Before we can discuss the topic of peer pressure it is important to note what exactly it is. Peer pressure can also be thought of as peer influence and social pressure. It is the process whereby an individual, normally a teenager, is directly influenced by the the lifestyle, attitudes, values and behaviours of their peers/friends. It is when you choose to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do, in order to be accepted and valued by others. Going forward reading this blog, I would like you to try and hold a neutral mind set. So often Peer Pressure is viewed from a very negative perspective and referred to negatively when discussing negative behaviours that our teens have started to display; “I’m sure Sally is behaving like this because of peer pressure…”. Although it often means doing something you might not ordinarily do, it doesn’t mean doing something against your willI. It also doesn’t always mean that the thing being done is negative. t is important to remove our negative patterns of thinking about Peer Pressure here.
Wanting to be more like your friends is a perfectly normal part of the teenage journey. Adolescence is a time of self-centeredness and self-involvement. When the world doesn’t really stretch beyond me, myself and I. Self and friend’s opinions matter most. again , this.is.normal. As I have discussed in previous blogs, teenagers are developing their self identity, so yes, it is a time for selfishness. For the sake of avoiding negative the negative stigma of peer pressure, I will continue by rather using the term; “Peer Influence”. Of course, as normal as it is for a teenager to be more focussed on themselves and their friends, it is also perfectly normal for parents to be concerned about whether the peer influence on their teen is healthy and safe, or not. So let’s consider it.
The Negative Side of Peer Influence:
No one wants to feel that they don’t ‘fit in’, isolated or ‘different’. A teenager wants to feel that they are up to date with what is deemed most popular at the time. This is increasingly difficult for today’s youth where they are by more than just their peers but world as a whole. Social media plays a significant role in what is interpreted as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘cool’ or ‘uncool, ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. There is a great deal of expectations to be a certain way and say certain things. Being uncertain in your fundamental beliefs and values as an individual leaves room for fear of saying ‘no’ to develop. That is when a teen may give in to peer influence. Letting it dictate who they are, or who they think they are or should be.
In these circumstances peer influences can lead to a loss of individuality. Blindly imitating the masses, style, interests, behaviour and general lifestyle. Jumping on the bandwagon rather than forging a new and independent path through life. Of course this results in fear in parents of risky and dangerous behaviour such as smoking, drinking and drug use. This highlights the need for teenagers to foster a positive and grounded sense of self as early as possible. Of course their identity will never be stable during this phase of development but, we would like them to have a clear picture of their values, morals and beliefs; a sense of their authentic self. Being authentic doesn’t mean being inflexible, it does mean being ok with saying ‘no’, no matter the opinion of others and knowing their worth in any situation.
The Positive Side of Peer Influence:
Peer influence can have positive influence on a teenagers growth, identity formation and general productivity. Peer influence can offer inspiration, support, and comradery. We are more likely to try something that makes us a little nervous when we know we have others to depend on in the process. For example; joining the netball team with a friend rather than going it alone. It can lead to the adoption of good habits, bringing about positive changes in thinking, behaviour and lifestyle.
Ideally, we strive to be friends with people who are similar. This again highlights the need for some sense of who you are and what you like as you enter into teenagehood (as discussed above). When our peers are similar to us they can act as a magnifier for our positive behaviours. For example, a peer group that enjoys exercise will encourage one another to participate in exercise related activities or encourage each other to do well in their sporting endeavours. Positive peers are seen to influence motivation, interest, perseverance and overall personality development and future aspirations. As mentioned in my previous blog about the role of friendships during adolescence; social support is important for overcoming adversity. A teen is more likely to ‘bounce back’ from an unpleasant event or situation when they know they have the support of their friends and people to confide in. It is more likely that teens to feel isolated with limited social support will internalize negative experiences more deeply.
Self Confidence and Authenticity are key to buffering against negative peer pressure and thriving off of positive peer influence.