Friends can influence an adolescent’s attitudes and behaviors in ways that matter across multiple domains of health and well-being, well into adulthood.1 We often hear about this in the form of peer pressure, which refers more explicitly to the pressure adolescents feel from their friends or peer group to behave in certain ways, good or bad. It can take the form of encouragement, requests, challenges, threats, or insults. Sometimes, peer pressure is unspoken—an adolescent may feel pressured to do something simply because their friends are doing it.
Research shows that friends and peer groups are linked to adolescents’ positive and negative:
- Health behaviors, including their diet2 and level of physical activity;3
- Risk behaviors, including tobacco use,4 marijuana use,5 alcohol use,6 and use of other drugs;7
- School engagement, including their GPA8 and attitudes towards school;
- Tastes in clothing and entertainment; and
- Dating behaviors and formation of sexual identities and romantic partnerships.
Emerging research indicates that social acceptance by peers triggers stronger positive emotions during adolescence than it does in adulthood, which may be one reason youth are so keen to fit in. Additionally, teens, unlike adults, are more likely to ignore risks in favor of rewards when making a decision.
Generally, young adolescents are the most susceptible to peer pressure, and recent research indicates that popular adolescents may be under higher pressure than other youth to conform to peer behaviors. While popular adolescents often possess a wider range of social skills and better knowledge about themselves than other youth, popularity can be associated with higher rates of alcohol and substance use, vandalism, and shoplifting.
Adolescent Friendship Difficulties
Healthy friendships matter across the life course. Examining the lifelong health benefits from friendships in adolescence is an emerging field of research. There is some evidence that healthy adolescent friendships contribute to healthy long-term outcomes, such as physical activity.1 Furthermore, difficulties forming healthy friendships in early adolescence can lead to trouble forming healthy friendships in late adolescence and adulthood.9 There are numerous difficulties adolescents can encounter in the process of making, keeping, and deepening friendships.
- Some adolescents have difficulty making friends or feel more comfortable alone. Struggling to make friends is not unusual, and parents and other caring adults can help adolescents build the skills needed to make friends. Additionally, alone time is important to adolescents. However, if adolescents spend most of their time alone and have other warning signs like difficulty sleeping, they may need mental health support.
- Families are the first social relationships children form. Adolescents who were raised in families with limited emotional closeness or strained relationships may have difficulty with intimacy. These youths may struggle to express themselves openly and form close bonds.
- Some adolescents experience, witness, or engage in bullying, which involves repeated aggression and an imbalance of power among youth. Being bullied is linked to a range of negative outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and decreased academic achievement.
- Technology can be a challenging factor in some adolescent friendships. Conflicts between friends can originate online. While many youth use technologies to make and stay in touch with friends, others use social media and other online platforms to engage in cyberbullying. Additionally, spending more than two hours a day on sedentary screen time can be a risk factor for obesity and other health problems.10
- Youth with disabilities may have additional challenges forming friendships and participating in activities. Learn how to include and support these adolescents.
Content last reviewed on March 25, 2019