What is peer pressure?
Given the increasingly digital world we live in today, the overwhelming prevalence of peer pressure is becoming evident not only for children and adolescents, but also among adults.
Often, individuals subject to peer pressure report confusion on what kinds of behaviour comprise peer pressure, and how it may differ from the simple case of a friend’s encouragement. A prime example of peer pressure is when an individual is incessantly encouraged or influenced to engage in behaviour that they do not agree with.
This may include:
- Consuming alcoholic beverages against one’s will
- Partaking in risky activities
- Attending social activities or parties against one’s will
- Smoking tobacco or consuming illicit drugs
- In the context of school, skipping classes
Giving into peer pressure does not automatically label someone as ‘weak’, and can occur as a result of:
- Wanting to be liked by one’s peer group, or wanting to fit in with a peer group
- Fear of rejection or humiliation if they do not comply
- Being curious to try something new
Saying “no” to peer pressure
While it’s easy to tell someone to “just say no” to peer pressure, it is important to acknowledge that this can be difficult, particularly if saying no is associated with rejection. At times like this, it is crucial to reflect on your personal beliefs regarding the situation at hand.
Some questions to ask yourself include:
- What were my personal beliefs on this prior to being influenced?
- Would what I am about to do go against my personal values and morals?
- Am I going through with this just so that I can be liked by my peers, or to avoid their rejection?
- Are there any negative consequences for me if I do not do this? Am I being influenced by these possible consequences?
- What positive outcomes will I gain from this experience?
- What negative outcomes may come of this experience?
- Would my partaking in this experience be something that I will be proud of in the next ten years?
Asking yourself these questions may be valuable in providing insight to your genuine intentions, and therefore avoiding unwanted consequences of peer pressure. Surrounding yourself with people who share similar values can also decrease likelihood of peer pressure, and having the support of at least one other person opposing peer pressure can often provide you with the encouragement to reject it yourself.
How can peer pressure affect mental health?
Many behaviours brought about by peer pressure may heighten an individual’s risk of developing mental health conditions, for example:
- Peer pressure to drink alcohol increases risk of alcohol abuse
- Peer pressure to take drugs increases risk of substance abuse
- Peer pressure to diet increases risk of developing an eating disorder
The rejection or social isolation that some may be subjected to when refusing peer pressure can also have a negative impact on mental health. If this occurs, it is important that a trusted adult or mental health professional is consulted for advice and support.
When does peer pressure escalate to bullying?
When an individual is repetitively pressured into doing something they do not want to do, verbally or physically abused for not complying, or forced into a situation against their will, it is likely that they have now become the target of bullying or harassment. If you are concerned about your own, or someone else’s wellbeing, it is essential that you talk to a trusted adult or local authorities.
Peer pressure is common
Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Chances are, almost everyone you know has been peer pressured at some point. It is also crucial to understand that one mistake does not dictate the path of your life forever- everyone makes mistakes, and rather than dwelling on these, it is important to simply take them as an opportunity for growth and personal development.