Street Youth, Their Peer Group Affiliation and Differences According to Residential Status, Subsistence Patterns, and Use of Services

Article excerpt

One of the most significant milestones of adolescence is the development of complex social and problem-solving skills, moral judgment, and social values which are acquired, in part, through interpersonal relationships with peers (Hartup, 1983). Adolescence is a time marked by increasing reliance on peers for the support which had previously been provided by family (Douvan & Adelson, 1966). It is a time of exploration as the teenager searches for friends who will be loyal and trustworthy, and who will demonstrate potential for positive regard, admiration, and similarity (Bigelow, 1977; Parker & Gottman, 1989; Hoffman, Ushpiz, & Levy-Shiff, 1988; Rice, 1978; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1985). It is also a time when peer conformity increases and greater importance is ascribed to being accepted as a member of a clique or social group (Berndt, 1979; Rice, 1978). Styles of dress, hairstyles, music interests, speech and language use, activities, and values are among the social characteristics teenagers appear to learn from their contact with peers. Peers also provide adolescents with the opportunity to experiment with new behaviors and adult social roles in a context that facilitates the development of self-identity and a sense of self-worth (Bemporad, 1982).

Peer relationships and social support have been demonstrated to be directly related to social competence, self-esteem, and overall well-being (Barrera, 1981; Cauce, Feiner, & Primavera, 1982; Compas, Slavin, Wagner, & Wannatta, 1986) and as buffers against the effects of stress (Licitra-Kleckler & Waas, 1993). Conversely, teenagers may encounter adjustment problems either because they have been rejected by their peers or because they have learned to engage in socially inappropriate or deviant activities. Although the role of peer influence remains unclear, several studies have found that adolescents who smoke cigarettes, use alcohol and other drugs, and have sex, usually have friends who engage in these same behaviors (Dinges & Oetting, 1993; Ennett & Bauman, 1993; Konopka, 1983; Newcomb & Bentler, 1989; Oetting & Beauvais, 1986). Other research has sought to define what constitutes a peer group in an effort to identify which features of peer relationships influence both positive and negative behaviors. Brown (1989) classified peer groups into three types: crowds, cliques, and dyads. Crowds are reputation-based groups of similarly stereotyped individuals. Cliques are smaller groups that allow more intimate or private interactions. Dyads are pairs of individuals best characterized as close friends. Crowds are characterized by the primary activities or attitudes its members espouse. For example, "jocks" are popular athletes, identified by their athletic abilities and affinity for partying. Adolescents in several studies consistently identified the same crowd types, including "jocks," "druggies," "loners," "normals," "nobodies," and "populars" (Brown, Clasen, & Eicher, 1986). Brown, Eicher, and Petrie (1986) also found that the importance of crowd affiliation varied with the type to which one belongs and with one's position in the crowd. Some crowds place more or less importance on membership. "Jocks-popular" and "druggies-tough" members place significantly greater importance on membership than do "loners."

One group that may be particularly vulnerable to the potential negative influences of their peers is inner-city street youth. They are largely out-of-school and unemployed youth, with many involved in the juvenile justice system, are runaways or homeless, gang involved, undocumented, and/or involved in drug dealing and street prostitution. These youth are believed to be on the streets for myriad reasons; for example, dire poverty in the home which necessitates working on the streets to supplement the family income; rejection by parents or guardians; violence in the home; drug or alcohol use among family members (Bond, Mazin, & Jiminez, 1992). …