Highly publicised cases of teen violence, like school shootings or bullying that leads to suicide, are emotionally charged topics with unclear causes. Scientists continue to research the origins of teen violence and some studies reveal that peer pressure, which refers to the demand to conform to group norms and demonstrations of loyalty to group members, may be a contributor.
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Although peer pressure is not always negative, it can have dire consequences when that pressure leads to violence. When teens act violently, an audience often fuels their behaviour. Whether they are performing for a small group of friends or in a crowded school hallway, the element of being watched may play into their hostile behaviour. According to a June 2003 ABC News article "Peer Pressure, Media Fuel Youth Violence," adolescents are less likely to behave violently when there is no audience present. The article describes a Rhode Island incident in which one teen hit a young man in the face while the other teen videotaped it with a camera. Psychologist Jay Reeve concluded that group pressures can override common sense and teens often take their cues of right and wrong from other teens.
The desire to be accepted and liked compels some teens to participate in and act out violent behaviours. This issue is especially prevalent when teens gather informally without parent supervision or specific plans. A 2010 study published in the journal "Criminology" found that groups of teens, even those who lived in "good" neighbourhoods, were more likely to engage in violent activities when their gatherings were unstructured and unsupervised. Christopher Browning, co-author of the study, suggested that parents focus on building communities in their neighbourhoods so that everyone shares in the supervision of teen groups.
Bullying often plays a role in teen violence and tends to be impacted by peer pressure. When kids want to fit in, they may participate in various forms of bullying which can include verbal abuse, physical abuse, spreading rumours, and even cyberbullying, in which they use the Internet to hurt others. MSNBC reported on a 2011 Marysville, Washington, case in which two teen girls were captured on video in a vicious physical fight. One of the girls, age 13, claimed that bullying and peer pressure contributed to her participation in the fight because she did not want to appear to look scared or like a baby. Bullying can also leave lasting affects on the teens who are bullied. In some cases, this mistreatment by their peers can lead to a violent outburst later on.
Since teens often offend in groups, researchers have analysed how negative peer pressure and bullying can be avoided. A 2005 study published in the journal "Social Psychology of Education" cited family protective as influential factors in the incidence of bullying and victimisation amongst teens. Specifically, teens whose parents were supportive and authoritative were less likely to bully or be victimised than teens whose parents were in conflict, who were more likely to bully or be bullied.
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- ABC News: Peer Pressure, Media Fuel Youth Violence
- "Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach"; 2008
- MSNBC: Marysville Teen Bullied into Fight; 2011
- "Science Daily"; Unstructured Socializing, Collective Efficacy and Violent Behavior Among Urban Youth; David Maimon et al.; May 2010
- "Social Psychology of Education"; Protective Factors as Moderators of Risk Factors in Adolescence Bullying; Anna C. Baldry, et al.; September 2005