A few examples of the application of Dishion’s peer theories to the work conducted by our two research teams will be presented. The Deviancy Training theory inspired our work on supervised leisure activities for adolescents as a context that may enhance at-risk youth’s friendships with prosocial rather than deviant peers. We also developed a questionnaire-based measure of deviancy training and rule breaking. His Peer Contagion theory has also inspired our recent work on the role of middle school friends on the pathway toward educational attainment by early adulthood. In fact, even though much of the work inspired by the Deviancy Training theory shows how peers can influence the path toward other deviant behaviors in the long term, the Peer Contagion angle helps explain how such peer experiences contribute to qualitatively different outcomes. Moving beyond the study of dyadic peer relationships to that of small-group influences—a topic of great interest to Dishion himself—we also applied the Peer Contagion theory to guide our research on influences that occur through the affiliation to a clique of deviant peers. Again, looking at educational outcomes helped us show how exposure to peer deviant behavior can have tentacular influences on adolescent development.
In conclusion, Tom Dishion’s work inspires ongoing theoretical developments in the study of peer relationships at various levels of peer influence, from the dyadic level, to the clique, and even to the larger peer network level. For example, some of our team members are exploring ways to enhance the concept of popularity in the peer group by factoring in the popularity of an individuals’ friends. Also, a more sophisticated conceptualization of friendships in the adolescent years has been developed based on his idea that fluidity and longevity of friendships is an important aspect of their quality, and can partly determine how influential these friendships are.