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Living with Peer Pressure

What is Peer Pressure?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were being encouraged to do something that you felt Peers and Negative Influencereally uncomfortable doing?  Did you agree to go along with the individual or group or did you hold true to yourself and your values and refuse?  If you gave into the pressure(s) being placed upon you by others, you became a victim of negative peer pressure.  If you were able to deny the insistence, suggestion or pressure by others, Congratulations!

Sometimes, and for many reasons, we find it difficult to say “no” to others.  Why?  If I had to guess, I’d probably say for a multitude of reasons.  Perhaps you were afraid that you’d hurt someone’s feelings or maybe you were worried that you’d be looked upon differently by others.  Perhaps you REALLY wanted to participate and the least bit of encouragement from your peers was all it took to sway your decision.

What you are experiencing in situation(s) such as this is Peer Pressure and there are two types:  Positive and Negative.  Most of us are aware of, either from word of mouth, reading or personal experience, Negative Peer Pressure which is being asked, encouraged or told to do something that you typically would be opposed to doing.  Peer pressure, in teens, is fueled by a teenagers need to feel accepted, approved of, and belonging to certain social circles.  Sadly, due to one’s desire to feel a part of a group, good judgment can be impaired resulting in participation in risk-taking behavior(s) and dangerous activities.  Often peer pressure is responsible for driving a wedge in between a teen and his/her family resulting in the positive influences of the family being reduced or eliminated.  Usually, negative peer pressure leads to feelings of deep regret within the teen and can result in very negative outcomes.  An example of negative peer pressure would be a teenager
Peers Choosing Friends Wiselythat is encouraged to throw a pool party when his/her parents are away on business even though he knows the “house rules” forbid this activity.  Although his/her friends are enjoying the party, the teenager has gone against what he/she knows is correct and right and feels a sense of remorse and/or the fear of being caught by his/her parents.  Peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with.  If you don’t think so, remember Jiminy Cricket.  (You know, let your conscience be your guide).

On the other hand, there is also Positive Peer Pressure which typically presents itself as a form of encouragement or suggestion to do something desirable that perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise been done without the suggestion having been proposed and/or presented.  Positive peer pressure can result in a teen’s energy being “super charged” and is often reflected through his/her new motivation for success.  Positive peer pressure may include a new desire to emulate a classmates study habits to improve grades in an effort to be “college” material.  It might be the sudden urge to join a tennis team or chess club because someone that you admire is participating and enjoying another aspect of teenage life.  Positive peer pressure is normally associated with more desirable outcomes and appropriate behaviors.

Why Do Children, Teens & Adults Fall Victim to Peer Pressure?

Peer groups for young children, teenagers and adults are a normal, necessary and healthy part of an individual’s development.  It allows us, as individuals, to develop our identity, and provides us with a “support group” for discussing problems, sharing information, improving our social skills and exploring our values.  Within this group, we are able to interact with those whom we consider our equals thereby promoting our independence.  By spreading our wings and building new relationships, we are able to develop our sense of self-worth and our level of self-confidence.  However, sometimes, even within our social arena, we can fall victim to negative forms of peer pressure.

Being unable to resist the temptation(s) of negative peer pressure can be a result of many things, however,Peers Saying No more often than not it is due to one lacking self-esteem or self-confidence.  It can be attributed to wanting to “fit in” or belong to a certain social group enough that we are willing to throw our good judgment out the window just to be a part of the desired group.  This is common of individuals who don’t necessarily have a peer group or group of friends with whom they can engage socially.  You might even feel that “if you do this” whatever THIS is, you’ll become more popular or get noticed by a cute girl or boy that you’ve had your eye on.  Problem is, although you may get noticed or even become popular for a day or even a week, your popularity may not be the type you were hoping for and in fact may result in the formation of negative opinions about you by your peers.

Dealing with Insecurities & Building Self-Esteem:

We all suffer from insecurities from time to time whether it is not feeling good in the outfit that we’ve chosen to wear to our best friend’s party, because we feel overweight, or as a result of missing the field goal that would have won the Homecoming Game.  It’s normal and it’s a part of life.  However, for some people, insecurities go a lot deeper and can severely impact their very existence.

Throughout our daily lives, experiences that we have contribute to our level(s) of self-esteem and self-confidence.  These experiences also contribute to our feelings of self-worth.  As early as our primary school years, our esteem is being impacted although we are far too young to realize it is happening.  Perhaps you were the lucky little girl that all the other girls (and boys) admired and invited to their birthday parties and sleepovers (boys not included).  These childhood experiences undoubtedly boost your level of confidence helping you “blossom” into the popular teenager that you are today.  Maybe you’re the athletic boy who was good at everything from mathematics to baseball and everything in between.  Whatever the set of circumstances ALL the other boys (and girls) wanted to hang around you on the playground, in the lunchroom or on the bus ride or walk home.  Unbeknownst to you, these allegiances affected your level of self-esteem and self-confidence.

Peers and BulliesOn the contrary, but with very much the same impact on levels of self-esteem and confidence is the child that got head-lice and everyone found out about it shunning him/her and labeling him/her “cootie kid”.  Or, it could have been something as insignificant as wearing an older brother’s hand-me-downs which resulted in being poked fun at by your peers.  Kids are cruel – no matter what parents and adults want to believe and because of experiences such as these or similar in nature, some children develop lower levels of self-esteem and lack confidence in themselves.

Our confidence and self-esteem will be affected for as long as we live IF we let it.  Being able to recognize how even the most ridiculous little things, or even “HUGE” things as we perceive them to be, can wreck our self-image is paramount to rising above the influences and peer pressure of others.

A child’s level of self-esteem and confidence is hugely influenced by his/her parents and family.  Parent who have established and maintained an open and loving relationship with their children raise teenagers that feel proud of their unique talents and traits, are confident as a result of their accomplishments and capable of establishing their self-identity.  Typically these children are able to learn from their mistakes and / or failures without a reduction to their level of self-confidence.  Because they are secure in their family relationships, they often feel more secure in forming relations with others without any significant presence of insecurity.

By establishing relationships with peers who share the same or similar interests, adolescents and teens will be able to develop a personal identity resulting in less dependence on their parents.  We’ve all heard the saying, “choose your friends wisely.”  There is a good reason for this saying and it is extremely important that you exercise good judgment when doing so.  Selecting a peer group should be about choosing individuals with whom you admire and can be yourself.  It should surround you with people who share the same or similar values and moral character.  This group will provide you teen companionship, emotional support and provide a sense of belonging that you desire outside of your family.  Choosing a group of people with whom you admire but with whom you have very little in common can lead to increased feelings of insecurity which can ultimately result in your doing things to “fit in” that typically you would not do and shouldn’t have to do.

Peer relationships can last a lifetime although some may not last more than a particular school year as people and things change.  Our personalities change, our interests change and so will those of your peers.  If you and a peer go separate ways, it is probably for a very good reason.  Don’t let it destroy “who” you are, “who” you’ve become, or “who” you will be.  The time that you spent within the relationship provided you both life experiences, an opportunity to develop social skills, establish relationships with others and grow.

Knowing who you are and how important you are can be difficult especially if you’ve been the victim of cruelty and bullying from your peers or within a particular social environment.  As easy as it is to say, it’s a difficult thing to overcome, however, you must be able to put the nonsense behind you and rise above the influence.  You are what you imagine yourself to be.  Don’t fall victim to the self-fulfilling prophecy unless your prophecy is to be a great person and do great things!

When I was in high school, I had a classmate who wasn’t very popular due to his hobbies and interests.  They weren’t considered mainstream by many of the athletes or more popular students.  Although he participated in sports, he wasn’t one of the “jocks” as they were called.  He was kind, considerate and made an effort to befriend everyone as truly this is one of the most effective ways to “win friends and influence people” thereby reducing the level of criticism and mocking that he received on a daily basis.  I enjoyed his company and his friendship and because we were friends I was privy to his innermost feelings of rejection and humiliation by classmates.  He was a classic example of an individual who, at the hands and tongues of others, could have given up and allowed the immaturity and inability to exercise good judgment of others to destroy him.  Instead, fifteen years later when I returned to my high school for a class reunion, he was the “highlight” of the evening.  While the jocks, for the most part, were bald, overweight and out of shape, he was muscular, tan and “A NEW MAN!”  He’d risen above the influences of criticism and cruelty and re-established himself in the image that he’d created for himself. He utilized his hobbies and interests to become a very successful, professional photographer.  I was so impressed and proud of his achievements and so were those who’d ridiculed and insulted him so many years before.

Believing in yourself is something you must do no matter what others may say or feel about you.  Never allow Peers and Pressureanyone to get the upper hand.  If you feel confident you’ll exude confidence.  If you believe you’re equal to your peers, nothing should make you feel less.  This is not always an easy thing to do.  However, surrounding yourself with the correct peer group, you can do anything you set your mind too as you’ll have a built-in support system.  But just in case you need a little boost in this area, there is a book that I will recommend to you that will provide you the necessary tools and skills to re-establish yourself, build your confidence and improve your level of self-esteem entitled, How To Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.  This book has been helping people for many years and is just as helpful today as it was when it was first published over seventy years ago.

Avoiding Peer Pressure Victimization:

We all want to be popular or at least have an opportunity to socialize within popular groups of our peers.  Sometimes, however, at the risk of our health and well-being, we choose to do things that we believe will enhance our popularity that we wouldn’t otherwise do.  Negative peer pressure is like being bullied.  You are bullied into doing things that you ordinarily wouldn’t even consider and normally at your own expense.  Knowing how to “defend” oneself against peer pressure is similar to standing up to a bully.  Every person needs to know how to effectively handle the pressures put upon us by our peers whether it is a classmate, boyfriend, girlfriend, co-worker or acquaintance.  How do you prepare to “face-off” against peer pressure?  Here are a few suggestions:

Five Step Plan to Handling Peer Pressure:

  1. Having a clear idea about where you stand on key issues such as sex, drug use, drinking and Peers Choosing Friends with Similar Valuessmoking is the first step to overcoming negative peer pressure.  If you are firm in your beliefs on each topic, you will be in a better position to stand your ground without deviating outside your pre-determined limits.  NEVER be afraid to speak up and let others know your boundaries.  You may catch some “grief” if your attitude and stance on the topic isn’t the most popular, so be prepared.  However, for just as many jaunts as you’ll receive, you’re likely to receive an equal amount of respect.
  2. Like role playing “how” or “what” you might do if you are bullied, this tactic may prove beneficial in handling certain situations in which you are being pressured to engage.  Practice and rehearse what your response might be should someone pressure you on the above topics and others so that you aren’t caught off guard.
  3. Avoid bullying others.  Making other people feel bad in an effort to “fit in” is wrong on all levels and can lead to some pretty harmful consequences.  If you are pressured to engage in activities that may cause harm or fear to another person, you should never participate.  By stating clearly your objection, you may motivate others to follow your lead.
  4. Be a leader and set a good example for your peers or others with whom you associate.  By establishing yourself as a leader amongst your peers, you will naturally be in a position to influence the decisions and actions of others.  Use this leadership role to your advantage in reducing the frequency of negative peer pressure and the negative consequences that typically result.
  5. Exude confidence and comfort with your decisions and choices.  If you display a hint of hesitation or wavering in your stance against peer pressure or being pressured, you will provide the “other side” with the fuel in which to prey upon your weakness.  Instead of getting caught up in the moment when peer pressure is taking place, remember that your choice to engage in or refuse will be something you must live with.  Focus on how you feel about what is occurring and then express your opinion.  Do not allow yourself to be intimidated.

Peer pressure can come in many different forms from bullying to bribing and from many different fronts.  Whether it is your best friend or your boyfriend, knowing how to avoid being pressured is imperative.  Being confident of who you are and what you believe is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable will provide you the very foundation that you need to avoid being pressured into things that you aren’t comfortable doing.  Knowing who you are and having established limits based upon moral character and values that you hold dear will provide you the means to ward off the pressures.  Sometimes the simplest way is to firmly say, “NO” and remove oneself from the situation or group presenting the pressure.  The word “NO”, which we all learned as a toddler means “not to any degree or manner; not at all; refusal, denial or disagreement…in all languages.  Avoiding negative peer pressure can be that simple.

Peer pressure works ONLY if you let it!  Be assertive and stand your ground.  If you refuse to let others intimidate you, peer pressure loses its power.

This article is dedicated to the students at Whitewater High School and Whitewater Middle School located in Fayetteville, Georgia.  Please rise above the influence.

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All Rights Reserved.  Use of any part of this article without prior written consent of the author, Randa Roberts is an infringement of the Copyright Law.  Permission to print, republish or use any portion of this article must be granted by the author in writing.

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