Peer pressure at an alternative high school: implications for teaching effective adolescent decision-making

Peer pressure has been shown to be a prominent component in adolescent decision-making (Iannotti, Bush, & Weinfurt, 1996; Kobus, 1998; Giancola, 2000). Children are increasingly exposed to high-risk situations in which there is little, if any, adult supervision. Their decisions stemming from peer pressure, either overt or perceived have the potential for irreversible consequences. Benthin, Slovic, and Severson (1993) listed risky driving, consumption of alcohol, drugs, and/or tobacco, and sexual behavior as among those activities that potentially do the greatest harm to our youth. In addition to these factors, Fischoff, Crowell, and Kipke (Eds.) (1999) discussed violence among adolescents as contributing to one of the leading causes of death in young people. This study provides illumination into how at-risk youth in a Southern California alternative high school view peer pressure, overt or perceived, and some of the motives and reasons behind why they respond positively/negatively to those pressures. The researcher found, through qualitative methods, that students listed exposure to the media and the friends they associate with, coupled with their lack of experience in decision-making, ignorance of risks, and desire to be accepted (e.g., liked, looked up to, attractive, cool, popular) as aspects of peer pressure. This study should help administrators and educators understand peer pressure from a student perspective, and offer recommendations for helping students cope in their pressured lives.