Peer influence in adolescence tends to get a bad rap. The focus on negative peer influence during adolescence is understandable: it is a time when many are especially vulnerable to peer pressure. Yet an overly negative view of adolescent peer influence can be misleading and might cause parents and educators to overlook its potential for promoting healthy development. Adolescents can be swayed by their peers to engage in prosocial behaviors, like volunteering; friends can also positively impact mental health. The positive impact of many adolescent friendships can be explained in part by how they help young people develop their interpersonal capacities. Key among these is empathy -- the ability to understand another’s mental state, share another’s emotions, and feel concern about others’ welfare. According to social learning theory, empathic friends serve as role models for adolescents; repeated interactions with empathic friends provide opportunities for the modeling and observation of empathic concern, turn-taking, and taking others’ perspectives. Recent research findings show that adolescents whose friends rated relatively highly on measures of perspective-taking and empathic concern tended to increase more in their own self-rated empathy over the course of a year, compared with those who had less empathic friends.

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