As soon as we are old enough to have acquaintances outside the home. most of us begin to rely heavily on peer groups as a source of information and approval about social behavior. A peer group is a group of people who are linked by common interests, equal social position. and (usually) similar age. In early childhood. peer groups are often composed of classmates in day care, preschool, and elementary school Recent studies have found that preadolescence-the latter part of the elementary school years-is an age period in which children’s peer culture has an important effect on How children perceive themselves and how they internalize society’s expectations (Adler and Adler. 1998). In adolescence. peer groups are typk \ly made up of people with similar interests and social activities.
As adults, we continue to participate in peer groups of people with whom we share common interests and comparable occupations, income, and/or social position.
Peer groups function as agents of socialization by contributing to our SiiI’lseof “belongmg” and our feelings of self-worth. As early as the preschool years. peer groups provide children with an opportunity for successful adaptation to situations such as gaining access to ongoing play, protecting shared activities from truders, and building solidarity and mutual trust during ongoing activities (Corsaro, )985; Rizzo and Corsaro,1995). Unlike families and schools, peer groups provide children and adolescents with some degree of freedom from parents and other authority figures (Corsaro, 1992). Although peer groups afford children some degree of freedom, they also teach cultural norms such as what constitutes “acceptable” behavior in a specific situation. Peer groups simultaneously refleet the larger culture and serve as a conduit for passing on culture to young people. &.a result, the peer. group ii both a product of culture and one ofits major transmitters (Elkin and Handel, 1989).
Is there such a thing as “peer pressure”? Individuals trust earn their acceptance with their .peers by conforming to a given group’s norms, attitudes, speech patterns. and dress codes. When we conform to our peer group’s expectations, we are rewarded; if we do not conform. we may be ridiculed or even expelled from the group. Conforming to the demands of peers frequently places children and adolescents at cross-purposes with their parents. For example, young people are frequently under pressure to obtain certain valued material possessions (such as toys. clothing. athletic shoes, or cell phones); they then pass the pressure on to their parents through emotional pleas to purchase the desired items. Peer pressure and tht adult tensions that often accompany this kind of pressure are not unique to fiunilies in the United Stales (see Box 4.3 on page 126).