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Peer Pressure Experienced as Early as Childhood

Update Date: Jun 06, 2013 12:24 PM EDT

Peer pressure is often associated in teenagers who are at the stage in life where social acceptance and popularity become important aspects. For teenagers who want to be a part of a group, peer pressure starts to be a huge factor that forces young adults to decide what they want to do as opposed to what others want them to do. Although peer pressure has always been assumed to start in teenagers, a new study suggests that peer pressure begins way before children enter their teen years. In a new study, researchers from the University of Maryland reported that peer pressure occurs in childhood as well, prompting parents and educators to reconsider the dynamics of young children groups and how they can negatively affect each other.

"Peer group pressure begins in elementary schools, as early as age nine. It's what kids actually encounter there on any given day," the head researcher, Melanie Killen said according to Medical Xpress. Killen is a developmental psychologist from the university. "Parents and teachers often miss children's nascent understanding of group dynamics, as well as kids' willingness to buck to the pressure. Children being to figure out the costs and consequences of resisting peer group pressure early. By adolescence, they find it only gets more complicated."

The researchers noted that these peer groups need to exist because they help children learn about social relationships and social support. However, the researchers also acknowledged the fact that when these peer groups are not monitored, support could turn into exclusions, which could have detrimental effects on different children. The researchers concluded their findings after interviewing children from fourth and eighth grade within the Mid-Atlantic suburban areas who were all from middle-income households. The children were also given a survey that questioned them about moral issues.

The researchers found four important aspects of peer pressure. First, children stated that selfish groups were wrong and that someone within the group should stand up.  Second, children stated that they liked it when their own groups divided resources up evenly and fairly. Third, children stated that they liked classmates who were more likely to share equally than those who did not. Fourth, children exhibited an understanding that individual thoughts within a group might not be the same as the group's overall decision. These children believed that the group would not approve of an in-group member's opposing thoughts.

These findings suggest that children learn very early on about the social dynamics of belonging to a group. They appeared to realize that groups might not represent everyone's opinions and that, when needed, some one should stand up. However, the children also admitted that standing up to a group could lead to exclusion.

The findings were published in Child Development

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