Social Influences on Youth

Social Influences on Youth (With Reference List)

Dean Borgman

Center for Youth Studies (

This workshop will examine the socialization of young people in our society.  Such an analysis must be holistic (interdisciplinary) if it would capture some of

Our parenting, teaching, and leading of young people must be relational to be effective.  Youthful existence deals especially with identity and relationships.  Young people want to be treated with respect, and they need to participate actively in (the leadership of) any programs that will promote their growth.  Young people today not only present us with problems, they are also a powerful and under-utilized resource.

Socialization in Urban vs. Traditional Cultures

Just as we have contrasted traditional and urban, we should note differences experienced by those growing in poor, urban neighborhoods or housing projects.  There, those Elijah Anderson (Streetwise) calls “decent folks” constitute the majority, while an oppositional society on the streets, “street folk” tend to dominate.  Status on the streets is seen as “juice.”

Books Describing Young People Today

David Elkind (1998)  All Grown Up & No Place To Go: Teenagers in Crisis (Revised Edition) Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 290p. This book presents the socio-psychological dilemma of adolescents today in a very readable and touching way.  It points to new kinds of stress adolescents suffer today.  Make sure you understand how today’s kids learn by imitation rather than integration and become “patchwork selves.”  Notice how this book treats the primary social systems affecting childhood and adolescent growth referred to above (it is weakest on media).  This may be the best place to start serious reading about adolescents today.

Francis A. J Ianni, (1989) The Search for Structure: A Report on American Youth Today, NY: The Free Press, 336 p.  Probably the most important study on youth in the 1980s.  Interviewing thousands of urban, suburban, and rural youth (in a relational and spiral pattern of interviews), Ianni and his team came to the conclusion that young people are at risk when the major systems in their life present them with incongruent value messages. Suggests relationships with adult mentors and community charters.

Thomas French (1993)  South of Heaven:  Welcome to High School at the End of the Twentieth Century,  Doubleday, 365 p.  A remarkable report on social dynamics and personal lives in a typical American high school.  Describes youth at risk both among the wealthy and academically successful as well as in the alternative section of the high school. 

Patricia Hersch (1998)  A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence, 391 p.  This journalist took time to get to know eight “ordinary” high school students in Reston, Virginia.  Like South of Heaven and other such books, it shows you how much teenagers will open up to some one who takes a real interest in them—and what we can learn from their stories.  The author read alarming reports about teenagers, but thought her nice town’s kids to be normal and healthy.  She found them to be a “tribe apart” with many differences forms of stress.

Linda Nielsen (1996)  Adolescence: A Contemporary View, (Third Edition) Harcourt Brace, 643 p.  This basic text for our youth provides you with research of most issues dealt with in YM 293 and does more with family and various ethnic groups than do most standard texts. Important for a basic library and reference.

Tracey Skelton & Gill Valentine (1998) Cool Places: Geographies of Youth Cultures,  London & New York: Routledge, 383 p.  This is an important global study of youthful subcultures with an emphasis on their need for space or turf.  It takes you to Britain, Germany, the Sudan and the US.  It shows how the youth culture achieves meaning through symbols and fashions through, for instance, the cultural use of body (piercing, tattooing, etc.) in terms of personal advertising and use of body space.  You will gain important insights about rave culture, video games, moshing and much more.

Patricia A. Adler and Peter Adler (1998) Peer Power: Preadolescent Culture and Identity, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 255 p.  This study breaks new ground showing the emergence of cliques and subcultures, hierarchical social structures, leaders and bullies as early as the 4th grade.  Popularity and status in this system create pressures and rejections that should make you weep.  You will better understand young outcasts.

Charlene C. Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese (2001) Cliques: 8 Steps to Help Your Child Survive the Social Jungle, New York: Broadway Books, 244 p.  Building on the work of the Adlers, these authors reinforce the reality of early cliques, taunting and bullying.  They provide practical suggestions for helping your child belong, control emotions, disarm the bully.  Their goal to empower the victim.  With other programs, they identify the bully, the victim and the bystander.

LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman with David Isay (1998) Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago, New York: Washington Square Press, 203 p.  There are many good books on urban realities and several ethnographic studies of young urban boys and gangs.  This book is unique because it’s done by the boys.  They went into their neighborhood with tape recorders.  Their style, insights and conclusions should not be missed.  As one critic put it, this book will “stir the mind and break the heart.”

Dean Borgman (1997) When Kumbaya Is Not Enough: A Practical Theology for Youth Ministry, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 241 p.  This book examines the youthful quest for identity and relationships in the process of growth and reality of cultures.  It attempts theological insights into the world of young people and pop culture to make youth work more relevant and effective. 

About Girls

Mary Pipher (1994)  Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, New York: Ballentine Books, 304 p.  Powerful best seller describing why the girls suddenly lose creativity and confidence and why increasing numbers of teenagers are falling prey to depression, suicide attempts, eating disorders and addictions.

Sara Shandler (1999) Ophelia Speaks:  Adolescent Girls Write about their Search for Self,  New York: HarperCollins, 285 p.  Sara Sandler read Mary Pipher’s Reviving Opehlia when she was sixteen. While still an adolescent and student at Wesleyan Univ., she got other adolescent Ophelias to write of their growing-up experiences, to which she added an editorial framework.  Here you will hear the heartbreak and hope felt deeply behind the smiling faces of girls you know.

Hillary Carlip (1995) Girl Power: Young Women Speak Out! New York: Warner Books, 353 p.  These are not only stories from teenage girls themselves, this book is also an introduction to the subcultures of girls.  Homegirls, Riot Grrrls, Teen Mothers, Queer and Bi Girls, Cowgirls, Native American Girls, Farm Chicks, Rappers and Sistas, Surfers and Sk8rs, Jocks, Sorority Girls, Homemakers and Teen Queens.

Madeleine Blais (1995) In These Girls, Hope Is A Muscle: A true story of hoop dreams and one very special team, New York: Time Warner, 266pp.  This book follows the Lady Hurricanes of Amherst, Massachusetts. After five years of disappointment, the become state champions. It tells what happened but the reader must interpret is how it affected them and the subcultural aspects of such a quest..

Joan Ryan (1995)  Little Girls In Pretty Boxes: The making and breaking of elite gymnasts and figure skaters, New York: Time Warner, 243 pp.  Applauded by some who have seen girls hurt; others object strongly to this scathing diatribe against the pressure parents and coaches can put on young girls.  It will take you into some of their lives and perhaps a culture of its own.  It will raise questions about the price of producing young champions.

About Boys

Michael Gurian (1996)  The Wonder of Boys:  What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do To Shape Boys into Exceptional Men, New York: Putnam, 294 p.  Several books were written in the nineties about society’s abuse of young women.  Apart from the works of Jawanza Kunjufu written about black boys in the 1980s, this was one of the first serious considerations of boys.

William Pollack (1998)  Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, New York: Random House, 447 pp.  With other books recognizing the crisis for boys in our society, this clinician (McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School) attempts for boys what Pipher and others have done for girls.

Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson (1999) Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, New York: Ballantine Publishing, , 287 pp.  At a time when some boys feel lost or alone, labeled as social rejects, and being drawn to violent images, we are training them to bottle up their feelings.  This book pleads for emotional literacy among boys.

James Garbarino (1999) Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them, New York: The Free Press, 274 p.  No single expert on recent violent youth crime is more worth reading than this author.  This book takes you into a dark world and presents “ a humane and intelligent course in preventing youth violence.”  Garbarino makes sense about the pressures and rage felt by many boys at risk.

Bernard Lefkowitz (1998) Our Guys: The Glen Ridge (NJ) Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb, New York: Vintage Books of Random House, 516 p.  This is a remarkable sociological study of jock subculture and communities that support its extremes.  It is the true story about a group of boys who gang-raped a retarded girl they had known since kindergarten and who wanted desperately to be their friend.  It is also about a community who supported the rapists and blamed the victim.

H. G. Bissinger (1990) Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream, HarperCollins, 363 p.  This book is a narrative study of  jock and football subculture.  It tells about the only thing going on Friday nights in much of America.  You will become interested in Odessa, West Texas, and get caught up in the excitement of the Permian Panthers—some of the best high school football in the country.  And you will ask yourself about the cost.  These boys are gods bearing heavy burdens.  A B-movie, “Varsity Blues,” was made from this story.

Practical research in this area should also include clipping and filing of news articles, interviews and surveys among young people themselves, and use of the Internet.


See CYS: Center for Youth Studies ( Very user friendly.  Broad, a first step for research, and each document has Questions and Implications for ready training or discussion.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (  Outstanding list of childhood/youthful problems: Abuse, Bullying, TV, Violent Behavior…

National Clearing House of Alcohol and Drug Information (  Facts about alcohol and drugs and then additional info as each relates to African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, College Students, etc.

Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (  Easy access to federal and state statistics and reports on children and their families.

See also the Children’s Defense Fund

Or you can do your own search through Google, etc.