Denise Goodfellow says: ‘Young people in towns are drawn into the agressive web by their peer groups. And once the habit is established, it is difficult to break.’
~Baby Dreaming Newsletter 2006~
My good friend, Denise, of course, is talking about peer pressure. In this case, she is referring to the peer pressure that she observes in Aboriginal young people of Australia’s Northern Territory.
But peer pressure, as the term is generally used, is misleading. It allows us as a society to avoid looking at the real reasons why young people behave self-destructively. By focusing externally on some ill-defined pressure from without we fail to discern some very real pressures from within.
Anomie, or a state of normlessness, comes from predictable relationship deficiencies:
-the lack of early and consistent adult direction and guidance;
-the lack of positive support and positive reinforcement;
-the lack of warm, fun, interesting, and enriching interpersonal life experiences;
-the lack of positive and mature role models;
-the lack of expectations;
-the lack of progressive skill development;
-the lack of a wholesome and trusting sense of ‘community’;
-the lack of hope that things will be different any time soon;
– and the list goes on. Without clear norms as a guide, young people find it difficult to establish their status and role in society. Without existing norms the alternatives lead to dissatisfaction and deviance.
Until we start examining these deeper, familial causes of anomie, an adequate solution to the effects of peer pressure will not be found.
How it works
Young people characterized by the above kinds of relationship deficiencies are highly vulnerable to the effects of peer pressure. They have nothing to loose so they bow to this pressure that becomes all-important to them. There is no light at the end of their tunnel and ‘so what if they throw their life away’, they say to themselves. It is worth to them, it in the short-run, to have at least some semblance of connectedness in their otherwise dreary world. These kids have no where else to go. Their parents aren’t there for them. In the larger urban centers and in rural America, both, they join gangs for camaraderie, or they enter into early sexual entanglements and/or drugs in an effort to rush to adulthood.
Such youth wander aimlessly, adrift, not unlike the fluff of a dandelion that is cast about by the wind. As a result, they are ripe for the first intense influences that find their way to them.
A mature young person, on the other hand, stays the course. They do not jump ship and self-destruct simply because their peers are doing it.
Characteristically they look like this:
-their basic needs are wholly met by family;
-they engage in on-going, substantial dialogue within the family;
-they have close, nurturing physical contact within the family;
-they are inspired to be curious and imaginative by familial role models;
-their are reinforced in their efforts to become self-sufficient and self-directed;
-they are taught to explore their priorities in life from early on;
-they absorb and incorporate a strong sense of personal ethics from those around them;
-they learn to respect and value self and others from their experiences in the home;
-they respect all living things for their intrinsic value;
These traits do not evolve in a vacuum. They require a rich familial backdrop to flourish in. Nurtured youth, therefore, do not bend like a flower to extraneous emotional currents because them.
Some communities are so devastated by the political or physical or cultural environments in which they reside that they have long lost any sense of ‘community.’ The effects of this can be seen multigenerationally across all cultural and racial groups.
It can be seen especially clearly in subcultures that produce the terrorist mentality.
These subcultures are and have long been embedded in the most devastating of circumstances, usually for endless generations. Such environments are characterized by severe poverty, malnutrition, familial disorganization, chaotic dictatorial politics, a lack of opportunity for self-determinism, a lack of education, and rigid religious ideology. Like Meursault in Camus’ existential novel, The Stranger, the youth of such a culture of meaninglessness perceive a universal indifference towards them.
The smarter and stronger ones tend to rise up with anger and, when given a chance, flee into the world to wreck havoc with a venomous anger that craves release. The Middle East harbors huge pockets of such subcultures and we have felt their effects globally for decades.
Emotional dysfunction occurs along a continuum; the terrorist extreme versus the advantaged extreme. And in between those extremes you find a whole range of impediments to human functioning.
FACT: families in much more advantaged parts of the world are also producing a prevailing sense of anomie in children whose basic emotional needs are not being met. These families are failing us, and their numbers are sky-rocketing. Even here in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, millions of youth suffer from an emotional poverty that invades and infects all aspects of their lives.
From these ranks we see children birthing children, addicted personalities, errant runaways, suicide, improverished relationships of all kinds and, of course, crime.
The solutions are self-evident
Yes, the solutions are also timeless: love, honor, tender touch, humor, self-determinism, a healthy curiosity, a fearlessness about exploring the world, a healthy body, a strong sense of personal ethics, and a sense that somebody truly cares about us.
These are the things that count, and that make us strong. Family heals.