Peer Group: Definition & Concept

A peer group is a social group that consists of individuals of the same social status who share similar interests and are close in age. Learn about peer groups, how they influence socialization during childhood and adolescence, and more.

Definition

Have you ever played on a sports team? Maybe you took ballet classes as a child or attended a local preschool. If so, you have participated in a peer group. Peer groups are a type of social group that is made up of people who share similar interests, social status, and are in the same age group. This means that a 4-year-old would not be in a peer group with 12-year-olds. Similarly, college professors would not be in the same peer group as their students.

Examples of peer groups include:

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  • Sports teams of which we are a part of (i.e. basketball, soccer, football, ballet)
  • School organizations and clubs (i.e. chess club, science club, band, orchestra)
  • Classmates
  • Neighbors who are close in age
  • A group consisting of first-time moms that are close in age

We all belong to several peer groups at the same time. For example, a child may be a member of a soccer team, a popular clique in school, and a member of the band. Each peer group has its own rules, expectations for behavior, and hierarchies. As such, the peer groups that we belong to influence our behaviors and beliefs.

Influences on Socialization

Peer groups play an important role in socialization, especially in childhood and adolescence. Peer groups are the only form of socialization that is not under the control of adults. Peer groups provide children with the opportunity to be a part of relationships that are productive and beneficial for all parties involved. They also allow children to create relationships with one another without being under adult control.

Peer groups foster self-exploration. Children begin to make decisions for themselves and participate in activities that allow them to express who they are. Children are also able to experience and work through conflicts with their peers, cooperate with each other, and compete with each other in peer groups.

Influences on Socialization

We do not know if the family or peers play a more important role in the socialization of children and adolescents. Peer group influence is at its highest during adolescence. As children progress into adolescents, they tend to spend less time under adult supervision and more time with their peers. It has been noted that peer groups generally have more influence on interests that are short term, such as fashion trends. The family usually has more influence on long-term interests, such as religion.

Advantages of Peer Groups

There are several advantages to peer groups. For example,

  • Peer groups provide the opportunity for children and adolescents to discuss uncomfortable interests (i.e. sex and fashion trends).
  • Peer groups promote independence from adults. Children in peer groups learn how to act and think in ways that are different from their parents. Peer groups also help children develop identities of their own.
  • Peer groups allow us to create close relationships with individuals that are not a part of our family. This includes peers of the opposite sex.
  • Peer groups increase our social flexibility by providing the opportunity for us to learn how to get along and cooperate with a large number of individuals, who may not be similar to us. This flexibility is important given that we live in a society that is constantly changing.
  • We can learn gender roles from our peer groups.

Disadvantages of Peer Groups

There are also disadvantages of peer groups, the main being peer pressure. Peer pressure refers to situations where a person feels pressure to change their attitudes, values, or behaviors to match those of their peer group. For example, a person may feel pressured to smoke cigarettes because the other members of their peer group are smokers.

Peer groups can also cause family conflict in instances where the norms and rules of the peer group do not match those of the family. For example, it may be normal for all of your peers to meet at a local park at midnight every Wednesday, but your curfew may be at 11 PM.

Lesson Summary

Peer groups consist of same-aged individuals who share similar interests and are a part of the same social class. An example of a peer group is a soccer team. Peer groups are very influential on childhood and adolescent social development, with peer group influence being at its highest during adolescence. It is unknown whether the family or peers have a greater influence on young individuals. There are several advantages to peer groups, including the promotion of independence from adults. There are also disadvantages, including peer pressure.

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