When Does Peer Pressure Begin?
A recent University of Maryland study suggests that peer pressure begins earlier than previously thought. In fact, the research seems to indicate that the group dynamics of childhood imply that conflicts between “group loyalty and fairness,” begin in grade school. Kids encounter peer pressure on an almost daily basis in school, as early as age 9.
So the formation of in-groups or the popular kids, and out-groups, the more quirky or different kids, begin to present serious conflicts, tension and anxiety for many children before the teen years. Young kids certainly find out that it may be hard to stand up to the group, but they seem to know that it may also be the right thing to do. That individual awareness does get challenged repeatedly, as kids get older. Some kids are able to withstand the challenges, and keep their individual identity and their ability to oppose the group mentality, in crucial situations. Others submit to the power of the group, because of relentless peer pressure, and they become followers.
Researchers suggest that parents and teachers need to realize that even at the young age of 9, a child can stand up to the group, but this is also the setting where the seeds of what is called group prejudice can begin, especially if interventions by mature adult figures don’t happen. These findings make it crucial to recognize that peer influences do not begin in adolescence, and the costs and consequences of resisting peer pressure are felt by very young children. The teen years just make it more complicated.