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If your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it too? Whether you heard that phrase as a kid or you find yourself saying it to your own children, the concept is all too familiar to most of us. Now researchers are discovering there’s a foundation for that question moms, dads, and other adults have been asking children and teens for ages. Some adolescents may be more prone to risky behavior because of peer influence, according to a report published in Current Directions in Psychological Science [Science Daily]. The authors cite several studies to support their conclusion, including:

  • One study discovered that early adolescents took 2x as many risks in a driving simulation game when peers watched than when they tested alone. Older teenagers took about 50% more risks when tested with peers watching.
  • Another study found that teens took more risks when being watched by peers, and they showed more activity in brain areas linked to evaluating rewards.

The scientists who authored the report suggest that as teens enter adolescence they spend more time with peers—and that may make their brains more sensitive to the perceived value of risky behavior.

“If adolescents made all of their decisions involving drinking, driving, dalliances, and delinquency in the cool isolation of an experimenter’s testing room, those decisions would likely be as risk averse as those of adults,” argue [Laurence] Steinberg and colleagues. “But therein lies the rub: Teenagers spend a remarkable amount of time in the company of other teenagers.” [Science Daily]

Peer Influence Isn’t Always Negative “Peer” doesn’t need to be a four-letter word when it comes to risks. We know that unhealthy risks, from gambling to drinking to unprotected sex, have the potential for serious harm—not just to the risk-taking teen, but to those around him or her as well. However, peer influence can play a role in teens choosing to take the healthy risks that help them learn, grow, and expand their boundaries. Examples of positive peer influence in risk-taking include:

  • Being encouraged by friends to try out for an activity or sport;
  • Having friends urge a teen to stop an unhealthy behavior like smoking or alcohol consumption;
  • Being nudged by friends to try a task again after a failure.

Adolescents don’t come with instruction manuals, but Compass Mark shares plenty of resources to guide parents, guardians, educators, counselors, and others. Visit these pages on our site for information on everything from building resiliency to addressing alcohol abuse: Parent Resources Educator Resources Compass Mark Lending Library For more information, education resources, or referrals in Lancaster or Lebanon, contact Compass Mark at (717) 299-2831.  

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