Influence of peer groups

To answer the question, to what extent do peer groups affect academic performance, in quantifiable terms is actually quite difficult. There are numerous variables to consider, however, here are a few statistics:

According to a study published by the Williams Project on the Study of Economics in Higher Education, stronger students do have an impact on their peers and actually help improve the overall academic performance of the peer group. In a comparison of students surveyed, 34% of African American students said that their friends make fun of people who are smart or do well in school.

However, by 8th grade only 23% agreed with that statement--regardless of ethnicity. Another rather large study done by CREDE (the Center for Research in Education, Diversity and Excellence) suggests that peer groups are highly influential during early adolescence but that peers are less influential as kids get older. Undoubtedly, experts agree that peer groups have an influence on academic performance. What experts do not agree on is to what extent and the variables within that influence.

How Peer Groups Influence

There are several ways in which peers influence each other. Not all of them are bad. Variables of peer influence include the ethnicity of the students, the socio-economic background of the students, family relationships and group interests.

Negative Influences In some peer groups, being smart is looked down upon. Similarly, these groups tend to share low aspirations of going to college or getting certain careers. There may be other values in place, such as taking care of the family or making money sooner rather than going to college first.

In addition, studies suggest that peers influence each other more heavily in the early teen years. 14 year olds are more than twice as likely to engage in risky, self-destructive behavior than 18 year olds are. The theory is that by 18, a young man or woman is more autonomous and has clear aspirations of where he or she wants to go and how to get there. Consequently, if risky behavior doesn't fit into the equation, an older teen is able to pass easily without feeling badly. However, the pressure to 'fit in' for someone entering high school is tremendous.

Positive Influences Many peer groups can be a positive influence on their friends as well. It is thought that intelligent students help their peers bring up their grades. Likewise, girls with good friends who are considered intelligent tend to do better in school. There definitely seems to be a pattern in the influence of studious kids.With that said, another common theme is similar aspirations. Students that want to go to a four-year college tend to hang out with others with similar aspirations.

Connecting Through Activities One way of looking at influence from a parental perspective is to consider that your child will most likely be friends with students who are interested in the same activities. Most high school activities require a certain GPA and consequently, kids who are involved in school sports, drama, student council and other activities tend to do better in school. However, it's important to note that peer influence is not the most important factor on a student's academic success.

Other Variables that Affect Academic Success

There are several other variables that affect academic success and some argue may actually be more influential than peers.

Parental Involvement Across the board, when taken into account with other factors including ethnicity, socio-economic factors, and even education of parents--parental involvement is the single most influential factor in academic success. Teens who have parents who are involved in their lives and generally know what's going on at school are more likely to attend four-year colleges.

Positive Role Models Positive adult role models help solidify a student's path on the road to academic achievement. Be it a mentor, or someone in the family, a role model can make a big difference. Setting high expectations for a student can make that student think twice before engaging in risky behavior that might "disappoint" his mentor.

Education as a Value Students who believed that education was a means to pursue something higher and/or believed that education was valuable tend to do better in school. One may well argue that this attitude again stems from parents, although teachers can play a significant role as well.

How Influential Are Peer Groups?

It would seem that while peer groups are fairly influential, involved parents are even more so. Peers can influence each other both positively and negatively.