Defining Peer Pressure
Peers are your friends, and other people around your same age. Our friends and other people around our age influence us a lot no matter how old we are, even if we don’t realize it. By spending time with and around them – or even by watching them on tv, or the internet – we learn from them about what is good/bad, fun/boring, ok/not ok. And they learn from us.
Peer pressure occurs when our peers intentionally – or though example – pressure us to do things we may not otherwise want to do. Peer pressure is not always as clear as a bully forcing you to drink too much at a party. It can sometimes just be the feeling that “everyone else is doing it, or ok with it. Why aren’t I?”
Sometimes peers influence each other in negative ways. For example, a few kids in school might try to get you to cut class with them, your soccer friend might try to convince you to be mean to another player and never pass her the ball, or a kid in the neighborhood might want you to shoplift with him, or gang up against another student because they are different.
Peers can also have a positive influence on each other. Maybe another student in your science class taught you an easy way to remember the planets in the solar system, or someone on the soccer team taught you a cool trick with the ball. You might admire a friend who is always a good sport and try to be more like him or her. Maybe you got others excited about your new favorite book, and now everyone’s reading it. These are examples of how peers positively influence each other every day.
Why Do People Give in to Peer Pressure?
Some kids give in to peer pressure because they want to be liked, to fit in, or because they worry that other kids may make fun of them, or hurt them if they don’t go along with the group. Others may go along because they are curious to try something new that others are doing. The idea that “everyone’s doing it” may influence some kids to leave their better judgment, or their common sense, behind.
How to Walk Away From Peer Pressure
It is tough to be the only one who says “no” to peer pressure, but you can do it! Paying attention to your own feelings and beliefs about what is right and wrong can help you know the right thing to do. And remember, experimenting is important, but be smart about it. And forgive yourself if you make a mistake.
Inner strength and self-confidence can help you stand firm, walk away, and resist doing something when you know better.
Kindness, and thoughtfulness can help you in moments you are unsure of. Think about the other people involved and how your actions might hurt them. There has been a lot of bullying language lately in the media, and bullying rates are increasing. If peer pressure is trying to force you to be cruel or hurtful to someone else, stop and consider their feelings, and their family and friends. And remember that we are not as different as we might seem on the outside. And our differences on the inside make us cool. Being yourself, and that other person being themselves is what makes our society a great place to live. It makes different types of food stores, ideas, clothes, toys, on and on. Different people, lead to different things, and that’s what makes life interesting. Be proud of yourself and that different person when faced with pressure.
It can really help to have at least one other peer, or friend, who is willing to say “no,” too. This takes a lot of the power out of peer pressure and makes it much easier to resist. It’s great to have friends with values similar to yours who will back you up when you don’t want to do something.
You’ve probably had a parent or teacher advise you to “choose your friends wisely.” Peer pressure is a big reason why they say this. If you choose friends who don’t use drugs, cut class, smoke cigarettes, or lie to their parents, then you probably won’t do these things either, even if other kids do. Try to help a friend who’s having trouble resisting peer pressure. It can be powerful for one kid to join another by simply saying, “I’m with you – let’s go.”
Even if you’re faced with peer pressure while you’re alone, there are still things you can do. You can simply stay away from peers who pressure you to do stuff you know is wrong. You can tell them “no” and walk away. Better yet, find other friends and classmates to pal around with. If you feel unsafe, reach out to an adult you trust. Not everyone is in a safe space all of the time. Try to find safe spaces for you, or make them.
If you continue to face peer pressure and you’re finding it difficult to handle, talk to someone you trust. Don’t feel guilty if you’ve made a mistake or two. Talking to a parent, teacher, or school counselor can help you feel much better and prepare you for the next time you face peer pressure.
Powerful, Positive Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is not always a bad thing. For example, positive peer pressure can be used to pressure bullies into acting better toward other kids. If enough kids get together, peers can pressure each other into doing what’s right! Try to do that now. Counter act the bad with good by being kind to someone who needs a friend, or beginning to build safe spaces.