essence, they are behaving precisely like the well-socialized individuals that we thought them to be. . We see our popular teens as acting like mini-politicians. They are well-regarded and may appear as leaders, but they are also carefully tracking the implicit “polls” of opinion among their peers and placing themselves out in front of the prevailing views. Popular teens need not be directly or even consciously pressured or influenced by their peers. Indeed, giving in to direct peer pressure is not valued by most adolescents (nor by most adult voters). Nevertheless, popular teens find themselves evolving in a way that keeps them in synch with the norms of their peers. The problems with this socialization process are not that it occurs. Indeed, many positive traits, from turn-taking to improved hygiene are likely linked to peer socialization processes in adolescence. The problem is that the values toward which teens are being socialized are often less than ideal relative to the norms of adult society. To be well-socialized is one thing; to be well-socialized by a bunch of 13- year olds is a less unambiguously positive experience, at least from an adult vantage point. And while the troublesome behaviors described above, such as drinking and shoplifting, appear minor in some contexts, in many ways they are far from minor. Large numbers of teens as well as innocent bystanders, are killed each year in alcohol-related accidents (Pate l et al ., 2000). Recent evidence suggests that early use of alcohol may have long-term effects on brain development and may predispose at least some young brains toward a greater lifelong risk of substance abuse problems (American Medical Association, 2006). Homeowners, consumers, retail shopkeepers and others bear tremendous costs from both vandalism and shoplifting (Taylor & Mayhew, 2002). In short, so-called “minor” adolescent problem behaviors may reflect a passing stage in adolescent development for many, but they nonetheless create huge short- and long-term costs to society and to many of the adolescents involved. 9
But even if we wanted to stop the peer influence processes linked to these troubling behaviors, is that even possible? We take that up next. The Hardwiring of the Peer Influence Process In addition to perhaps subtle processes by which popular teens may absorb peers’ values, there are also explicit dominance and submissiveness processes that often take a central role in interactions between adolescents and their peers. We believe that a close look at these processes suggests two conclusions: First, although being influenced by one’s peers may be a net positive in some cases, being overtly submissive to peers probably is not. Second, and more importantly for our purposes, dominance processes may be rewarded in adolescent peer interactions in ways that increase the likelihood that peers will work hard to influence one another over time.
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