What Is Peer Pressure?

Peer Pressure

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Peers are people who are part of the same social group, so the term "peer pressure" means the influence that peers can have on each other. Although peer pressure does not necessarily have to be negative, the term "pressure" implies that the process influences people to do things that may be resistant to, or might not otherwise choose to do.

So usually the term "peer pressure" is used when people are talking about behaviors that are not considered socially acceptable or desirable, such as experimentation with alcohol or drugs. The term "peer pressure" is not usually used to describe socially desirable behaviors, such as exercising or studying.

Is Peer Pressure Always Bad?

In reality, peer pressure can be either a positive or negative influence that one peer, or group of peers, has on another person.

Positive Peer Pressure

Peer pressure could influence a young person to become involved in sports. This involvement could be positive, leading to exposure to healthy lifestyles and role models, and eventually leading the young person to become a positive role model herself.

Negative Peer Pressure

That same peer pressure could lead the same young person to over-identify with sports, putting exercise and competition above all else. If taken to an extreme, she may develop exercise addiction, causing her to neglect schoolwork and social activities, and ultimately, use exercise and competition in sports as her main outlet for coping with the stresses of life. This can also lead to numerous health consequences.

Peer Pressure and Addiction

Peer pressure causes kids to do things they would not otherwise do with the hope of fitting in or being noticed, and of course, this can include experimenting with alcohol and/or drugs.

Beyond prompting kids to use drugs, peer pressure or the desire to impress their peers can override a teen or tween's fear of taking risks, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Kids. This risky behavior with drugs and/or alcohol can result in the following:

  • Driving under the influence (of alcohol or other drugs)
  • Overdose
  • Alcohol or drug poisoning
  • Asphyxiation
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Accidents
  • Addiction

Behavioral Addiction

Tweens and teens can also feel an internal pressure to participate in activities and behaviors they think their peers are doing, which can put them at risk for the following behavioral addictions:

Parents are rarely concerned about peer pressure to engage in sports or exercise, as these are typically seen as healthy social behaviors. This is appropriate, as long as the exercise or sport does not become an unhealthy way of coping, excessive to the point of negatively affecting their health, or dangerous (as in dangerous sports).

Parent Influence Is Stronger Than Peer Pressure

Although parents worry about the influence of peers, overall, parents have a greater influence on whether children go on to develop addictive behaviors than peers do.

Addiction is a complex process, which is affected by many different factors, so peer pressure alone is unlikely to cause an addiction.

Rather than worrying about the effects of your children's friendships, parents would do well to focus on creating a positive, supportive home environment, free of addictive behaviors and without access to alcohol or other drugs.

Role modeling good emotional self-regulation will also reduce your child's risk of developing addictions. This will teach your child positive ways of solving problems and coping with uncomfortable feelings, rather than trying to escape into addictive behaviors and substances for temporary, unpredictable relief from emotional or physical pain.

Peer pressure to take these risks can be balanced by parents ensuring that they set appropriate boundaries, provide support, and help to avoid risks. A few examples:

  • Picking up their child from events where alcohol or drugs may have been consumed
  • Providing balanced, truthful information on issues such as alcohol and drug use
  • Urging the importance of thinking before doing, by teaching teens to ask themselves questions like: Could this harm me or someone else? Will this put my health or safety at risk? Is it legal? What are the long-term consequences for my health, family, education, future?
  • Staying involved in your child's life. Believe it or not, you are one of their biggest influences and they listen when you talk.

Peer Pressure Does Not Just Affect Kids

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure because they are at a stage of development when they are separating more from their parents' influence, but have not yet established their own values or understanding about human relationships or the consequences of their behavior. They are also typically striving for social acceptance and are more willing to engage in behaviors against their better judgment in order to be accepted.

However, adults can also be vulnerable to peer pressure. Many adults drink too much because it is the only way they can have a social life. They see others in a casino having a big win and it encourages them to keep on gambling. They look at their boss getting a promotion and put work before family.

The bottom line: Being aware of, and carefully choosing the influence of peers that will lead to healthy and happy experiences is a lifelong process.

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