How Much Do Friends Affect Teen Behavior?

The teenage years can be tough on your child as he enters the stage between childhood and adulthood. According to the eminent childhood psychologist Erik Erikson, it's during the teenage years that people establish their identity and behavior, and that process is heavily influenced by the behavior of friends and family members 3.

Friendship Groups

Who your teen chooses to mix with will have an influence on their beliefs and behavior, says Laura Berk, professor of psychology at Illinois University. Teenagers often are keen to fit into a like-minded teenage friendship group such as "jocks," "brains" or "popular." Berk also states that pressure among people to conform to their friendship group is much higher during the teenage years than in either younger childhood or adulthood.

Peer Acceptance

Teenagers choose friendship groups based initially on their own interests, says professor and author J. Roy Hopkins. Hopkins states that usually friendship groups follow similar social, behavior and political lines, and can also have a positive role on a teen's behavior such as when a friendship group honors good grades and meets to do school work. Hopkins also argues that if a teenager is shy and quiet, he is far more likely to mix with a group of friends with similar personality and behavior traits. If a teen has always enjoyed playing sports, being part of the "jock" group could affect his behavior by placing sports success at a much higher level than attaining good grades.

The Role of the Parents

Despite the importance of friends in shaping behavior, the role of parents remains strong in both supporting and developing teenage behavior. Berk states that although a teen's friends will have greater influence over short-term matters such as dress style and choice of music, parents have more influence on a teenager's life values and personality.

The Wrong Crowd

The worrying aspect for any parent is when their child mixes with a group that participates in antisocial or illegal behavior, and the pressure to conform and fit in with the group's identity is too strong to resist. However, getting into trouble a few times with the law seldom means long-term antisocial behavior, Berk says.