Peer Influence

Peers help us with language acquisition (kids end up speaking more like their peers than their parents, e.g., children of immigrants speak the language of the new country rather than the one of their parents), and teach us how to make use of cultural tools, such as computers, games, internet, TV, music. They affect the way we speak, the way we dress, how we see ourselves and where we fit in in the world.

If peers introduce us to things like the internet, movies and music, how do we measure the extent of influence of each of these factors once they've been introduced?

See also: memes.

I think it is important to get away from the one-sided 'blame the parents' mindset, and to realize that families are systems in which all members affect each other, and that in society itself we similarly affect and are affected by those we encounter.

Judith Harris Rich, in her book The Nurture Assumption, posited that peers have more of an effect on how we turn out than our parents do, that in effect, nurture is the function of peer relationships, and that parents could pretty much be shuffled around, and we would still turn out the same if we had the same peer groups.

Rich does say that it does matter how you treat your kids, and it is not OK to be cruel or neglectful. And if after they've grown up they do not keep in contact with you, it says something about how they feel about the relationship.

I have been trying to apply some of her theories to my situation, with little success. It could be that I encountered so many different sets of peers that sorting out effects is exceptionally complicated.

It's difficult to unentangle, but how do peers become the 'bad influences' which our parents would prefer we avoid? Wouldn't that have something to do with the relationships within their families of origin? How do those kids become who they are?

It may be that the effects of genetic inheritance have complicated effects which depend on a lot of different factors, and it may also be that parents have subtle prejudices that they pass on unconsciously to their kids, which in turn affect who their kids attract, and who they seek out.

In any neighbourhood or school, the children your child attracts in that environment may have something to do with the original family relationships - the original relationships may have some bearing on the roles your children adopt in any given situation, or the roles they adopt in particular situations.

There might be complicated explanations, some of which might relate to inherited genes and how such combinations react with different parenting styles (including the genes and parenting styles of adoptive parents).

...Exposure to peers who smoke is what determines whether or not a teenager will experiment with tobacco. Her genes determine whether or not she will get hooked...

Judith Rich Harris, The Nurture Assumption Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do

My parents, their friends, and most of my parents' relatives smoked, so it is possible that many of them had the 'getting hooked' genes, and that I might have inherited them as well. I was exposed to a lot of peers throughout my life in a lot of different places who smoked, including many boyfriends and the first man I lived with. In many schools I attended (from Grade 7 up), those who smoked frequently invited me to hang out, and frequently pressured me to smoke - I hung out with them without ever smoking. When I started high school, a girl my age lived next door. I saw her very frequently, and she was constantly pressuring me to smoke. Many people I have met through the years have commented that I 'look like a smoker'. I tried cigarettes once while high, and pretty much only to demonstrate open-mindedness. People I've known who weren't smokers when I met them sometimes became smokers later - through social contact with a new group, or because a person they were in a relationship with smoked. Even when drunk to the point of blackout, I never smoked.

My three siblings don't smoke, either. It could mean a higher than 'normal' resistance to peer pressure, since neither peer influence nor genetic inheritance appeared to be on our side. Or maybe it was about 'rebelling' in our own way. My theory is that it may be related to the influence of our maternal grandfather, the only person on either side of the family who was never a smoker. He was known for his fitness and health, he always looked very young for his age, and he was a kind person who was well-liked. (He lived to the age of 91, and looked unbelievably good for his age.)

In high school, when I began to drink, I think it had less to do with peer pressure than that I was acting out my father's drinking style. For two years already, I had been exposed to his binge drinking on a regular basis. On weekends, he drank in my presence, frequently to the point of blackout, while I ate. Before incidents in which I drank and broke curfew, or ended up in the hospital with suspected alcohol poisoning, my father had already provided an example in which his drunkenness prevented me from competing in a horse show I had trained for for months. I had contact with peers who were both 'positive influences', and those who weren't. I was able to resist the more 'negative' influences for two years, and it was only after asking for professional help which didn't help that I began to 'act out'. It was only after trying the 'official' or 'professional' help, with disappointing results, that I began to act out my confusion - with alcohol. I was mirroring my father's drinking and out of control behaviour.

See: chronology.

One possible peer affect: If it hadn't been the 'in' thing to wear jeans to school, I might have been considerably more comfortable considering my eating patterns and fluctuating weight. When my sister was a teen, it was 'in' to wear colourful sweats and knitwear to school, and this might have helped her somewhat. As an adult, I have tended to choose clothing which is less likely to be 'cool' or 'in fashion', instead taking my own particular body and issues into account.

socialization: the umbrella term for all those processes by which children acquire the behavioural patterns and the values required to live in their particular society.

individuation: umbrella term for all the processes involved in the formation of a personal identity.

identity crisis: something that typically occurs in adolescence. Through childhood, tasks/challenges must be met in order to successfully continue to the next stage.

Appearance issues at adolescence can become significant for girls especially, and can be related to a major drop in self-esteem.

adolescence/teens - a culture specific phenomenon. In some cultures, there are only 2 categories - child and adult.

Sense of self is strongly dependent on the quality of interpersonal relationships

looking-glass self: the idea that we come to be who others tell us we are - the self is a reflection of the way others see us.

(above taken from):

H Rudolph Schaffer, Introducing Child Psychology

(These well-known terms have been coined by other psychologists.)

What I think is difficult to pinpoint or prove is the complexity and interaction within family relationships that might lead to a child seeking similar patterns in the outside world. If a child is neglected or bullied at home, it might impact their subsequent relationships, the signals they send out, and what they attract.

If I try to think about the things that peers affect: language acquisition, the use of cultural tools, substance abuse, truancy or deviant behaviour and that peers affect how we eventually interact in the world at large and find our place in it, it is difficult to work out the connections for me. It doesn't mean they don't exist, but it is easier to look at from the perspective of family influence.

If I think about the individual girls who were my friends, and then also the larger peer groups: with the individual girls, most smoked, did some drugs or would later, but most managed to attend school regularly and get through high school. I am not sure if any attended university, although I think in my last high school, the friend there probably would have - her boyfriend and his friend, who I went to the prom with, both definitely would have gone to university. But maybe that was an issue: many of the girls I knew were basically intelligent, but did not have the resources or family support related to going to school. I think most or all of these girls did the usual things, like managed to get driver's licences, and part-time jobs while in school.

None of the friends I had ever read to the extent that I did. However, this may have been part of why I didn't know what to read when I reached high school, and just kind of aimlessly flailed.

Judith Harris Rich's group socialization theory also entails that abuse by peers would have long-term deleterious effects on personality, but that abuse by parents would not.

For me, bullying, name-calling, chasing and attacking occurred mainly up to Grade 8. I don't seem to have the same feelings of horror that many people who have been bullied do, and so I think that maybe for me it was not as extensive or severe, and had fewer lasting effects. I attended many different schools, so I did repeatedly have to deal with new intimidation. Sexual harassment might have had some effect, from Grade 8 onward - touching, grabbing, slapping, and sexual remarks were a 'normal' part of life. In high school, I once discovered that a message about me was written in a study carrel in the library: 'Xesce is a fat ugly slut' with 'She is a gorgeous hunk of woman!' alongside it - which might sum up the contradictory messages I received. Some people thought I was attractive, some thought I was ugly and fat. Some people liked me, some people did not.

See also: I Have Alligator Skin, which relates to issues like name-calling and bullying.

From the time I was 15 on, I had trouble visiting my mother, and this was related to her disappointment with my appearance/weight. I did receive messages from peers which suggested that I was more attractive when at the lower end of my range as well. It is difficult to know for sure that this was more about peer influence than parental influence. I continued to go to school - it was the difficulty in facing my mother which came first. However, she herself may have been unconsciously trying to help me 'fit in' with my peer group.

The incident which resulted in me waking in a field might have had serious long-term effects on my personality and life, and during it peers who were not friends acted badly toward me, but it is difficult to isolate that incident as the only contributing factor. Why did I seek out that incident? Why had I drunk alcohol to the point of semi- blackout? My suicide attempt less than a year earlier seems to relate more to family dynamics than peer influence.

Maybe that I consistently attracted female friends who were considered more attractive than me (these females were usually considered highly attractive) caused me to become hypersensitive about my looks to the extent that I gave up on life and relationships? But even that looks like it has a precedent in my family relationships - either regarding my mother or my sister or both. I would be considered the less attractive and in the overall sense I would be the less dominant of the two, the one who came 'second' in the overall sense.

In my peer group, I did have a kind of respect - related to my scholastic abilities. People knew who I was. Some people probably thought of me as a goody-goody browner type, but I think for the most part I did not come across that way, since the stoner crowd tended to invite me to hang out with them. Maybe I smelled of smoke from the family home. I probably took in enough secondhand smoke to actually be a smoker.

Most of the friends I had were more concerned with being 'cool' than I was, and also were a lot more harsh in their criticisms of others than I was.

Even as a teenager, there was something excessive about my drinking style that put others off, and which led to me being less welcome at social gatherings. As for drugs, that also was like my father's style - I experimented, and occasionally agreed socially, but mainly I was interested in alcohol. I have had many peers, friends, and boyfriends who smoked pot, but beyond a few times in Grade 11, it was an irregular occurrence in my life for me to smoke pot. And I only provided the drugs on one occasion: I had found an old joint of my father's at the bottom of a box of bandaids. [Note: I also tried amphetamines a few times, but when I bought them myself, they became part of the collection I was saving for my suicide attempt, the bulk of which was made up of tricyclic antidepressants.]

One idea to examine is that for me, my parents were perhaps 'peers' in a way. If I was seen as mature for my age, and both at different times had seen me as a confidant, I could have processed our interactions the way children normally process peer relationships.

My lack of relationships in later life seems to relate not to individual peers and their effects, but to the constant upheaval within my family, perhaps the death of my mother, and the attitudes of my family members. I did fear running into those I had known in the past as I continued to lose ties to life and status. Lack of peers at critical times may have had an effect, or too many moves resulting in a reluctance to try to form new lasting relationships, or lack of social opportunities to find new peers, leading to my isolation as an adult? As long as I was in school, I didn't really seem to have trouble forming some friendships.

I have never been and never will be invited to attend a high school reunion, because technically my Grade 12 and 13 diplomas were not issued by schools I attended, but by a correspondence school. This is partly related to moves and family upheaval. I did Grade 12 by correspondence, and my last two Grade 13 credits were also acquired by correspondence. I had by that time no family encouragement to continue with school at all, and no peers in my life - such that the decision to get those diplomas was on my own initiative. (Also: my on-again-off-again boyfriend, although 2.5 years older, did not have a high school diploma himself - although in the year I knew him, he received more credits than he did in total for the previous 2 years, partly because I helped him with homework, and partly because I actually did some of his work myself.)

One of the biggest positives in high school was that I had a really good friend during the three years I attended my first high school. She was not just physically beautiful, she was a good person. I just had too many problems for her influence to counteract all of them. If anything I was much more of a bad influence in her life, because of my 'self-destructiveness'.

I always felt uneasy about inviting peers into the family home. At present, I would speculate that I felt there was something different about my family, and it might have been related to a kind of neglect but also to a kind of emotional turbulence or complication, as well as excessive habits or patterns that were shameful, the kind of thing I understood instinctively that other people were not supposed to know about - things which to retain an image of strength had to be hidden.

I somehow think that has less to do with peers than with family relations, and specifically, it might be about the discrepancy between what it was like to live with my mother as opposed to my father - once I could no longer live and eat in ways my mother would have approved of, any situation which would remind me of my failure to live up to her expectations would prove as stressful as the visit which resulted in me asking for psychiatric help. I know what most people think of as normal, and have incredible guilt about the incredible excess and waste which it turned out I was capable of when living with my father. The person I live with comes to see my behaviour as normal for me, but I think I have shameful feelings related to the 'truth' of the situation - knowing that it is not 'healthy' - in my own estimation.

I would like to challenge the idea of lying to human guinea pigs for the purposes of scientific enquiry/experimentation. If people are lied to, and this affects them in some instinctual sense, could it throw off the results of experiments? Rich quotes a lot of psychological experiments that to me don't really seem conclusive - and this particular area is one of the possible reasons that results may not be accurate - it may be related to an instinctual ability to 'detect cheaters' (in this case, lying researchers).

Rich suggested that parents move into the best possible neighbourhoods, try to find schools where learning is 'cool', and help their kids to fit in as well as possible - to get cool haircuts, clothes, and shoes.

Would this also entail trying to pressure kids to hide homosexuality?

To me, it looks like she is saying 'Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.' And that if you cannot afford to move to a 'better' neighbourhood, your child is doomed, or you are at least at the mercy of chance.

In my case it is easier to see the connections between parental 'abuse' and long-term deleterious effects on my personality. I don't experience pleasure in life, and I associate 'love' with dying, and constantly wish to die. I don't see a connection between that and any peers - whereas I can see connections between my father's attitudes and behaviours and those long-term effects. As well, I think my mother's constant surveillance of my appearance, her hints and outright statements, had quite a lasting impact on how I feel about my looks and body. In the 'real world', I was not a beauty queen, but usually there were a few people attracted to me. I knew that some people found me fat or ugly, but there was more balance in the outside world than in the home - and I think that still affects my functioning now. When I travelled around the world, I felt that a sense of balance had been restored in having contact with many different people. I think what this represents is the unresolved family conflict, not peer conflict - unless, I am missing something vital, or not examining my unconscious thoughts and feelings. Maybe I was over-optimistic as a kid, and could not face the real judgments people had about me? So, in that case, peer relationships did affect how I see myself? It's very easy to let myself get confused, and I think it is difficult to be sure, but what makes more sense to me is that I was very affected by family upheaval, and family judgment, and that out in the world I actually encountered a wider range of opinion that was 'healthier' for me, but I found it extremely difficult to just 'shake off' family influence.

If a child is home-schooled, or socially isolated in some way, who are its peers?

If the parents move around a lot, such that the child is constantly introduced to new peers, is the child more affected by constant upheaval? Which peer group has the most lasting effect, and how would that be determined? By the age of encounter, the duration of the encounter?

How does travel affect how kids function in peer groups once they return home?

I think overall it is still difficult to work out the Nature vs Nurture thing. Our genes no doubt play a big part in how we turn out. But as for thinking peers have more effect than parents when it comes to environment or 'nurture', that seems dubious to me, as if it does not go deep enough in analyzing the effects of the early parental and sibling relationships and how they contribute to the seeking out of different people in different circumstances.

I had a pattern of drawing certain relationships to me. In Northern Ontario, rural South-Eastern Ontario, and in the city of Toronto, I consistently attracted girls who were prettier and more popular than me. They were the ones to approach me. It happened at least 4 different times (also, three of the four were smokers - I suppose it could be argued that the one who wasn't was the one I considered my best friend in high school, and that maybe that relationship affected that particular outcome - but the boy I was most obsessed with in high school was a smoker). I was not a pretty girl - I am not being modest. It might be necessary to check my school records for photos. I must have been giving off certain signals. It may be that each of these girls needed a less attractive foil, that there was something about their self-esteem that caused them to seek out someone they wouldn't have to compete with as far as looks. I suspect that the signals I sent and received had something to do with my relationship with my mother - she was the pretty girl who saw me as a kind of confidant. Or, through observing my mother, I had picked up some of the behaviours or signals of pretty girls. It was not these girls who formed my personality, but my original relationship with my mother - or at least so it seems to me.

Harris said her goal was "to explain what makes them behave the way they do in the world outside the home - the world where they will spend the rest of their lives".

The idea behind this is that the child has one kind of behaviour in the family home, and another in the world at large, but a problem with her idea is that in an evolutionary sense the child's main goal in life will be the forming of its own family (for the purpose of reproduction). The child does not technically spend the rest of its life outside the home if it goes on to form its own new home where it behaves differently from how it behaves in the outside world.

It's important to be accepted by the group, partly because mates are found within the group. If we have the support of the group, we have a better chance of handling the difficulties of life. But in an evolutionary sense, altruism is not natural. Each of us possesses 'selfish' genes which want to pass themselves on. We contribute to a group, because we want the group's help in return when we need it. If we can choose to be altruistic, or to work for the good of the group as opposed to working merely for our own benefit, can't we also consciously choose to challenge the standards for acceptance to a group? Such that we don't have to conform or be 'cool', have a cool haircut, the right possessions, in order to be accepted by the group?

The theories of The Nurture Assumption seem to point to the need for massive social change, and for there to be a better basic standard of living for all.

Categorization for Acceptance by a Group:

1. Appearance - people begin the categorization process here
2. What do you do?
3. Clarifications

Simple conversations are about this process, and are therefore not as simple as they might seem. A casual 'hello' or encounter with a stranger is not really so casual. This is how you find people to talk to in a general sense but dismiss for the long term, and how you might find others who would fit your tribe/group.

People choose mates who are similar in race, religion, socioeconomic staus, IQ, education, attitudes, personality, appearance. Women are most frequently younger and shorter than their mates. Friendships face a similar categorization process.

As an adult, the groups most likely to accept me are likely to be composed of outcasts of some kind, or those who are depressed, those with no formal organization or meeting places. I could probably 'pass' as 'normal' for short periods and in certain situations, but I would not be able to keep it up, and wouldn't see the point of basing relationships upon such foundations.

Is it possible that writers can ultimately have more of an effect on ideas and values than either family or peers?















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