Inside the Criminal Mind

Understanding the dark side of human conduct

Peer Pressure Does Not Cause Crime

peers are important but choice is more important

Peer pressure Does Not Cause Crime

"My buddies got me into drugs; all my friends are doing it." We hear about peer pressure from juvenile defendants and their families. If it hadn't been for his friends, a mother will contend, Ed would have never have done what he did.

Peer pressure is a fact of life practically from womb to tomb -- from pre-school playgroups on into adult life. That peer pressure exists is indisputable! More important is whom a youngster chooses as his peers. Every high school has its groups -- the preps, nerds, grinds, jocks, freaks, etc.

People choose the company they keep. Peer pressure is simply an after the fact excuse for wrongdoing when the perpetrator of the crime is held accountable. He has made a series of choices as to whom he wants to be with. As one boy said, "To be like my brother, go to school, come home, do my homework, that's like being a dog on a leash." He had no use for his brother or his law-abiding friends. He chose to hang out with older kids who were doing things on a dare, searching for excitement by doing the forbidden. Peer pressure had little to do with this! He went out and deliberately chose to be with youngsters who shared his quest for excitement.

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Daily, youngsters (and adults) make decisions about whom to associate -- decisions that are extremely relevant to the direction in life they want to take and to the sort of person they want to become.  Linda grew up in a family in which several members were incarcerated.  The pressure of the streets was present daily in the blighted low-income neighborhood where she lived.  Temptations were literally at her doorstep.  She refused to be enticed by the allure of gangs, drugs, or easy money to be gained through theft or drug sales.  Linda would have nothing to do with peers who were engaged in illegal activities. Instead, she sought out youngsters who were serious about school and who thought about their futures.  Had she become a thief, a drug user, or a prostitute, people in my field and related fields would have pointed to peer pressure as a critically important  factor. The pressures were there, but she decided to reject them.

Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.,is a clinical psychologist practicing in Alexandria, Virginia and author of Inside the Criminal Mind.

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