Peer pressure, whether good or bad, has affected all of us at some point in our lives.

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We’ve all heard of peer pressure, and in one way or another, been affected by it. Peer pressure is a common phenomenon that stems from our fundamental need as social creatures to be accepted by others around us. This article aims to define “peer pressure”, and explore how it manifests in our lives. People often think of peer pressure in a negative light, but this is not necessarily accurate. Are there signs that tell us we are experiencing this? When we face peer pressure, what should we do?

What is Peer Pressure?

Peer pressure refers to the influence from those in a person’s peer group. It occurs when one feels that they must do similar things as others in their peer group, in order to gain their acceptance. These are things that they would not have done otherwise. The term “peer” typically refers to one’s friend. However, peers may include anyone with a similar social group, status, age, or ability. We tend to assume that peer pressure applies to youths, but it can affect anyone, including children and adults.

Is Peer Pressure Good or Bad?

What we are familiar with is the idea of peer pressure being a bad thing. When we hear the term, what comes to mind? Rebellious students skipping school? Underage drinking? Smoking? Bullying? Other negative examples may include sexting or having sex when you are not ready, gambling, criminal acts, and engaging in other risky behaviours. When a person behaves in a way that is not aligned with their values, it can be considered negative peer pressure. Even people with the strongest conviction to their values and morals may engage in behaviours that suggest the opposite so as to belong and be accepted among their peers.

Contrary to popular belief, though, peer pressure can also give rise to positive behaviours! Positive peer pressure can make one question and reflect on their own values, character and behaviour, and be inspired to work on them. In this way, peers may also influence each other to do better in their studies or sports, as well as cultivate healthy habits. Similarly, peer groups where values such as inclusion and kindness is practised (eg standing up for those who are being bullied) can be a source of motivation, support and acceptance to individuals that are part of the group.

Some Common Signs of Negative Peer Pressure

When trying to determine if peer pressure is positive or negative, look at the possible outcomes. Does it lead to negative consequences such as worsened physical and mental health? Are there criminal acts involved? Could anyone be harmed in the process? Would academic results be compromised? Or is the behaviour one that would potentially result in positive outcomes? Might it perhaps lead to someone being helped, for instance?

To identify instances of negative peer pressure in our lives, and avoid the detrimental effects, it may help to know what it feels or looks like for those experiencing it. Below are common signs of negative peer pressure. Bear in mind that some of them may be more difficult to notice than others.

Feelings of not fitting in

We know that every individual is different. Yet, when we perceive that we are different from others, we sometimes feel that we are the misfit. There is pressure to conform. This is especially salient for youths, as they explore their self-identity and seek a sense of belonging with their peers. When we feel that we do not fit in, we may consequently find ourselves avoiding social situations.

Signs of peer pressure may include feelings of not fitting in or comparing ourselves with others.

Comparing oneself to others

When a person compares themselves to others and wants what others have, that can be a sign of peer pressure. Examples include trying to look or dress a certain way and wanting to purchase only specific designer brands. Social media and mainstream media may also have a role to play in shaping what the “ideal” look or body is. Constantly comparing oneself to others may have the unintended consequence of increasing self-consciousness, dissatisfaction and anxiety.

Behaving differently

When someone does things that are out of character for them, it could be a result of peer pressure. Individuals may sometimes feel pressured into doing something that is not in line with their values and morals in order to gain the acceptance of their peers. This may include the way a person talks, or what they choose to do. For youths, examples may include skipping school or pursuing the latest trends.

Lower academic performance

For students, a sudden drop in academic grades could indicate the presence of negative peer pressure. Some youths may intentionally do badly in tests and examinations. This might be in a bid to appear cool or fit in with certain crowds. 

Apart from the above, difficulty sleeping and low moods are also plausible signs. Do note, however, that many of these signs may be due to other reasons, such as physical and mental health conditions. Should you be concerned about any of the signs listed above, consult a professional therapist.

4 Types of Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can present itself in various shapes and forms. It can be: 

Spoken

Spoken peer pressure occurs when an individual is asked or convinced by others to engage in a certain behaviour. Often, the greater the number of people trying to persuade the individual, the greater the pressure. As such, in a group setting, the individual is often particularly susceptible to the influence of the group due to the latter’s strength in numbers. Conversely, in a one-to-one setting, the individual may not be as easily wavered as they are better able to stand their ground and act in accordance with their values. 

Unspoken

Unspoken peer pressure occurs when an individual observes certain behaviours of others and perceives a need to follow suit to fit in or be accepted. Some examples include dressing a certain way or joining sports teams or activity clubs when one does not feel otherwise inclined to.

Direct

Direct peer pressure can be either spoken or unspoken and is typically based on behaviours. An individual finds themselves having to make a decision on the spot, based on what has been presented to them. One example is when someone is handed a cigarette, even though they do not smoke. The person may then feel pressured to accept the cigarette to gain acceptance from the peer group.

Indirect

Indirect peer pressure is the least invasive of the lot and can be either spoken or unspoken. It influences an individual by validating an activity or behaviour although they may not be the specific person another individual or the group is trying to convince directly. Rather, they are indirectly exposed to how others talk or respond to the said activity or behaviour, and feel the need to conform thereafter.

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How to Deal with Negative Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can catch us by surprise. Not a particularly comfortable situation, as you might imagine. There are many ways that you can respond to unwelcome or detrimental negative peer pressure:

You can better manage peer pressure both internally, by build self-awareness and resilience, and externally, by surrounding yourself with supportive individuals or seeking professional support.

Be aware when it is happening

The first step to managing peer pressure is to recognise when it is happening. Keep the signs in mind. Who is pressuring you? What are they trying to convince you to do? What exactly is entailed? If secrecy is involved, what might the reasons for that be? Ask yourself how you feel about what they are asking you to do. Do you think you would make the same decision if you weren’t alone? What might be the consequences if you were to give in? What are some benefits? Costs?

Know your own boundaries and values

Understanding your boundaries in relation to the situation at hand can be helpful. Where would you draw the line? What are you okay and not okay with? Are these negotiable? What morals or values do these boundaries stem from? Be clear about them. This will help to guide you in making a logical and informed decision when faced with peer pressure.

Learn to say no

More often than not, we agree to do something even though we are not comfortable with it. A common reason is that we are afraid to say no to others. This could stem from wanting to be liked, or a fear of confrontation. Saying no is an important and useful skill to have in life. If saying no is difficult for you, come up with different ways to say no. Experiment. Practice again and again. Notice what works better for you. Which ways are you more comfortable with, or less uncomfortable with? Know that if you are not comfortable explaining, the word “no” alone is a full sentence. Learning more about assertive communication is very helpful here. The more you practise, the easier it will get. It is possible to remain friends with someone who does things you that don’t like, without you having to change for them. 

Limit your exposure

Another option is to limit your exposure to negative peer influence. Stay away from people who pressure you into making decisions that incur negative consequences for yourself or others. Spend less time with them where you can. In some cases, negative peer pressure comes from people whom we are unable to avoid entirely, such as schoolmates or colleagues. In such cases, limit your interactions as much as you can. You do not need to be friends with everyone. Neither do you need to be liked by everyone. There will always be people out there who share your values.

Surround yourself with supportive individuals

Instead, spend time with individuals who respect your boundaries. Better yet if you can spend more time with individuals who foster positive behaviours! This could be people who speak up against bullying others, volunteer groups, study groups, religious groups, or even sports teams. Of course, they could also be friends or family members whom you trust.

Seek help and support

Peer pressure often succeeds because of strength in numbers. We often don’t want to be the odd one out, so we give in when pressured by a group. In such uncomfortable situations, we can feel very alone. Remember that there will always be someone who would be willing to support us, even if they are not physically present in that moment. They may be schoolmates, teachers, colleagues, supervisors, or religious leaders. They could even be random strangers who stand up for what is right. It is normal to feel lost and confused. If you are unsure of how to even bring up the topic, professional therapy can bridge the gap by offering a safe and confidential space for you to share your concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is peer pressure and how to overcome it?

Peer pressure affects all of us, whether we like it or not. Knowing and acknowledging it for what it is can help us decide what to do next. If it is negative, we always have the option to say no. We can also take the intentional step of being mindful about who we surround ourselves with, and who we chose to be closer to. When all else fails, know that help is always available.

Wanting to “fit in”, liked, or accepted by one’s peers is often a cause of peer pressure.

What causes peer pressure?

Prevalent causes include wanting to “fit in”, wanting to be liked by others, or wanting to be accepted by one’s peers. Indeed, it is often a natural desire for social creatures like us humans! There may be other reasons for being susceptible to peer pressure, including certain personal insecurities or confusion, low self-esteem, hormonal reasons, having prior experience of being bullied, and a fear of rejection. Parenting and social learning theory have also been offered as possible explanations.

What are its impacts?

Some of its impacts include bullying, mental health concerns, changes in appearance, changes in the way one talks and behaves, changes in academic grades, and changes in school attendance. Certain risky behaviours may also occur as a result of peer pressure.

Where does peer pressure happen the most?

Studies have shown that adolescents are especially affected by peer pressure. However, it can affect anyone from young children to elderly.

What are some positive examples?

The examples mentioned above were studying and participating in sports. Aside from these, there are many more ways in which peer pressure can be positive. It can influence one to quit undesirable behaviours such as smoking or gambling. Other examples include eating more healthily and exercising, being more punctual, exploring positive hobbies, finding ways to support others, and so on.

How to get help for someone who has experienced peer pressure?

Depending on the situation, you may offer help in various ways. One way is to notify someone of authority, who is in a position intervene. This might be a teacher, a leader, or a supervisor. If the affected individual is a child or adolescent, you may wish to notify their parent or guardian.

Assuming that it is safe to do so, you may let the affected individual know that they are not alone. You may offer support by asking them how you could be of assistance. Alternatively, you may support them by offering a nonjudgmental listening ear. Based on what they need, you can then direct them to the relevant resources, such as professional therapy.

If you think that you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call the police or emergency services in your country.

How does it affect society?

Peer pressure affects adolescents’ decision making. On top of that, it has been linked to crime and juvenile delinquency.

How can we stop peer pressure?

Not all peer pressure is bad. It can be helpful to understand its definition, recognise when it is happening, and distinguish if it is positive or negative before taking any action. To stop negative peer pressure, we may practise different ways of saying no or limit our exposure to it, wherever possible. Lastly, seek help from someone you trust, a person of authority, or a professional therapist.

How do I talk to my child about peer pressure?

Be creative about when to start the conversation. Observe and take note of naturally occurring chances to talk about the topic. For example, when you come across a relevant news article related to peer pressure, or when instances of it are depicted on social media. You may also take the chance to discuss the topic with your child when someone happens to bring it up.

Ask your child about their thoughts on the matter. Show them that you are truly interested in listening to what they have to say. You can do this by allowing them to speak and not interrupting them with your own opinion or judgment. Notice what they are saying, as well as their nonverbal behaviour. If you can guess what they might be feeling, reflect that back to them by asking if that is how they feel about it. If you’d like them to share more, use open-ended follow up questions to elicit more than a one-word response. An example is, “I wonder what you might do if that happened to you?”

Lastly, be patient with them. It may not be easy for your child to confide in you about the issues they are faced with. Give them some time and space if they feel apprehensive to do so.