There are plenty of positive peer cultures in existence and in great form today. There are church or temple related groups, community programs of after school organized and supervised activities and there are in-school organizations that have existed for generations. For poor and disadvantaged youth, there are free and subsidized in school and after school systems that are cost supportive or cost free.
The problem lies in getting the children into these programs and keeping them there. As long as there will be groups and functions that offer positive peer culture, there will be the isolated, the addicted, the dysfunctional and the socially maladaptive who will reject the idea of taking those directions in life that lead to mainstream, religious, school related, community oriented or heavily supervised or organized peer group activities.
Ironically, it is parental or adult support and involvement that leads children to positive peer group environments, and it is the parental or adult influence that helps to keep them in these environments.
In the worst cases, children are at risk even if they are good students, due to peers who discourage being a good student and who encourage being in gang and other illicit activity. One boy was beaten, then burned alive for rejecting membership in a gang. He had no protections given to him by law enforcement, his family or his school despite common knowledge that he was under threat.
Under such conditions, few children who live in fear of those who actually control their communities will do anything to avoid punishment for engaging in the very activities that would lead them to a more well prepared life and to a chance at a better life. Even then, many such communities have the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs, Parks and Recreation programs and other programs for the children who have parental involvement and support.
Surprisingly, positive peer cultures could develop in juvenile incarceration environments if profit, punishment and substandard conditions that approach the level of crimes against children were not the more common expectation of America’s juvenile justice environment.
For one thing, separating the mentally ill, drug dependent or otherwise more harmful juveniles from those who have a chance of improving would help, but children are far too often lumped together with no effort to put together the ones who can have a positive peer culture of personal correction and development.
At the other end of the social scale, there are the inevitable cliques and groups of children, the more organized and wealthy of whom have options outside of school for hooking up with friends or engaging in costly and life enhancing activities. These children are far more likely to take “star” or “leadership” roles in school that involve very small groups of peers, while having other influences in life, such as private tutoring and classes, travel and social events that others do not have access to.
Most “middle class” children have church, organized groups like the Girl and Boy scouts, and community programs, along with intensive parental support and involvement as major and positive peer group influences outside of the home and school. Sports and support of sports, theater groups, ethnic dance groups, volunteer organizations and other supervised, positive and peer group oriented programs abound for those children who have parental involvement and support.
That leaves unsupervised or “latchkey” kids who are not supported by adults outside of the school environment. These children are the most at risk, and they occupy every social level, race, nationality and economic level of society. The biggest threat to their ability or desire to participate in positive peer cultures is substance abuse, deviant cultures and lifestyles, and the thrill of doing crimes.
Positive peer culture, where there is a group identity, a set of tasks and skills, the idea of teamwork, capable adult supervision and guidance and some positive outcomes or goals is the best thing for children. There is plenty of positive peer culture if we look at the thousands of clubs, groups, park and recreation programs, church and temple sponsored children’s ministries and programs, cultural organizations and even regular meetings of extended families.
There is also the issue of child predation, and community, religious, and school groups are a major attraction for child predators. Enough children have been molested or harmed as part of membership that it is an ongoing concern that such groups need to be meticulous in screening their staff and participants.
But there is a need for more, especially where children are at risk from social isolation after school, from lack of adult supervision and protection after school, and from those in any community who recruit and prey on children to lead them into deviant, delinquent and dysfunctional lifestyles as negative peer cultures.
As a result, for children of any level or type of society, there will always be a battle of choices between positive and negative peer cultures as long as funding is cut for programs and the authorities and adults in a community do not protect or correct their children from having access to negative influences in life. Even then, no matter how many, how well funded or how successful the programs are, there will always be children who will have problems of one sort or another with participating in and enjoying them.