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My grandmother used to tell me this old saying, “You lay down with dogs, and you get up with fleas.” I always laughed about it, and I was not exactly sure what she was trying to say. After all, I wasn’t planning to lay down anywhere that a dog had been, and I surely didn’t expect to get fleas. However, there was much wisdom in my grandmother’s words to me, as she was trying to tell me something about the friends with whom I was spending my time.
We all have a peer group, or a small, close group of friends with whom we regularly interact. Whether your peer group includes you and one or two other people, or it includes several others, these people have a large influence on you and your everyday decisions. Research has found that our peer groups in high school impact our academic achievements, and even our motivation and engagement at school can be influenced by our peer group’s level of motivation and engagement. In addition, those who have peer groups who are supportive of academic pursuits are more likely to achieve in the academic setting than those who have less supportive peer groups. The impact of peers does not diminish as we move into college, however. Research has also found that peer groups continue to highly influence personal, social, and intellectual development at the postsecondary level. What’s more, not only do our friends impact us academically and socially, they can also have broader impact. Researchers have found that our closest peers can even influence our decisions about health and diet. If your friends make unhealthy choices, you are more likely to do so as well, and because of social networks, even those who are not in our closest peer group can influence our decisions. Research has found that when friends of friends are “obese,” we have a 25% greater likelihood of being obese. That’s a huge impact for a friend of a friend to have on us!
So, what does all of this have to do with dogs, fleas, and creating a life plan? What my grandmother was trying to tell me, with her funny expression about dogs and fleas, was that my friends did have a huge influence on me and the direction of my life. If I chose to hang out with friends who had “fleas,” negative personality traits or who made bad decisions, then I could be influenced and catch those “fleas” myself. Research would support my grandmother’s wisdom. The friends you choose to spend time with do, whether you like it or not, impact the decisions that you make.
You are working hard because you want to establish a vision for your future success and develop your plan for achieving that vision. However, some of your friends probably don’t have the same goals and aspirations that you do, and you have to be very aware of how they could derail your plan. You might see the value of studying for a test because you see how your grades now affect your future. Your friend may just want to play basketball or go to the mall. Once you get to college, you may see the value of going to class, taking notes, and visiting the professor to ask questions during his or her office hours. Your friends may choose to hang out at the student center, go out late at night, and sleep during the day. Research would tell us that you will have a hard time maintaining your focus and taking the steps you need to take along life’s path if you are choosing to spend most of your time with these types of friends.
So, should you change your friends? That’s a personal decision, and it’s one that only you can make. What you must do, though, is be very aware of the influence of your friends and how difficult it is going to be to choose a different path if most of your friends are not as academically motivated and goal-oriented as you. If your vision for the future and your goals are important to you, it might be wise to rethink some friendships, or at least rethink the amount of time that you spend with certain friends.
Make a list of your closest friends—the ones with whom you spend the most time. Which ones of these friends are positive influences in relation to the vision that you have set for your future? Which of these friends have a plan and goals for their lives? Which of these friends see the importance of studying and doing well in school? Which of these friends encourage you to do your best? Now, which friends are not as goal-oriented? Which friends don’t seem to value school or be very engaged in learning? They may be really fun to hang out with, but they aren’t ever going to encourage you to study for a test or congratulate you on making an A on a test. These people would probably be more of a negative influence on your academic life.
If you are like most people, you probably have friends in both groups—positive influence on your academic life, and negative influence on your academic life. You don’t have to stop being friends with those who are not positive academic influences, but you do need to be aware that they are a negative influence. So, when it comes time to study, to fill out college applications, or to actually attend class once you get to college; you are prepared for how those friends may not be the right friends to call on to encourage you in these pursuits. You will want to rely on the friends in the other group—those who will positively influence you to follow through on your goals and plans for a successful future.
Burke, K. (May 2016). How do your friends affect your health? Source. Colorad State University External Relations. Available from: http://source.colostate.edu/how-do-your-friends-affect-your-health/
Goethals, G. (1999). Peer influences among college students: The perils and the potentials. Paper presented at the Macalester Forum on Higher Education, “Diversity and Stratification in American Higher Education,” Macalester College, St. Paul, MN, June 1999. Available from: http://sites.williams.edu/wpehe/files/2011/06/DP-51.pdf
Hussain, S. (2013). The impact of peer groups on the academic achievements of secondary school students. Journal of American Science, 9:11, 13-15. Available from: http://www.academia.edu/8721942/The_Impact_Of_Peer_Groups_On_The_Academic_Achievements_Of_Secondary_School_Students