Peer Pressure

Teens Who Feel More Peer Pressure Turn Out Better, Not Worse

by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Teen girl feels aloneTen years ago, Joe Allen began studying a diverse group of seventh graders near the University of Virginia, where he’s a professor. One of Allen’s main concerns was how these kids dealt with peer pressure, and how deeply they felt the pressure to conform to what the crowd was doing.

According to every pop theory of adolescence, peer pressure is peril. Being able to resist it should be considered a sign of character strength. But a funny thing happened as Allen continued to follow these kids every year for the next 10 years: the kids who felt more peer pressure when they were 12 or 13 were turning out better.

Notably, they had much higher-quality relationships with friends, parents, and romantic partners. Their need to fit in, in the early teens, later manifested itself as a willingness to accommodate ─ a necessary component of all reciprocal relationships. The self-conscious kid who spent seventh grade convinced that everyone was watching her learned to be attuned to subtle changes in others’ moods. Years down the road, that heightened sensitivity lead to empathy and social adeptness.