Diseases & Conditions
During childhood, the family is the center of the child's life. During adolescence, the peer group often begins to replace the family as the child's primary social focus. Peer groups are often established because of distinctions in dress, appearance, attitudes, hobbies, interests, and other characteristics that may appear profound or trivial to outsiders. Initially, peer groups are usually same-sex but typically become mixed later in adolescence. These groups assume an importance to adolescents because they provide validation for the adolescent's tentative choices and support in stressful situations.
Those adolescents who, for various reasons, find themselves without a peer group often develop intense feelings of being different and alienated. Although these feelings often have little permanent effect, they may worsen any potential for dysfunctional or antisocial behavior. At the other extreme, the peer group assumes too much importance for some adolescents. Gang membership and behavior are more common when the home and social environments are unable to counterbalance the often dysfunctional demands of the peer group (see Problems in Adolescents: Behavioral Problems ).
Last full review/revision February 2003
Source: The Merck Manual Home Edition