Emile Durkheim: How Would He Address Teen Peer Pressure?

Table of Content

Teen peer pressure is not a new thing; it has been around in one form or another since time immemorial. In the United States today, though, peer pressure is the focus of major studies from many angles: advertising, drug/alcohol/tobacco use or abuse, teen pregnancy and participation in gangs. While the statistics are startling regarding the sheer number of teens who succumb to peer pressure despite having solid family backgrounds, it must be said that the United States seems to be the front-runner in a downward spiral of social consciousness in the developed world.

Many blame these maladies on advertising, and it does appear that advertising as well as a combination of continual exposure to violence in music and television along with eroding spirituality and morals in society at large is the major players in the peer pressure success. Basic human instincts dictate that there is safety in numbers. In a very abbreviated timeline, we can see how peer pressure has evolved over the past four decades, beginning in the 1960’s with the Hippie movement as well as the introduction of Rock & Roll to the United States.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Television was still fairly new, but advertising was taking hold through the powerful new medium that replaced radio as the family’s form of electronic entertainment. The 1960’s also saw the Civil Rights Movement, the Kennedy assassination, the first man on the moon, and a plethora of new ideas as the post-war era generation took hold and began making changes to the very fabric of the nation. The advent of the 1970’s ushered in the ecological movement as well as the drug counterculture.

At this time, East Indian teaching had begun to take hold on the coasts, Vietnam War protests, the Watergate scandal, the Arab Oil Embargo and other world economics relations began to rock the security of the nation. The 1980’s saw a new psychology emerge, as well as a rise in corporate power as the United States moved out of a recession. New recreational drugs began to emerge, called “designer drugs. ” Rap music began to take hold, as well as grunge and punk.

Marijuana was prevalent, but the advent of other mind-altering drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and others being readily available in schoolyards began to cause alarm. Dual income households began to become the norm, and the term “latchkey kids” was born as many children were left to their own devises after school for the remaining hours until a parent returned from work. The 1990’s seem to have accelerated the entire process of societal change with the availability of the Internet. The U. S. conomy flourished, more teens fell through the cracks, and everything seemed to speed up, with most families who remained intact being dual-income and workers’ hours dramatically increased. During the first half of the first decade of the 21st century, the current situation in the United States seems to be one of fear of another terrorist attack as well as a definite split between the religious right and the liberal left and everything in between. By reading and viewing mainstream material, it seems that the nation can’t make up its mind about its own identity, yet life is so accelerated it’s a wonder anyone can think at all.

Peer pressure amongst teens has now moved into a dangerous arena; the drugs now available in the streets are no longer for the purposes of “tuning in;” the most dangerous are crack cocaine and crystal meth. Societal pressure to quit smoking and drinking is seeing some amount of success due to statewide smoking bans in public places where it used to be easy for teens to sneak out for a cigarette. Even teen drinking seems to be lower than before, but drug use has risen to alarming proportions. Even though there is no advertising for drugs such as crack cocaine and crystal meth, it is readily available for anyone who wants it.

Why would a well-raised, normal teenager succumb to the pressure of drug use, especially with full knowledge of how addictive and dangerous these drugs are? This is where Emile Durkheim’s work comes in. Durkheim focused on social problems in a way that synthesized individuals and the collective through interdependence and division of labor. In terms of teen peer pressure, one timeless quote from Durkheim would suffice in addressing the problem: “The more one has, the more one wants, since satisfactions received only stimulate instead of filling needs” (Dr. Frank Elwell, 2003).

In terms of teen peer pressure, the wants focus primarily in terms of the right kinds of clothing and accessories, access to a car of a certain kind, and being seen “in the right places, with the right people. ” The definition of “right,” of course, changes from group to group depending on the focus of the particular group. Where in the past half century the United States was fairly homogenized and family-oriented, the rapid advances in our culture have created a phenomenon that Durkheim would label as the “conscience collective” being less intense and more vague and mechanical solidarity is measurably weakened (Robert Alun Jones, 1986, pp. 4 – 59). Durheim would likely see today’s teen peer pressure in terms of his division of labor observations, with labor being the filling of needs (it can here be called “emotional economy”). One example would be the need to belong, a very basic need of all animals, including humans. Strictly observable behavior would indicate that in the collective (family), the individual (teen) is not having his or her needs met. Or, perhaps, the individual conscience has progressed past the conscious collective of the family, motivating the need to seek out something different.

Since teens are especially vulnerable to peer pressure due to the chemical changes occurring in their bodies as well as being caught up in a fast-paced, highly competitive society (or even a competitive family), they will, according to Durkheim, seek to find their own expressions of the family traditions they were raised with yet simultaneously seek to carve a new niche for themselves within the context of a new unit. Durkheim would likely address teen peer pressure as further evidence of division of labor, where specialization occurs, and society changes because of it.

Those changes spawn different values, mores and norms. As these changes occur amongst social groups, the offspring of these groups are born into the changes that are already occurring. The young will not know any different way of being, and being raised in a culture that is in flux along with the bombardment of media and information during any given day, the young will obviously gain different perspectives on life more quickly due to the availability of 24 hour television and Internet availability. As American society becomes more technologically based, the Internet has become a pastime of both children and adults.

Recent studies show that use of the Internet is exceeding television viewing hours, and is also catching up with hours spent playing video games. As the American culture becomes more dependent on technology for its social life, teens are especially vulnerable to predatory dangers than ever before, due to the Internet. Because of teens’ needs to be accepted and to gain independence, they may succumb to peer pressure via electronic means in addition to the peer pressure they encounter at school or other activities involving their own age groups.

Durkheim would have recognized this as an “anomie” (Joe Dunman, 2003). An anomie is the breakdown of norms and lack of regulation, which can lead to deviant behavior. Joe Dunman’s article describes Durkheim’s anomie as a risk to today’s Western society; especially with specialization in the workplace further separating individuals from each other along with other factors of separation such as the Internet and computer technology. He goes on to point out that where before, goals were defined and limited by social order and morality.

Now goals are more vague and less accompanied by traditional morals and ethics. As Durkheim warned, goals with no direction only lead to unhappiness. When teens begin to exert their power to reach a goal that is undefined but still a strong urge, they are at risk without the foundation of the moral fiber that a stable society would offer. Durkheim, in his more mature work, stated that social facts and moral rules are effective only if they become a part of the individual’s conscience as well as existing outside of the individual (Hewett School, UK, Dept. f Sociology, n. d. ). Here is where moral obligation and imposed societal morals separate. Teens who have the bedrock of family morals and ethics instilled within them are less likely to succumb to peer pressure than those raised in a more permissive environment where decisions are left up to a young mind that are really beyond its developed ability to work out well. Durkheim was more interested in groups than the individuals who are members of the groups. Taking teens as a group, they can be separated into socioeconomical, racial, and religious groups.

Other groupings of teens can be identified as coming from a single-parent household, etc. One thing that teens have in common is media bombardment as well as the pressure to imitate what they see and hear and learn from the media (which could realistically be introduced as a society in and of itself). Since individuals cannot conceive of behaviors that they haven’t been exposed to, it is no stretch of the imagination to imagine where the young derive their ideas of what behaviors are desirable in order to be accepted.

Since the basic need of acceptance is so powerful psychologically, where Durkheim’s work stands out is in studying groups. Individuals are attracted to certain groups for a reason, and the group mind becomes a function of society. Gangs, substance abusers, and other destructive groups have their own codes of conduct and morals, even if they seem to be amoral to the larger society. The desire to succeed must be accompanied by a well-defined goal, and it is fairly obvious that in a society where only the end product is seen, the goal itself can become skewed and vague, making movement toward it fruitless.

This is the beginning of destructive behavior, individually and collectively. However, Durkheim would have been interested in the solidarity of such groups; he would not have been focused on psychological traits or motives (Hewett). Gangs have long been known to have strong bonds within their own groups and subgroups. While the individual’s reasons for joining a gang would not be of Durkheim’s concern, the growth of gangs in Western society is indicative of anomie in the context of the larger society.

Acceptance and a feeling of belonging has been a description used by gang members as to why they remained in a gang even though their individual moral structures did not condone gang activities and missions. That a society allowed such groups would be the concern of Durkheim. He would likely have questioned the integrity of a society tolerant of gang-related behaviors and actions. Peer pressure has really only changed in its expression rather than its existence. Durkheim would have taken American society’s rapid changes into account; he said that anomie occurs when a society undergoes a rapid change, whether prosperity or depression (Hewitt).

Rapid changes in American society are well documented over the last decade, especially with the “Dot Com” boom and bust of the 1990’s, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the widespread use of the Internet as well as the relaxation of regulations regarding television programming appropriate to young audiences. While rebellion of teens is to be expected due to the phases of growth and impending separation from the family unit, Durkheim would likely address the current problems of teen peer pressure as a product of mixed messages from society itself, likely indicating a deterioration of society.

This is nothing new, however. Both primitive and advanced societies deteriorate given the right conditions and stresses, and this can be seen among the types of pressures exerted on the young. In the United States, it seems that teens are under more pressure than ever to make decisions and choices that were relegated to adults only two decades ago. If we look at the societal changes over the last twenty years in the United States, a picture of a divided nation emerges, with the young caught in the crossfire.

In retaliation, whether conscious or unconscious, the young will gravitate to an environment where they can exert a certain amount of control and at the same time adhere to guidelines that keep the group intact. In order for a teen to belong to that group, those rules must be followed, whether it means wearing the clothing appropriate to that group, acquiring tattoos or body piercings, using recreational drugs or alcohol or undergoing gang initiation rites. To Durkheim, it would likely be no different than the influences of which he wrote.

No matter how behaviors manifest, the motives are the same over time, since humans and animals have the same needs we have always had. Only the technology has changed, not the people themselves in any significant way. Durkheim’s work is as applicable today as it was during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; by studying the groups themselves, one can gain a better insight on the underpinnings of teen peer pressure and why it is so effective. Durkheim would likely say that the pressure itself is more effective now due to its being supported by technology, but the results are the same in terms of sociological consequences.

Cite this page

Emile Durkheim: How Would He Address Teen Peer Pressure?. (2017, Mar 05). Retrieved from


Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront