Lesson “The Science of Decision Making and Peer Pressure”
First published 2015. To view the latest Heads Up content, click here.
One of the biggest challenges teens face is standing up to peer pressure. This article helps explain why by describing the science of how the developing teen brain reacts to both rewards and peers. We build on this understanding by highlighting teen risk taking when driving with passengers. Together, this article and lesson will help your students understand how their brains make decisions, the influence of their peers on those decisions, and what they can do to better navigate peer-pressure situations.
Download a PDF version of this lesson page and accompanying work sheet.
Student Article/Informational Text:
Students will gain a scientific understanding of how the developing teen brain reacts to both rewards and peers, as well as explore the real-world implications for teen risk taking when driving with passengers.
Student Work Sheet:
The work sheet gives students an opportunity to take what they learned from the article and apply it to a real-life peer-pressure situation they might face. An answer key is included in the “Additional Tools” document below.
Additional Tools (PDF):
Grade-tiered resources to support teaching the lesson and student article:
- Expanded Answer Key for Critical-Thinking Questions and Work Sheet
- Tiered Adaptations of Critical-Thinking Questions
- Academic and Domain-Specific Vocabulary Lists
- Additional Writing Prompts
- Expanded Paired-Text Reading Suggestions
- Expanded Standards Charts for Grades 6-12
|SUBJECT||COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS||NEXT
|NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR THE SOCIAL STUDIES|
|Science Literacy||RI.1 Cite textual evidence||LS1.A Structure and Function||Structure and Function in Living Things||Individual Development and Identity|
|English Language Arts||RI.2 Central idea and details||LS1.D Information Processing||Personal and Community Health|
|Health/Life Skills||W.1 Write arguments|
1) Why do teens have a stronger emotional reaction to their peers than adults or children do? Cite examples from the article. (During adolescence, the reward center of teens’ brains has more dopamine receptors and is more likely to react strongly to the positive feelings produced by being around peers. Rejection by peers causes a bigger response in the areas of teens’ brains that govern negative emotions.)
2) What are two pieces of evidence from the article that suggest that teens make riskier decisions when they are with their friends than when they are alone? (In Steinberg’s study, the teen drivers ran more yellow lights when their friends were watching than when they were alone. Teen drivers engage in riskier behavior if other teens are in the car.)
Instruct students to use evidence from the article in their responses to the writing prompts.
- Grades 6-8: The decision-making process in teens is strongly affected by rewards and peers. How might this impact teens in both positive and negative ways?
- Grades 9-10: Peer pressure can challenge teens to take beneficial risks, or it can drive them to make decisions they regret. How can teens prepare themselves to resist negative peer pressure yet remain open to positive influences?
- Grades 11-12: Today’s teens don’t only interact in person. How do you think peer influence through social media and texting might impact teens’ decision making, and what positive and negative consequences could result? Consider what you have learned about how the presence of teens can impact risky behavior.
- Grades 6-12: “6 Tactful Tips for Resisting Peer Pressure to Use Drugs and Alcohol,” teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/category/340
- Grades 6-12:“Let’s Talk: How Do You Avoid Peer Pressure?” teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/lets-talk-how-do-you-avoid-peer-pressure
- Grades 6-12:“Teen Brain, a Work in Progress,” teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/teen-brain-work-progress
- Interactive Website: “Peer Pressure,” thecoolspot.gov/pressures.aspx
- Interactive Website: “The Right to Resist,” thecoolspot.gov/right_to_resist.aspx
- Poster/Teaching Guide: “Facts On Drugs: Teen Guide to Making Smart Decisions,” headsup.scholastic.com/guide-smart-decisions
RESOURCES AND SUPPORT: