A peer group is a social group whose members have interests, social positions, and age in common. This is where children can escape supervision and learn to form relationships on their own. The influence of the peer group typically peaks during adolescence. However, peer groups generally only affect short term interests unlike the family, which has long term influence.
Unlike the family and the school, the peer group lets children escape the direct supervision of adults. Among peers, children learn to form relationships on their own. Peer groups also offer the chance to discuss interests that adults may not share with their children (such as clothing and popular music) or permit (such as drugs and sex).
Peer groups have a significant influence on psychological and social adjustments for group individuals. They provide perspective outside of individual’s viewpoints. Members inside peer groups also learn to develop relationships with others in the social system. Peers, particularly group members, become important social referents for teaching members’ customs, social norms, and different ideologies.
Peer groups can also serve as a venue for teaching members gender roles. Through gender-role socialization group members learn about sex differences, social and cultural expectations. While boys and girls differ greatly there is not a one to one link between sex and gender role with males always being masculine and female always being feminine. Both genders can contain different levels of masculinity and femininity.
Adolescent peer groups provide support for children and teens as they assimilate into the adult society decreasing dependence on parents, increasing feeling of self-sufficiency, and connecting with a much larger social network. Peer groups cohesion is determined and maintained by such factors as group communication, group consensus, and group conformity concerning attitude and behavior. As members of peer groups interconnect, and agree, a normative code arises. This normative code can become very rigid deciding group behavior and dress. Peer group individuality is increased by normative codes, and intergroup conflict. Member deviation from the strict normative code can lead to rejection from the group. The term "peer pressure" is often used to describe instances where an individual feels indirectly pressured into changing their behavior to match that of their peers. Taking up smoking and underage drinking are two of the best known examples. In spite of the often negative connotations of the term, peer pressure can be used positively.