Concept of the Month -- July 2008

Peer Pressure as a Causal Factor in Criminal Behavior?

I was recently interviewed by a radio program host and asked about the role of peer pressure as a contributor to criminal behavior. There is no doubt that peer pressure exists practically from womb to tomb == from preschool play groups on into adult life. The issue is whom does a person CHOOSE as peers.

Every high school has its groups -- grinds, nerds, jocks, preps, sweats, and so on. People choose the company they keep. They gravitate to those with whom they share interests. Even in the extreme case where a person grows up in a neighborhood largely ruled by gangs, not all younsters belong to gangs. The pressures undeniably are strong. But the residents of those areas decide what they will and will not do.

I remember interviewing a young woman in the county jail who told me that her mother wondered why, as a young girl, she did not want to play with her contemporaries. She told me, "They were a drag -- hopscotch, jump rope, dolls, and board games. I wanted something more." The "something more" consisted of activities that were to her far more exciting. She gravitated to older kids and did things on a dare, eventually shoplifting, vandalizing property, and engaging in other unlawful acts. She had to prove that she could be trusted, that she would go along with these kids and not "snitch" or inform.

When a kid claims, "All my friends are doing it, that is probably true." Because these are the kids he chooses to be with.

Let us recognize that we all are subject to pressures from the environment. But the focus should shift from those pressures as causative (a deterministic view) to the choices we make as to how to deal with those pressures!

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