Friends Don't Let Friends - Or Do They?

Today’s Hot Topic is about the influence friends have - or don’t have - on the choices you make. 
Last year at my daughter’s high school, there were big signs posted in the hallways reading, “Think everyone at Wilson High smokes pot?  Think again.  70% don’t!”  
But as my daughter pointed out, that meant 30% did.  And in a way, that was a pretty big percentage (given that she thought some people might be less than honest on a school survey).  
It’s likely that most of those kids made the decision to smoke weed when a friend asked them if they wanted some.  
So what influence do friends have on the decisions teens make?  
When I was in high school, there were only a few groups of teens - the popular kids (which included athletes, cheerleaders, and kids elected to student council), the smart nerds, the theatre kids, and the kids who cut classes and smoked cigarettes on the corner.  And then there were the rest of us, the remaining faceless herd in our huge high school.  (And some kids from all these groups smoked pot, and, this being the seventies, quite a few of them ended up using harder drugs and lost big chunks of their lives - or their lives altogether.)
But from what I can see in 2011, it’s easier for teens to find a niche for themselves. (Maybe this is due to the Internet, where you can find someone who shares your passions and beliefs even if no one in your home room does.) It seems like the groups at school (at least my daughter’s school) aren’t as rigid and there are far more of them.  Girls can skip makeup or wear Kabuki-like eyeliner.  Boys can be openly gay and most of their classmates just shrug.  Cheerleaders and athletes, at least in my daughter’s eyes, aren’t that important at all.  
Being a nonconformist is no longer a cause for whispers. In fact, there is no single “normal” to conform to.  
So maybe that makes it easier to resist being influenced by your friends?  Or harder, because you have such a tight little group that you all identify by how alike you are?  
Studies have shown that we tend to be follow our friends’ lead.  If our friends are overweight, we’re more likely to be.  If our friends lose weight, we might too.  
But what if your friend is a binge drinker?  And wants you to accompany her, or at least not stand in her way?  What if your boyfriend smokes pot - and wants you to, too?  What if everyone in your group of friends is constantly bumming smokes off each other - are you more likely to join them?  
What do you think?  How much influence do friends have?  Have you ever done something at a friend’s urging that took you out of your comfort zone?


Lynn Colt said...

Friends have a HUGE influence in middle and high school. I was lucky to have straight-arrow friends in high school, but I don't kid myself that I would have still refused the dark side if my friends had urged me toward it. I was pretty lonely in middle school, before I made those friends.

By the time I got to college, I had the individual strength to decide whether whatever was being pushed toward me was something I really wanted to do :)

Shannon said...

In high school, I somehow ended up in this small group of friends that decided to one-up each other with daring (and rule breaking) stunts.

It started small, just sneaking out. Then, sneaking out and sneaking into a community pool. Then, sneaking out and hanging out at a bonfire in the woods (yes, woods - trees and pine needles everywhere - I nearly had a heart attack that night). Then, sneaking out and canoeing down a local river in the middle of the night (this was the stunt to beat).

When it came to my turn, everyone groaned thinking, rule follower that I am, I'd never come up with anything great. I showed them! We snuck out and drove two hours to the beach where we spent the night and came back the next morning. Everyone whooped and congratulated me on the way home. It was the king-daddy, best stunt ever.

When I got home, I discovered I was busted. No one else's parents found out. I was grounded for MONTHS.

The funny thing is that back then I prided myself on being a free spirit, beholden to no one's expectations of me. Turns out, I was just like the others. And, trust me, my parents made sure I had plenty of time to think about that.

Pam Harris said...

I was very introverted in high school, so I only had a small group of friends that liked doing the same boring stuff as me. :) However, when I was younger, I had a strong urge to fit in. I was convinced by a few "cool" girls to start ignoring someone who was my best friend at one time. Almost 20 years later and I still regret that. That's why I'm very protective of the ostracized girls at the middle school where I work today.

Erinn said...

Wow excellent post- I was one of the nameless faceless blobs in my school and yes I totally agree that now adays it's easier to find a group.
In my group of friends there were a few used drugs but most of us didn't. We didn't do anything, "bad" we just hung out.

I think we're friends with people as we get older because we have common likes and values.

When we're in elementary school we're friend out of convenience- they live next door to you or your parents are friends.

As we get older we take ownership of our friendships and by default we give up a little bit of ourselves in doing so.

Sara said...

Ha, Shannon - I love that idea that non-conformists might just be conforming to non-conformity!

My friends influenced me to do a ton of dangerous things when I was in junior high and early on in high school. I hope my daughter has more strength than I had to stand up to peer pressure!

patricmccarthy said...

Friends can also be dangerous, with today’s social sites kids find friends on line and don’t understand the true meaning of friendship; they trust to easily and may find themselves in bad situations. My sixteen year old daughter found herself in a situation on new years eve of 2006, she was given ecstasy and became violently ill, she begged for help and her friends didn’t help her, she also said "Please don’t let me die" but they said don’t worry, we will let you sleep it off, well that night she slowly died a very painful death. Our worst nightmare, the pain never ends. We started a web site to spot light these types of deaths through their friend’s negligence. These types of deaths of our children happen all of the time, they just don’t get the press that they deserve. You can visit our site at
Help us to help others and maybe we can prevent the senseless death of another child.

Claire Dawn said...

I think that if you're vehemently against something, your friends won't be able to influence you to do it. For example, no matter how close I was to someone, I wouldn't watch them beat somebody up for fun.

But if you're on the fence, or not that far over it, then you will probably do what your friends are doing.

Micol Ostow said...

Great post - Unfortunately, my friends probably influenced me more than they should have. Not that they were such bad influences, per se, but that I wish I'd had more confidence and sense of self back then. These days, as a "grown up," I'm much more secure in my own opinions and decision making.

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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