Social acceptance is important for all people, especially adolescents. Feeling liked, wanted, and accepted are key to an adolescent’s happiness and well-being. There are many ways through which social acceptance is sought and achieved.
Routes to Social Acceptance
There are many routes that adolescents will take to gain social acceptance. One very observable route is that of conformity. It is very likely that you will see your students dressing, acting, and talking like the other adolescents in their circle of friends. In cliques and groups, members are characterized according to dress and appearance, scholastic standing, extracurricular participation, social skills, socioeconomic status, reputation, and personality qualifications (Rice, 274). Adolescents choose their friends based off shared similarities, and are likely to end friendships if their similarities are not balanced. Once differing interests are discovered, friendships are likely to dissolve or one friend will conform to the ideas of the other.
Another way adolescents gain social acceptance is through achievement. You will see a number of your students gain popularity and acceptance from their peers based off their achievement in sports, academics, or extracurricular activities. “The recognition and acceptance the individual achieves depends on the status accorded the activity by the peer group” (Rice 275. For example, a basketball star will be more socially accepted than the captain of math team, because peer groups value athletic achievement over academic achievement.
While some students gain social acceptance by excelling at an activity, many students seek acceptance just by being part of the activity. This route to social acceptance is called participation. Adolescents tend to accept other adolescents who are partaking in the same activities as they are. It is likely that your most well-adjusted students will be involved in a plethora of activities, with many friends involved in the same activities.
Another route to social conformity is physical attractiveness. Study upon study has found that physically attractive adolescents are greatly favored by their peers over their less attractive or unattractive counterparts. This can cause considerable distress for unattractive adolescents. Middle school teachers will witness more filtering by attractiveness than high school teachers; younger adolescents are especially harsh when valuing their peers by attractiveness, while older adolescents do not place quite as much importance on looks. Older adolescents are increasingly concerned with interpersonal factors.
The last way by which adolescents seek acceptance is deviance. Deviance is typically the avenue pursued by gang members or delinquent groups. In these groups, adolescents are embraced for exhibiting behavior that is not socially acceptable. Dealing with deviant adolescents in the classroom can be quite difficult, as defiance is their ticket to social acceptance.
Social Acceptance Advice to Teachers
As a teacher, you have the ability to guide students toward the most favorable ways of gaining social acceptance. It is important to guide students away from factors they cannot control (such as physical attractiveness) or destructive behaviors (deviance or possibly conformity). It is a good idea to guide students toward participation; involvement in positive activities will not only bolster an adolescent’s social acceptance, but will promote positive individual growth.
The achievement avenue can also be a positive route to social acceptance. It’s a good idea to guide capable students toward achievement. This pushes a student to work toward their full potential and increase their self-concept at the same time. It is best to avoid, however, pushing an adolescent toward achievement if achievement in that particular activity is unrealistic; in these cases, participation is the best available avenue toward social acceptance.
Peer pressure occurs when peers attempt to influence how a person thinks or acts. In any secondary school environment, the presence of peer pressure is inevitable. As a teacher, it is important to be able to identify peer pressure and guide students accordingly.
Despite the term “peer pressure” having a negative connotation, peer pressure is not always a bad thing. Like many things, there is a good side and a bad side to it. Negative peer pressure occurs when an adolescent’s friends or classmates persuade him to do something that he doesn’t want to do, or doesn’t think he should be doing. This type of peer pressure is commonly blamed for drug use, drinking alcohol, sexual promiscuity, skipping class, destroying property, and stealing.
Peer pressure, however, does have an upside. Just as peers can influence each other to engage in negative activities, they have the ability to influence one another in positive ways as well. Positive peer pressure influences adolescents to do good things, such as get involved in school activities, make the right decisions, or push one another to meet goals.
Student Interviews on Positive and Negative Peer Pressure
Q: Can you think of a time when you succumbed to negative peer pressure?
A: Yeah. Last weekend my friends and me went to a party with a whole bunch of kids from school. Everyone there was drinking. I didn’t want to drink that night but all of my friends were doing it and they convinced me into doing it. I didn’t want to be the only one there who wasn’t drinking. –Anna, junior at
A: During finals week all of our classes alternated from being really short to really long. My friends convinced me to blow off my 30-minute gym period so we could go to Old Country Buffet on our longer lunch period. –Adrian, freshman at
Q: Can you think of a time when you succumbed to positive peer pressure?
A: Yeah, yesterday the Service Club was signing people up to volunteer for the blood drive. I hate needles but I kind of got guilted into it. Plus the girl who signed me up was pretty cute. –Fernando, senior at
A: When I was a freshman my friend Nicole convinced me to join the golf team with her. Neither of us had really golfed before, but we figured what the heck, it was something to do. I thought that being on the golf team was dorky, but we met a lot of cool girls. And I actually turned out to be a really good golfer. –Vanessa, junior at
Overcoming Negative Peer Pressure
Believe it or not, as an educator you do have substantial influence in guiding students away from negative peer pressure. Adolescents are hesitant to go against their own morals for the sake of appeasing a group, and especially don’t like disappointing authority figures. “Studies have shown that teens who feel validated and respected by their parents and teachers are less likely to fall victim to peer pressure and are more likely to follow social norms of morality when faced with tough decisions.” (Stevenson 1). If your students respect you, they likely value the opinion that you have of them and will seek your approval. When this is the case, the pressure the student will feel to keep your good opinion of them will outweigh any negative peer pressure they might be facing (Stevenson 1).
In order to ensure your students know both your opinions of them and your stance on moral issues, it is important to have open and honest communication with them. If this is achieved, the students will feel comfortable confiding in you and will trust your feelings and judgments.
Another way in which adolescents overcome negative peer pressure is self love. Self love is a genuine liking and respect for oneself. “When we like ourselves, when we are very comfortable being ourselves, and we won't easily be changed. If you think about which type of people are most respected by peers you will find that they are confident, will stand up for themselves and others, and will appear to have a strong set of personal values.” (Stevenson 1).
Building the confidence of the adolescents you teach is a very powerful tool to help ensure they will respond favorably to peer pressure in your absence.