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Unlike parents, siblings, teachers, and church and official leaders who have power over the teenagers they are trying the socialize, peers do not posses such power. In fact, they are equal in social status and do not have the power to punish or sanction behavior. Unlike a family which one is born into or a school that one has to attend, peer groups are voluntary association, teenagers can leave and join peer groups at any time. However, loosing friends is a big issue, because teenagers evaluate themselves based on the number of friends they have. During the adolescent years, peers play an important role in socialization especially in the American society, where most parents are so busy with their 9 to 5 jobs that they dont get the chance to spend much time with their children.
Peers teach some important qualities that other agents of socialization cant. For example, they teach independence from authority, but at the same time conformity to the peer group. This is evident, when we see a teenager begging his/her parent to go to the movies with her/his friends alone without adult supervision. The teenager wants to feel independent. However at the same time, he/she must try to conform to the values and beliefs of the peer group to be able to fit in and hang out with them. One way to gain independence from authority is to form a youth subculture, which sometimes engages in conflicts with parents, teachers, and church official because of the difference of attitude which they present. For example, adults have different values and beliefs toward drinking alcohol . A member of a peer group would probably think that as long as one knows who they are drinking with and does not over drink, and does not put herself in the position to get harmed; then, drinking is fine and harmless. The adult would disagree saying that by drinking not does one hurt themselves physically, but when they are drunk they do not have control of what they do. The would probably say that drinking leads to serious medical problems as well.
I believe that peer groups are so important in the American society because family is not greatly valued by the culture. In the Japanese, Armenian, Mexican, and Persian cultures family is valued greatly. Families spend much time with one another and rely on each other for support. The elderly in the family rely on the other members for support. However, in the American society, family members are so busy with their jobs and life outside of the house that they do not have much time to dedicate to their children, who come to spend much of their time with their friends and rely on their friends for advice and support.
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