Peers are the group of people that you socialise with and learn from. This is also the group of people who you identify with the most because you’re all going through the same kind of stuff. You’re at the same stage in your lives and have a lot in common. Chances are that many of you spend more time with your peers than you do with your family.
As you get older it is perfectly normal to align more and more closely with your peers. This is a time where you’re discovering your own personality and realising that you have opinions and beliefs that are your own, and not necessarily shared by all of your friends or family.
Often during this same period, you ask your parents’ advice less and less and increasingly rely on your peers for advice. This makes sense as peers can seem so much more relatable and understanding than parents. This is all fine, as long as you are being guided in a sensible direction. Friend’s advice and even some peer pressure can be productive and can help us to develop our personalities and make good decisions. Friends can encourage us with their feedback and advice, and allow us to try new experiences. However, sometimes this process goes wrong, and instead of building you up the advice of your friends can break you down and be hugely destructive in your development as an adult human.
Relying only on peers to help us make important decisions in our life can be a very dangerous idea. Sometimes teens pressurise people into doing things:
- to feel the thrill of doing something wrong, but without the risk of being implicated themselves.
- to find out the consequences without having to make the mistake themselves.
- to have a laugh at someone’s expense.
- to make themselves feel better about their own bad decisions by getting others to make the same bad decisions.
- to help them feel that there are more people who have made the same mistakes as them, so that they can feel ‘safety in numbers’, knowing that if they get into trouble there will be plenty of other people in the same amount of trouble as them.
And sometimes teens just don’t give the best advice because they haven’t had all that much life experience yet. That’s not to say that some of their advice isn’t great, but often asking someone older for a second opinion before you take action is the safest thing to do.
Why does peer pressure work?
Teens give into peer pressure. It’s a strange phenomenon because often if you ask a teenager about something that they did wrong, they can quite clearly tell you that they knew they shouldn’t have done it at the time, but that their friends wanted them to. Yet it is this person sitting in the principal’s office, risking expulsion, while the ‘friends’ who suggested they did it are still chilling in class.
The problem is that as teens we all feel the need to belong. Our most important goal is to be cool and popular. This makes us vulnerable to following the advice of other teens, even though we know deep down that it is wrong.
Also just remember that the media today can be very irresponsible, in that they show images and scenarios etc as being cool, when in reality they are very dangerous. Driving insanely fast, drinking and driving, taking drugs, getting violent etc are not “cool” behaviours. They are behaviours that may well ruin the rest of your life. Yet, films and TV make everything look so ‘Hollywood’ and ‘safe.’ Children who get into a drunk driver’s car, or who drive drunk themselves, and ultimately end up losing their life as a consequence thought when getting into the car ‘it’ll be fine this time’. It just wasn’t. There will be no warning signs that this time is the dangerous time. Do not give into peer pressure in these dangerous scenarios – protect yourself.
How to stand up to peer pressure
This is tricky, but you CAN do it. Confidence, self-esteem and self-belief are not only some of the most attractive traits an individual can have, but they are also the three major shields against peer-pressure.
Think before acting
Do not rush into decisions, especially not decisions based on the advice of your friends. Carefully consider what the pros and cons are. Is there a chance this could have damaging consequences? If so, don’t do it. Always try and weigh up the short-term benefit (the thrill, the laugh, or feeling cool for 5 mins etc) against the long-term consequences (getting into trouble with your parents or school, endangering yourself or others etc). Ask yourself if the high is really worth the damage in the long run.
Avoid people and situations that you aren’t comfortable with
Surround yourself with friends who have similar values to you. ‘Friends’ who force you to do something, or make you feel you have to impress them, are not true ‘friends’. Also be a good friend yourself and never force someone to try something that they don’t feel comfortable doing.
If you get that anxious feeling before you do something, don’t do it!
Think about situations that you may be pressured into and prepare an excuse beforehand. For example “I won’t take a cigarette – it’ll give me an asthma attack”, or “I can’t come drinking with you, my family are going out for dinner tonight”. You don’t need to be preachy and explain to the peer pressurer why what they are doing is wrong or dangerous. As long as you are not encouraging their behaviour, all you need to do in these situations is to walk away.
Plan an escape plan with your parents or friends. Tell your parents that if you call and say you feel really sick, it’s because they need to come and get you out of the situation. This gives you a fail safe way to escape, if you feel too uncomfortable to say no.
Never ever be afraid to say no. You are the only one who has to live with your decisions. Decisions are yours to make. Don’t give that power over to peer pressurers.
Peer-pressure is not to be underestimated. Millions of kids all over the world are succumbing to peer-pressure as we speak. All we ask is that you remember that you are enough as you are; that your decisions are yours to make; that being unique is actually a good thing; and that plenty of people are here to support you.
If you have any concerns call Childline on 08000 55 555 or SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 0800 12 13 14. They are wonderful organisations that are here to support you! Yes you!