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Adolescent Peer Followership: A Self-Determination Theory Perspective

Peter Ward, Neil Lundberg, Gary Ellis, Kristen Berrett

Abstract


Many adolescents voluntarily follow peer leaders who influence them to engage in antisocial and unhealthy behavior such as illegal acts and substance abuse (Havighurst, 1987; Kandel, 1985; Steinberg, 2008; Udry & Billy, 1987). Why youth choose one peer leader over alternatives remains unclear, and despite its importance, this “followership” question has been largely unexplored. If youth serving professionals understood the adolescent followership phenomenon, they would be able to focus energy toward youth who are likely candidates to be peer leaders. Past research has suggested social exchange theory may explain adolescent peer followership (Ward & Ellis, 2008). Additional work, however, is needed to explore other possible theoretical approaches to explain followership, as some theoretical bases may afford better prediction than others. For example, self-determination theory would suggest that adolescents are more likely to follow peer leaders who afford them the autonomy to choose, an avenue for relatedness with the leader and other members of their group, and a sense of competence for the tasks they are doing. Thus, this study explores adolescent peer followership using a self-determination theory framework (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2002). Self-determination theory suggests adolescents are more likely to follow peer leaders who afford them autonomy to choose, an avenue for relatedness with the leader and other members of their group, and a sense of competence for the task they are doing. Eight written messages from hypothetical potential leaders were presented to 224 adolescents between 11 to 19 years old. Each message was formatted as a letter to the youth depicting a leader with a unique profile of attributes based on self-determination theory (autonomy, relatedness, and competency). After reading each letter, participants completed a sociometric measure of preference for that leader. Statistical analysis yielded support for this self-determination theory perspective. Effects of competence, autonomy, and relatedness were all significant, and the message that suggested that the leader would support autonomy, competence, and relatedness produced markedly higher responses than messages showing different combinations of these.?

Keywords


Followership, youth leadership, youth development, peer group relationships, self-determination theory

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