A study has found that crested macaque monkeys follow friends before family. Gaze following is very important in macaque society, helping the animals to find food or spot potential danger. This reflects the importance of friendship in complex societies, where animals live together and rely on one another. In some species, friends are probably as important as family and dominance status.
While peer pressure might be the reason for trying their first cigarette or can of beer, it can also be invaluable in teaching them life skills and a sense of loyalty and leadership. For boys, friends act primarily as companions, people with whom they can play football, share a joke, hang out and listen to music. For girls, friends are people with whom they can share secrets, worries and anxieties. Without companions, it's more difficult to learn about social skills and relationships.
Forty years ago I moved to a small town in South Australia. During the summer holidays, my tall, popular son became a Christian. When he started high school, we chose an area school, mainly for children from local farms, one hour away on the school bus. He came home with bruises and a shadow of his former jovial self. I spoke to the head teacher and the bus driver about the problem. It turned out he had loudly declared he would always turn the other cheek. The other students rose to the challenge. They punched him, even younger, smaller boys, for over a year. The Christian bus driver couldn't suggest any solution and neither could the head master. At last, Kym took action and went over the top defending himself; eventually becoming so strong nobody could get the better of him. This life-lesson resounds within me even now. He must have learned that might is right.
Although he remained loving towards me, peer-group pressure wiped out all the positive thinking and optimism he had developed. I wrongly thought an escape to the country might save the children from bad influences. Maybe the extra two hours away on the school bus tilted the balance.
My wonderful son died in an accident at the age of 28 years.