How do family, peers influence us?

Parents and friends generally play a role in shaping the behavior and beliefs of an individual—through parent expectations or peer pressure. Statesman investigates the negative and positive impact of adolescents who might develop a view independent of their parents.

Discussing your day at the dinner table, phoning Grandma or Facebook messaging a friend for homework help are all considered typical ways of human interaction and socialization through which one person can, to some extent, influence another person.

The more we interact with someone, the greater chance we have to shape his or her life in a positive or negative way and vice versa. Therefore, the people who tend to become the greatest influencers in our lives tend to be those closest to us—our friends and family.

Influencing factors can ultimately be categorized under nature or nurture. Nature is the predisposition one is born with while nurture includes how one is shaped by his or her family, friends and environment.

“You can be born into a family where everyone’s naturally extroverted, and you’re introverted,” psychologist Stacey Max said. “You are born with a certain temperament. Then, certain experiences and certain people around you shape you, and that’s the nurture part.”

Nature gives way to nurture as children begin to mature and interact with others. According to psychology teacher Jenna Breuer, family members tend to have a strong, nurturing influence because they are the first socializing agents that children are exposed to. Likewise, because people tend gravitate towards others that share commonalities with them—whether that be interests, cultural identity or social groups—they are more open to the influence of their peers, Breuer explained.

“When one’s personality syncs up with the people around them, they can be more influential,” Max said. “When their personalities are very different, their natural inclination is to put up walls and boundaries, and they’re less influenced.”

Although people tend to befriend those with common interests, friends can still influence each other. For example, a kid who has grown up playing soccer might consider his soccer team his peer group. Though his peers share his interests in soccer, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have the same exact interests in other areas as well. We begin to start creating our own sense of self by being exposed to new people and new things, according to Breuer.

“It’s difficult to look at [family and peer influences] independently of one another because they’re constantly working in conjunction,” Breuer said. “Often times, with the values that have been instilled through the family, the hope is that it that carries on to who you become as a person and who you choose to befriend.”

The initial influence of family can affect an individual’s choice of friends later on, yet there is a normal part of development where adolescents start to rely more on their friends to make day to day decisions rather than family, social worker Jennifer Polisky said. A natural inclination towards adding more peer influence becomes present the older a student gets, and it varies with the individual in terms of who holds onto the family influence and who breaks away from it, Polisky explained.

“Right around adolescence is a general time when kids are experimenting with coming up with their own identities,” Max said. “Sometimes the way that it shows up is by doing things opposite of their parents.”

Adolescent rebellion, which is displayed by some teenagers but not others, depends on a person’s personality as well as the environment that his or her family has created.

For first generation Americans, a lot of people can find themselves exposed to the values of the culture that their parents came from, but they’re living in this American culture which holds a bunch of different values, Eric Crabtree-Nelson, licensed clinical social worker, explained. Furthermore, Crabtree-Nelson believes that the family can make rebellion more prevalent if they are not willing to listen to what the adolescent has to say.

“Parents don’t always have the same understanding that they want to facilitate their adolescents’ independence,” Crabtree-Nelson said. A lot of parents want things to be done their way, and when that runs into a teenager trying to forge their own way, that’s when the conflict  can create lots of arguments, leading up to and including some form of family violence.”

While it would be convenient if adolescents just followed along and did as they were told, that also wouldn’t create responsible independent adults of these adolescents, according to Crabtree-Nelson. Because developing one’s own ideas is a crucial part to the developmental process and maturity, Crabtree-Nelson stresses the importance for strong communication and mutual understanding between parents and adolescents.

As a first generation Russian, George Vasilyev ’15 decided during his transition into high school that he wanted a different lifestyle after observing his parents’ lifestyle. His decision initially resulted in an unstable relationship with his parents which improved over time.

“I’d have pressure to change my lifestyle or maintain my lifestyle in a situation where it wouldn’t be beneficial for me,” Vasilyev said. “I would make one decision, and then, if it didn’t work out, I would try a different way.”

When teenagers choose to break away from their family’s beliefs, they might feel depression, doubt and loneliness if they are relationship centered. If they’re more independent and don’t rely on relationships as much, it wouldn’t have much of a negative effect on them, psychologist Andrew Hoffman explained.

“I would encourage people to ask themselves, ‘is this the healthiest option for me?’ and ‘what would be the healthiest option for me to take?’ because sometimes that helps people actively decide what they should do,” Hoffman said.

Because he decided to choose a separate lifestyle from his parents, Vasilyev explained that he lost many of his friends from middle school who shared cultural similarities with his family background. This led him to establish new friendships  and relationships based on similar lifestyle choices rather than cultural familiarities.

“I chose some of my friends because they had similar beliefs, and it helped my enforce my beliefs,” Vasilyev said. “After I was solid in my lifestyle, I was very open to new ideas, and now I have friends that don’t have similar lifestyles.”

According to Hoffman, whether or not relationships with peers and family can improve over time largely depends on the strength of these relationships before the tumultuous stages. Individuals who are more willing to communicate and understand each other’s perspective tend to have a greater chance of improving their relationships while those who aren’t open to communication risk their relationships with peers and family.

When there is a lack of a strong family influence or relationship with one’s parents, there is a tendency to turn towards friends. Depending on the type of friends, they may or may not shape your world, according to Max. On the other hand, teens who lack a sense of belonging might withdraw from interactions altogether.

As adolescents form relationships with peers, peer pressure becomes a possible source of influence. Peer pressure tends to be a more indirect form of peer influence when an individual is not deliberately told to do something but does it because they witness most of their peers or friends doing something, Polisky explained. Although peer pressure can carry a negative connotation such as being forced to something one does not what to do, there are benefits to the presence of peer pressures.

“The idea is that you are being pressured to engage in negative behavior, destructive behavior and rebellious behavior, but in some aspects, there can be pressure to follow social norms that might be necessary for a person to have success,” Breuer said. “It’s ultimately the way you deal with peer pressure. The word pressure implies that it’s not of a person’s choice.”

Whether or not a person succumbs to peer pressure depends on his or her sense of self-security and independence. According to Breuer, the human need to belong and not be ostracized by other people becomes a very overpowering feeling, so people might be more willing to engage in things that they don’t want to do.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to give up something you feel strongly about to fit in with a group of people,” Breuer said. “The hope is that if they’re a group of people that are going to be safe and healthy for you, they should accept who you are.”

Although certain peer and family expectations may seem overwhelming, they can also motivate and guide the development of adolescents on the right path. Friends and even family can change throughout one’s life; therefore, influences are changing.

“I think family and friends often have a real positive influence on things,” Crabtree-Nelson said. “There is a reason that family is our biggest influencer around things, and while a lot of people would be upset that their parents had such great expectations, it’s also such a benefit to have parents who really do want the best for their kids.”