All too often, teenagers break the law due to peer pressure. This is often why parents are very surprised when they get a call from the police. They never assumed their child would do anything like this, and it seems very out of character for them. Peer pressure can cause a teen to abandon their normal character when that pressure is strong enough.
An example of this is if a teen has a group of friends that shoplift. That teen may have plenty of money to buy anything that they want, and they may certainly know that shoplifting is illegal. But they might do it anyway, taking the risk just to feel like they are part of the group. Why do they give in to this type of pressure when it can have such serious ramifications?
A craving for acceptance
Social acceptance is very important to humans in general. Teenagers are just learning about this part of life. They are trying to determine where they fit in the world and find groups that will accept them. If they think that they are going to be marginalized by refusing to participate in an activity that a group has embraced, that may be more frightening to them than the potential legal ramifications.
A teen’s brain development is still occurring. The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until someone is in their mid-20s. This is the part of the brain that helps with critical thinking skills. It is not a teenager’s fault that they have an under-developed prefrontal cortex, and it means that they may make decisions that don’t make much sense to adults.
Of course, every situation is unique, and there could be other outside factors as well. Perhaps a teenager does not have strong parental figures in their life, so they are looking for guidance elsewhere. Maybe a teenager who was accused of shoplifting simply has a difficult economic situation and feels they have no other option. Maybe substance abuse issues are involved, leading to poor decisions.
Peer pressure is an unquestionably influential force in most teens’ lives. When this influence leads to behaviors that warrant a criminal defense, it’s important for parents to avoid having their kids learn their lessons “the hard way.” A criminal conviction can affect a teen’s entire adult life and should be avoided when possible.