Defining Peer Pressure

Usually, it is fun to be with friends. Friends enjoy activities together and trust each other. But what should you do when some of your friends begin to do things that make you uncomfortable, such as drinking, smoking, or using drugs? What if a friend asks you to help him or her cheat on a test? Situations like these can make you feel nervous and confused.

Sometimes peer pressure can have a positive impact on your life.
Everyone wants to be accepted by people they admire. Some people, especially teens, will do anything to fit in with a group, including drinking, doing drugs, lying to their parents, rejecting childhood friends, and having unsafe sex. This pressure to do things that you might not do on your own is called peer pressure. But this pressure is not always negative. Sometimes peer pressure can have a positive impact on your life. For example, if you join a sports team, it is likely that you will be encouraged by your peers to be the best you can be. Likewise, joining the debate team may help you become a better student.

Because you are likely to be influenced to some degree by the people you surround yourself with, it is important to choose your friends carefully. Also, when you do find friends who you enjoy, it is important to remember that you should still make your own decisions, especially if you disagree with those that your friends are making. It is important that you feel good about the choices you make. You and your friends don’t have to agree or always have the same interests. In fact, a little diversity among friends can add to the enjoyment of the relationship.

This entry will discuss the various types of peer pressure that you are likely to face as you get older and how to deal with them. It will also alert you to the ways in which you may be pressuring yourself in order to fit in. And finally, there will be information about making your own choices. This information is intended to help you have the confidence to stand up for your beliefs, interests, and values.

Peer Pressure in Your Life

People who are similar to you are considered your peers. They may be other students in your school or other people your own age. If you play a sport, athletes who compete at your level are your peers. If you have a job as a stock person in a department store, people who work in stock are considered your peers. Unlike your parents or teachers, your peers are people who are in the same situation as you are. They often share similar experiences or lifestyles.

Your friends are probably your closest peers. Friends may share common interests and enjoy doing certain things together.

Peer pressure is what causes people to do things that are popular in order to fit in. This pressure can affect simple things, such as the way you dress, the music you listen to, or even whether or not you take drugs.

Peer pressure is not always bad. If you and your friends think that going to college is important, it may influence you to put more effort into studying. This is positive peer pressure. On the other hand, if your group of friends thinks that stealing is cool and to fit in with them you also begin to steal, this is negative peer pressure. Your peers can have a positive influence when they motivate you to accomplish your goals. But they can also pressure you to do things that you do not want to do. This negative pressure may make you afraid to express an opinion that is different.

Choices

Growing up involves many changes. Attempting to figure out who you are and what you want to be may cause an enormous amount of stress. You are beginning to take control of your own life and make your own decisions. Sometimes it is difficult to know what choices to make. People often look to their friends to help them make decisions.

A group of friends often shares a similar view of what is acceptable and what is not. Your peer group may seem to be following informal rules. There may be certain things that you have to do in order to fit in. You may feel that you should like certain music or dress in a certain way. Different groups have different preferences. Maybe your friends wear baggy clothes and have tattoos. Or perhaps they listen to country music. To you and your friends, these are just some of the distinctive qualities that make a person part of your group.

If the rules that your group follows fit in with the way you want to live your life, you will be content. However, if the rules of your group do not fit in with the choices you want to make—perhaps you want to do well in school and your friends have started cutting class a lot—it does not mean that you are not normal. It means only that you are a little different from those who are closest to you. Also, just because others do something does not mean that it is a good thing to do or that it is right. For example, if your friends use illegal drugs, it does not make those drugs any less illegal or any less harmful to your body.

It may be difficult to convince yourself that your friends’ behavior is not acceptable. If everyone is drinking, it can’t be that big of a deal, right? Or, if all of the people you hang out with lie to their parents about where they go, then it must be okay if you lie to your parents and treat them poorly, right?

It is important, when you find yourself abiding by rules that you don’t agree with, to step back and examine why you are going against your own convictions. It isn’t easy to go against what everyone else does, but you should feel comfortable about the choices you make, and your friends should respect those choices. You do not need to be exactly like your friends. Learning to express your needs and values is a valuable skill that you will use throughout your life.

Values

You are probably used to parents and teachers telling you what are right and wrong things to do. As you grow older, you try to discover values and opinions that are meaningful for you. Making decisions can be difficult. Often it is helpful to talk to friends who are experiencing similar problems. It may be easier to talk about your feelings when you can discuss them with friends who are similar to you. Your friends are people you can relate to and trust.

Because your friends’ opinions are so valuable, they usually have a great influence over the decisions you make. Your friends can give you the emotional support you need to make it through tough times. They can make you feel comfortable and accepted. A sense of belonging and identifying can also increase your sense of self-esteem, or what you think of yourself. Your friends trust you and talk to you about their problems. Maybe you have faced similar situations. You gain confidence as you try to help them figure out their problems.

Your peer group can greatly influence your values. For instance, if your friends feel that getting good grades is important, they may reinforce the idea for you. If the members of your group think that studying isn’t necessary, you may let your grades slide to fit in with them. Or maybe you have never considered volunteering in the community before, but your new friends think that it is a good thing to do. In this way, your friends are influencing your values.

When you feel comfortable with the values that your friends have, positive peer pressure can be helpful. But it is important to recognize if the pressure from your friends becomes negative. You should pay close attention to situations in which your friends want to do things that do not agree with what you believe is right. When these situations arise, a person should decide which values are important to him or her, regardless of what friends think.