As you grow up, you will be faced with some challenging decisions and some of these decisions may not have a right or wrong answer. They could be should you join the hockey team or should you pick art instead of music in school next year? Other decisions involve serious moral questions, like whether to skip school, try drugs, or have sex when you do not feel ready.
It can be difficult to make decisions on your own, but when other people get involved and try to pressure you into doing something it can be harder to make the right decision. People who are your age, like your friends and classmates, are called peers. Peer pressure happens when your peers try to influence how you act or try to make you do something you feel unsure about. It is when you feel you ‘have to’ do something that you might not usually choose to do.
Peer pressure is something that everyone has to deal with and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Everybody, no matter what age, is faced with pressure to ‘fit in.’
What is peer pressure?
Just by spending time with you, peers influence your life, even if you do not realise it. You learn from them, and they learn from you. As a teenager, it is only human nature to listen to and learn from other people your age. Peer pressure is not always a bad thing and to many people’s amazement, peer pressure is not all doom and gloom.
Peers can also have a positive influence on each other. Maybe someone in your class helped you wash up after Home Economics or a friend let you borrow their notes while you were out sick. You might admire a friend who is good at sport and try to be more like him or her in PE. Maybe you got others excited about your new favourite book, and now everyone is reading the series. Peers can positively influence each other every day in a number of ways.
Just as friends can influence each other in a positive way, peers can influence each other in negative ways. For example, a few people at school might get you to skip class with them or a friend might convince you to make fun of the quiet girl and send her mean messages on Facebook. Your friends might try to make you drink alcohol, take drugs or smoke a cigarette but you might not want to. You may feel pressured into having sex with a boy when you do not feel ready because the popular girls in school say you have to lose your virginity by 16.
Why do people give in to peer pressure?
Some girls give in to peer pressure because they want to be liked, to fit in, or because they worry other people might make fun of them if they don’t go along with the group. Others go along with the group because they are curious to try something new. The idea that “everyone is doing it” can influence some people to leave their better judgment or their common sense behind.
Unfortunately, peer pressure can sneak in and take over your life choices. Sometimes you might not even know it is happening or that you are choosing to do things because of it. Sometimes people might use the fact that they know you want to fit in to make you do things you do not want to.
Dealing with peer pressure
- Most importantly, be true to yourself. It can be tough to be the only one who says ‘no’ to peer pressure, but you can definitely stand up for yourself and make your own choices. Staying true to your own feelings and beliefs about what is right and wrong can help you figure out the right thing to do if you are in a difficult situation.
- Learning skills like assertiveness can help. Your inner strength and self-confidence to say ‘no’ can help you stand firm, walk away, and resist doing something when you know better. Stay away from peers who pressure you to do stuff you know is wrong, you will thank yourself later for making the right decision.
- Hang out with a range of different people. It can really help to have another group of friends to turn to when you feel under pressure or at least one other friend who is willing to say ‘no’ too. Having somebody with you who feels the same can take a lot of the power out of peer pressure and make it much easier to resist. It is great to have friends with similar values and morals that will back you up when you do not want to do something you feel unsure about.
- Choose your friends wisely. You have more than likely had a parent or teacher tell you to ‘choose your friends wisely.’ Peer pressure is a big reason why they say this. If you choose to hang around with friends who do not skip school, do drugs or who are not careful when it comes to sex, you probably will not do these things either. Even if this is what other girls do, your own friends are the ones to listen to. Also, if you notice a friend having trouble resisting peer pressure, try to help them out. It can be a lot easier for the person to resist peer pressure if a friend says ‘I’m with you, let’s go.’
- Talk to someone you know will listen and help you. If you continue to face peer pressure and you are finding it difficult to handle, talk to someone you can trust. Talking to a parent, teacher, or friend can help you feel much better and prepare you for the next time you experience peer pressure. It is something everyone deals with so do not feel guilty if you have made a mistake or two. Keeping it inside and carrying your worries around can make things even harder to deal with.
There is a lot of information about teenage peer pressure online. If you have a question or would like to talk to someone, you can visit one of the services listed here or you can call Childline on 1800 66 66 66 or visit the website www.childline.ie.