology Today article, “How Peers Affect the Teenage Brain.” Experts with the Association for Psychological Science state that peers can influence risk-taking behaviors, including dangerous driving, sexual experimentation or experimentation with substances 578. It’s possible that the wiring in a teenager’s brain provides short-term rewards for risk-taking and peer approval, downplaying the potential negative outcomes of a risky situation. Friends could also change a teen’s attitude toward shoplifting, making the activity seem socially acceptable or less risky compared to other crimes, according to child development experts at the Kids Health website 6.

Confidence Levels

Teens might be positively influenced to have increased confidence levels, thanks to friends, especially when it comes to social networking, according to Common Sense Media 2. Many teens believe that interacting with friends online helps them develop social skills, become less shy, feel popular and experience sympathy for others. They may be more open-minded about meeting new people with similar interests or reconnecting with old friends.

New Challenges

Friends can positively influence teen attitudes toward new experiences, expanding their worldview, according to the Scholastic website. For example, a teen might decide to sign up for volunteer work if peers are helping out in the community. If your teen’s friends value earning good grades, this might improve her attitude toward school. In this way, friends might impact your teen’s decision to learn a new language, try a new sport or experiment with art.

Cool Versus Uncool

Friends often set and reinforce the parameters of cool versus uncool behavior, according to Neil Bernstein. Although definitions might change depending on the school or social circle, typical “uncool” behaviors include having an intense interest in schoolwork, overly obeying parents or attempting to socialize with another student who is considered socially undesirable. In general, socially acceptable behaviors might include wearing certain clothing styles, being good at sports or using sarcasm with parents. Friends might influence your teen’s attitude toward preferring or not preferring certain movies, athletic teams or celebrities.