Peer Influences on Risk-taking in Middle Childhood
Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death and disability in children. Many injuries to school-aged children occur during unsupervised peer activities, but peer influences on risky behavior in preadolescence remain under-investigated. We examined peer context effects on reported risk-taking, identified predictors of peer influence, and compared peer influence in high- and low-social-functioning groups. Forty-one boys aged 8-10 years listened to scenarios in which they encountered opportunities for risk-taking (e.g., swimming unsupervised, playing with matches) with their best friends, with "cool guys" (desired peers), with disliked peers, and alone. They rated the likelihood that they would engage in risky behavior in each condition for each scenario. Children also completed measures of friendship satisfaction, peer orientation, and socially desirable responding. Parents completed the CBCL and an injury history form. Children reported more risk-taking with positive peers than alone, and less with negative peers than alone. Four variables (peer orientation, friendship satisfaction, social problems, mother unmarried) accounted for 77% of the observed variance in peer influence on risk-taking. Children in the high social competence group showed larger peer influence, and indicated a preference for risk-taking with best friends over cool guys. Results are discussed in terms of improving injury prevention efforts by reconceptualizing "peer pressure" as a developmentally adaptive aspect of child functioning.
- Masters Theses