Peer Referencing in Adolescent Decision Making as a Function of Perceived Parenting Style

By Bednar, Dell Elaine; Fisher, Terri D. | Adolescence, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Peer Referencing in Adolescent Decision Making as a Function of Perceived Parenting Style


Bednar, Dell Elaine, Fisher, Terri D., Adolescence


Theorists have long speculated on the adolescent transition from being parent oriented to being peer oriented. Ausubel (1954) theorized that as adolescents matured, peers would replace parents as the primary socializing agent, thereby resatellizing adolescents to their peers. This shift in satellization would empower peers to fulfill the adolescent's need for extraneous status and for mature role-playing experiences. Similarly, Erikson (1959) and Piaget (1965) both theorized that identity formation during adolescence is achieved by emotional disengagement from the family and a transfer of attachment to peers. It is within the context of the adolescent peer group that most sexual socialization is acquired and the skills for developing intimate friendships are learned (Sullivan, 1953).

Jessor and Jessor (1978) claimed that problem behavior occurs as the result of the many transitions that occur in adolescence, such as an emphasis on independence, an increase in social activism, a decrease in religiosity, the apparent loosening of parental standards, and increased dependence on friends rather than parents. Jessor and Jessor viewed these transitions as problematic because such changes are often accompanied by sexual activity, substance use, and lower achievement. Therefore, their advice to parents was to "keep tight control," whereas Freudian or Piagetian stage theorists would advise parents to "let go."

Those adolescents who decide to follow peers may do so because of the perceived benefits, or because of what they might lose by not doing so (Larson, 1974). Adolescents feel that the time spent with their peers is one of the most entertaining parts of their day because it consists of activities that are fun, whereas time spent with their family consists of activities centered around chores and rules (Larson, 1983). Therefore, adolescent friendships are important, enduring, and relatively problem-free relationships in which the participants understand one another and learn new things (Yonniss & Smollar, 1983).

The peer group is important in the psychological development of adolescents, serving as a guide in the formation of identity as adolescents begin to establish a sense of self that is separate from the family (Brown, 1990). It enables adolescents to test their new decision-making skills in an environment in which there are few adults to monitor or control their decisions (Hill & Holmbeck, 1986). Baumrind (1991) found that early adolescents become closer to their peers while temporarily becoming more distant from their parents because peers are generally better able to meet their changing needs. The beginning of the ability to think abstractly and use complex reasoning may lead adolescents to look for opportunities to practice these new skills with their peers.

Peer influence is at its peak during early adolescence, around age 14, and then decreases through middle and late adolescence (Brown, Clasen, & Eicher, 1986; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986). Peers are most influential if friendships are stable, reciprocated, and exclusive. Furthermore, peers influence each other because they have coercive power (the ability to punish others for noncompliance), reward power (by controlling the outcomes others desire), and referent power (when others admire them and want to be like them) (Savin-Williams & Berndt, 1990). While peers become more influential during adolescence, parental influence ultimately does not change (Krosnick & Judd, 1982). These two components of adolescent life should be viewed as "friendly nations," not "warring societies," with both given equal salience by the typical adolescent (Larson, 1974). However, in contexts where adolescents view attempts at independence from their parents as unsuccessful, adolescents may turn to their peers as their primary source of guidance and support (Youniss & Smollar, 1983). Adolescents whose parents are overly negative or who are low in monitoring tend to become oriented toward deviant peers and to engage in more externalizing behaviors (Kim, Hetherington, & Reiss, 1999). …

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