Peer Pressure & Crime

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

There are many factors that lead individuals to engage in criminal behavior. This lesson reviews the relationship between peer pressure and criminal behavior, particularly in adolescents, and discusses how negative peer pressure can be resisted.

Caught in the Act

Jane is a typical 15-year-old girl with a lot of friends. One day as she visits Susan's house, she notices Susan's make-up supplies, many of which are unopened. She asks Susan about the make-up, and Susan tells Jane that she goes to stores and just takes it. Susan then encourages Jane to do the same, and they head to the mall together. Jane is apprehensive about stealing and has never engaged in this type of behavior before. However, Susan keeps pressuring Jane and tells her if she doesn't go through with it they will no longer be friends. Against her better judgement, Jane steals some lipstick, eye shadow, and blush from the mall drug store. As she attempts to exit the store, she is stopped by a security guard who demands that she empty her pockets. Susan in the meantime has walked away.

Peer Pressure

Jane's giving in to Susan's demands that she steal make-up is an example of peer pressure. Peer pressure can be defined as the influence that is placed on us by others in our peer group (who are similar in age) to commit or engage in an act that we normally would not consider. In Jane's case, negative peer pressure is applied that encourages her to engage in a criminal act; however, there is also positive peer pressure, which encourages someone to engage in an action that betters themselves. An example of positive peer pressure could be when a friend pushes another to quit smoking. Although peer pressure is a factor that can influence any age group, research confirms that it is strongest amongst mid-adolescents between the ages of 14 to 18.

Peer Pressure and Crime

Peer pressure has been linked to criminal behavior, but it has not been found to be a primary reason why most people engage in criminal behavior. In the case of adolescents, immaturity has been found to be positively correlated to how much the negative influence of others can impact us to engage in destructive behavior, such as becoming involved in crimes. Dr. David Fassler, a psychiatry professor, claims that the immaturity found in juveniles around the ages of 16 to 19, can lead to impulsivity and aggressive behavior. This in turn leaves teenagers more vulnerable to peer influence that can lead them to commit crimes.

An article published in Psychology Today cautions us not to draw a direct link between peer pressure and crime. In this article, Dr. Stanton Samenow, a criminal behavior psychologist, asserts that peer pressure is often used as an after-the-fact excuse for criminal behavior. He emphasizes that engagement in criminal behavior is much more related to the company we keep. Adolescents and young adults who choose to be in the company of others who endorse criminal behavior, are then more likely to engage in such behavior themselves.

In summary, it appears that immaturity amongst mid-adolescents leads to impulsivity and aggressive behavior. Couple these factors with making poor friend choices, and a recipe for negative peer pressure influence, including exposure to and engaging in criminal behavior, is created.

Latisha Frazier

Unfortunately, making the wrong friend choices can sometimes lead to devastating consequences, such as in the case of Latisha Frazier. Latisha was an 18-year-old female who belonged to a larger social group. Johnnie Sweet, who accused her of stealing money, gathered others in her social group and orchestrated the beating Latisha as punishment. An unsuspecting Latisha walked in to a group of six of her peers waiting to attack her in a back bedroom of a party house. Latisha died as a result of the attack. Peer pressure was cited as the primary reason behind the joint attack.

Resisting Peer Pressure

Going back to Susan and Jane's example at the beginning of this lesson, what are some of the things Jane could have done to resist the influence Susan placed on her to steal make-up? The following are some strategies Jane could have used to resist the influence of negative peer pressure:

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