Insights Into Teens: Episode 26 “Peer Pressure”

In this episode we talk about the various forms of peer pressure and why it can be so powerful at times. We’ll look at some of the myths about peer pressure and talk about the realities. There are five common social pressures of peer pressure and we’ll discuss each of them in depth before talking about ways to detect peer pressure and determine if it is positive or negative peer pressure.

Insights Into Teens


Show Notes

Peer pressure is akin to the idea of conformity. It occurs when an individual feels as though they need to do the same things as people their own age or in their social group to be liked or accepted.

To gain that affinity and respect, some individuals will do things they don’t feel they should or things that they might not feel ready for, in order to fit in and be like those around them. This plays out in a variety of situations, from bullying on the school playground to drinking too much in college. The negative peer pressures can make a person feel bad about the things they are doing, even as they continue doing them as a way to feel connected to their peers.

  • Why can peer pressure be so powerful?
    • Peer pressure feeds on the things that frighten us.
    • We’re all social creatures; we want to fit in, have friends, avoid loneliness and gain approval from others.
    • The fear of not having those things is enough to propel some people to extreme or inappropriate responses.
    • Students often give in to peer pressure because they don’t want to be rejected by friends.
    • Youth are also much less likely to be sure of themselves or what they want, making them more susceptible to peer pressure that pushes them to test boundaries.
    • Since students face many new situations in high school and college, they might find themselves in a position of not having the knowledge or tools to extricate themselves from a bad spot.
  • Myth vs Reality of Peer Pressure
    • MYTH: All peer pressure is negative.
    • REALITY: Peer pressure can be good if it pushes a person out of their comfort zone and gives them an opportunity to discover new things.
    • MYTH: Giving in to peer pressure means a person will fit in and feel better about themselves.
    • REALITY: Succumbing to peer pressure often leaves people with the feeling that they’ve betrayed their own beliefs or desires in order to conform to what others want.
    • MYTH: Bad behavior can be excused by peer pressure.

REALITY: While some behaviors may be influenced by peer pressure, it’s never an excuse to behave badly or shirk responsibility.

  • MYTH: Peer pressure doesn’t get really bad until the teen years.
  • REALITY: Most people want to fit in from a very young age, leaving them open to peer pressure. It may seem more intense during the teen years because individuals are more aware of the impact their choices have.
  • MYTH: Bullying is a fact of life. It happens to everybody, and is normal.
  • REALITY: Although many people may experience bullying in their lifetime, it isn’t something that should be accepted as a fact of life.
  • MYTH: Young people should learn to work through peer pressures on their own.

REALITY: Although it is important for young people to learn to speak for themselves, adults must guide them in understanding how to recognize positive pressures, and how to avoid negative ones. They also have a responsibility to intervene when necessary.

  • MYTH: Those who don’t give in to peer pressure wind up feeling lonely and outcast.

REALITY: Many people successfully resist peer pressure, strengthening their sense of self and their ability to thrive in a variety of social settings. They may keep their friendships intact, or find a new group of like-minded friends.

  • MYTH: Peer pressure comes only from friends and peers.
  • REALITY: Peer pressure may come from other people too, such as parents or teachers. Although they are not technically a student’s peers, they may reinforce the attitudes that result in the pressure. Media is also responsible for a great deal of peer pressure.
  • MYTH: There’s nothing anyone can do about peer pressure.
  • REALITY: While it is not always realistic to stop peer pressure, there are many things a person can do to make sure it doesn’t negatively affect their lives.
  • MYTH: Peer pressure impacts a person’s social life, but typically does not extend to their education.
    REALITY: Peer pressure can affect any aspect of someone’s life, including their education. People may be directly teased for being smart or earning good grades, leading to less effort or pride in their schoolwork; peer pressure in other areas may also spill over and influence educational performance.
  • Five Common Social Pressures Among Students
    • Peer pressure tends to grow in intensity as students move up through the grades; by the time they reach high school, fitting in has become a priority – and often a source of anxiety—to many. While peer pressure can be manifested in any number of ways, it’s typically focused in a few common areas:
      • Drugs and alcohol
        • Drugs and alcohol are easy to find on both college and high school campuses
        • Teens might feel the pressure to be “cool” by experimenting with something exotic and daring.
        • When teens were surveyed about drug use, 55% said they started using drugs after being pressured by their friends.
        • Giving in to peer pressure to consume drugs and alcohol can quickly land a person far in over their head, leading to even worse decisions.
      • Stealing
        • Maybe it happens on a dare—a challenge to “Do this, or you’re not one of us.”
        • Stealing can have an immediate impact, including strong feelings of remorse once the rush of adrenaline wears off.
        • Over time, guilt, worries about getting caught, and concerns about the possible damage to their reputation are some of the negative thoughts a person may experience after stealing.
      • Sexual activity
        • Seeing friends hooking up can make it seem as though sex is what everyone does—a common activity that’s not a big deal.
        • That perception can easily lead a person to tamp down their misgivings or hesitation and go further than they wanted to with a partner.
        • This pressure often begins in high school or even earlier
        • Studies have shown that 33 percent of teenage boys felt pressured to have sex, while 23 percent of girls in the same age group felt the same way.
        • It can be tough to put on the brakes in the heat of the moment
        • In addition to making a person feel uneasy about crossing their personal boundaries, having sex under pressure often means having sex without thinking it through or planning for it.
        • That can lead to serious consequences, such as sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy.
      • Bullying
        • Most people likely do not think of themselves as bullies.
        • But the “playground persecutor” is just one version of a bully
        • Bullying behavior can be developed in small doses.
        • If a group of friends begins to bully someone else, cheering each other on, it can lead to a conundrum for the student who recognizes what’s happening.
        • If they stand aside and resist taking part, they may be treated as an outcast.
        • But if they do join in, they will face the negative feelings accompanied by becoming a bully themselves.
      • Dangerous behavior
        • When hanging out with a group of friends who are doing crazy things, standing firm against it – or even walking away – can be difficult.
        • It’s also easy to justify some behaviors as “not that bad,” especially if they don’t seem all that risky on the surface.
        • Walking along railroad tracks allows plenty of time to hear the train coming, right?
        • Car surfing is okay as long as nobody goes too fast, right?
        • Unfortunately, the facts don’t support the rationalizations: risky behaviors lead to death every day, especially among young people.
  • Types of Peer Pressure
    • Spoken
      • This is the most visible and easily understood form of peer pressure, as well as one of the strongest, since it immediately pulls others into a situation.
        • You’ve had a drink or two at a party, and you know you’ve reached your limit. But a handsome guy keeps pushing drinks your way because “the night is still young!”
        • When you insist you don’t want any more, he announces to the crowd that he’s found the “nun” and to make sure you only get water from now on.
      • You really need to go to class to keep up with the work, but your roommate has other plans.
        • He pushes you to skip so you can be his opponent in his new video game.
        • It’s tempting, but when you turn him down, his fun attitude turns hostile.
        • “You’re always a party pooper,” he says. “Go ahead and go to class, loser.”
    • Unspoken
      • Peer pressure can also happen without a word being spoken; the power of a look or gesture can be sufficient to coerce someone into doing what makes them uncomfortable.
        • You’re debating between going to a concert or staying home to study for an important exam.
          • As your friends listen to you talk about the dilemma, they’re opening up their books and setting up their laptops.
          • Watching them prepare to study, you realize where you need to put your own priorities, and choose to focus on studying.
        • You don’t like the idea of going out clubbing, but all your friends are on board.
          • When one asks if you’re coming, you hesitate for a moment.
          • In return, your friend shrugs their shoulders, as if they don’t really care one way or the other.
          • That makes you feel as though your hesitation was wrong, and you will be judged if you don’t go.
    • Positive
      • This peer pressure is actually a beneficial influence that opens up new horizons, or reinforces the decision to stay away from bad behavior.
        • At a restaurant, you try to stick to your usual cheeseburger and fries, even as your friends are ordering more exotic dishes.
          • They cajole you to try “just a bite” of something you would never order – something you can’t imagine eating.
          • But you eventually give in and taste it, only to discover that you love it.
          • Their demand that you try something new has just broadened your palate.
        • You’re in the car with a friend when her cell phone beeps.
          • When she ignores the incoming text, you ask, “Aren’t you going to look at that?” She replies, “Not while I’m driving.”
          • You’ve probably seen the ad campaigns against texting while driving, but seeing a friend take them to heart drives home the message for you.
          • As a result, you leave your cell phone alone until you’ve stopped.
    • Negative
      • Peer pressure that encourages a person to do harmful or dangerous things is obviously negative. But sometimes negative peer pressure takes a more subtle form, such as encouraging a student to do something that detracts from their studies.
        • You’ve just pledged to the most popular fraternity on campus.
          • To be accepted, you’re expected to do a variety of things, all escalating in intensity.
          • During one event you’ve already drunk more than you feel you should, but that’s not enough – you are pushed to drink even more in order to “prove your dedication.”
        • Your friends are going out to a concert, and they want you to go along.
          • They talk about how great the seats will be and how you should be grateful to have such an opportunity.
          • But you’ve got a big test coming up the next morning, and you know you won’t be back until the wee hours – leaving you with no time to study.
          • Your friends roll their eyes. “Just skip the test,” they say. “College is about having fun!”
  • Spotting the Difference:
    • Is this going to lead to healthy habits?
      • Positive peer pressure can lead someone to do things that are good for them, such as exercise, eat healthy food, or avoid smoking. When these healthy things become a habit, it can often be traced back to instances of positive peer pressure.
    • Does this lead to good outcomes for others?
      • When someone agrees to meet a friend at the gym every morning for exercise, that makes both of them accountable – and healthier in the long run. When a friend insists on taking the keys so nobody drinks and drives, everyone stays safe. Anything pressure that leads to good outcomes for others is a positive thing.
    • Does this make me feel good inside?
      • Being pushed to do something by well-meaning friends should make a person feel good about their decisions, whether it’s choosing to study more often or help someone in need.
    • Am I hesitant to do this?
      • It’s important to listen to instinct. If something feels wrong, for whatever reason, it probably is. Hesitation is the result of the subconscious throwing up a red flag and saying, “Beware! Think this through!”
    • Does this make me feel bad about myself?
      • Pressure from well-meaning friends should result in positive feelings. If, instead, a person experiences shame, doubt, or guilt; worries about consequences; or takes a hit to their self-esteem, it’s almost always coming from negative peer pressure.
    • Is this something I would prefer to hide?
      • Is this something you’d feel comfortable discussing with friends and family? If you instinctively want to hide your action or behavior, it’s a negative.
  • How to Avoid and Resist Negative Peer Pressure
    • Standing up for yourself can be daunting, especially in the face of a group that is pressuring you to do something. Here are some tactics that can work for anyone at any age.
      • Spend time with those who resist peer pressure
        • You’ll learn who they are quickly; they’re the ones who stand up for themselves even in the face of bullying. These are the people you want in your corner.
      • Learn how to be assertive
        • Learn to say “No” in a way that’s calm and convincing.
      • Ask for help if necessary
        • If you’re faced with relentless bullying, don’t simply wait for it to go away. Reach out to a teacher, mentor, parent or counselor to get some help with the problem.
      • Get out of the situation
        • When a situation begins to turn bad—such as a group of people doing risky things—bow out of the situation as soon as you can. Have an excuse ready that you can use if you need to.
      • Choose friends carefully
        • Remember, a true friend won’t push you to do something that makes you uncomfortable. And when it comes to resisting negative pressures, it helps to have a buddy. Agree that you’ll have each other’s backs on certain things, such as not drinking too much.
      • Use the delay tactic
        • Rather than answer immediately, say you’re going to think something over first. That time buffer makes your eventual “no” less of a surprise.
      • Think ahead
        • If you know there will be drugs or alcohol at a party, decide in advance how you will handle it, or make other plans.
      • Provide your own positive pressure
        • Rather than simply fighting against negative pressure, focus on providing a positive alternative. For instance, counter a fraternity party invitation with a proposal to go see a movie instead.
      • It’s okay to be alone
        • Sometimes we give into peer pressure to avoid feeling lonely. But spending time with yourself is a way to rejuvenate and reinforce your own priorities.
      • Go with your gut
        • If something doesn’t feel right for you, then it’s not. Period.

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