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What does it mean to be in friendship networks?

As we approach adolescence, we begin to distance ourselves from our parents in order to gain independence. By necessity we then begin to rely more on our friends. This is why our peers have such a heavy influence on our behaviour during childhood and adolescence. Because of this, we expect our close friends to be understanding and supportive of our quest for identity and independence (1).

Social psychologists and authors of several books including ‘Social Psychology Alive’, Steven J. Breckler, James Olson, and Elizabeth Wiggins, discuss a study carried out by Bernt, in which children from the 3rd to 12th grade were asked if they would be willing to join-in in certain antisocial behaviours that their friends engage in (2). Bernt et al found that children had a tendency to go along with the behaviour of their peers, a tendency he refers to as ‘peer conformity’. This trend seemed to decline in late adolescence. Several factors have been listed as to why children and early teens conform to the social influence from their peers. Theorists suggest that conformity is usually driven by fear of rejection by peers. For others, the norms governing a group dictate social conformity. For instance, belonging to a Goth group will mean that you listen to and appreciate certain music and wear specific clothes. Thus the group member is expected to hold such commitments.

(1). Pahl, R. (2000). On Friendship: Themes for the 21st Century Series. Polite Press

(2) Breckler, J. S., Olson, J. M., & Wiggins, C, E. (2006). Social Psychology Alive. Wadsworth Publishing

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