Not My Teen: Younger Teens More Likely to be Influenced by Peers

By Stop Medicine Abuse Posted June 29, 2015 under Not My Teen

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at how age may affect a teen’s likelihood to be influenced by his or her peers.

Who do you think you has a greater influence on a teen’s behavior: a parent or a teen’s peers? The answer may seem obvious, but according to a recent study in Psychological Science, it depends on the age of the teen in question. Lisa Joanna Knoll, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, led a study to analyze the development of social influence on risk perception from late childhood through adulthood. She and her team found some interesting results.

The researchers performed this study at the Science Museum in London over a two-week period in April of 2013. More than 560 museum visitors between the ages of 8-59 participated in the study. Eleven percent of participants were young adolescents (ages 12-14), 30% were midadolescents (ages 15-18), 40% were young adults (ages 19-25), 36% were adults and 2% were children. Participants were asked to rate the riskiness of everyday situations such as going down a dark alley or crossing the street against a light on a scale of 1 to 10. Participants were then shown how other people (teenagers and adults) perceived the riskiness of the same situation. This part of the study was meant to show the impact that a social-influence group can have on a participant’s decision making. However, in reality, these ratings were generated randomly. After seeing what “other people” thought, participants were asked to rate the same situation again.

The study found that children age 11 and younger and teenagers age 15 and older were more likely to change their response in reaction to an adult’s perception of how risky an activity was. Alternatively, young adolescents (participants between ages 12-14) were more strongly influenced by the teenager social-influence group than they were by the adult social-influence group. In other words, younger adolescents tended to alter their risk assessment more strongly based on the opinions of other teens compared to the opinions of adults.

What should parents take away from this study? It’s important to be aware that your teen’s decision-making may be influenced by his or her peers more heavily when he or she is a younger adolescent. We play a big role in making sure teens are prepared to ignore peer pressure. While we can’t be with our kids all day, we can take measures to make sure they make smart choices. Set aside some time this summer to talk to your teen (or tween) about the pressures he or she may face from peers. Encourage teens to evaluate the pros and cons of situations they may be apprehensive about. Lastly, remind your teen to always ask, “Is it really worth it?” 

If you have advice on speaking with teens about peer pressure, please feel free to share it in the comments below!         

You can find learn more about this study and its findings here.