A Guide to help Youth in handling Peer Pressure
Rohit’s thirteenth year was his hardest. His family moved to a new town the summer before he started eighth grade, and Rohit entered a new school. He might have said no to cigarette he was offered on the walk from school – if he were still in his old school. But he was determined to make friends quickly here, so he took the cigarette and the three new friends that accompanied it. Still, he was careful to let the cigarette burn down between his fingers except when he sensed the other guys were watching him.
When Rohit’s new friends discovered that both his parents worked, leaving him home alone for several hours after school, they began walking home with him or dropping by soon after school let out. Rohit knew his parents didn’t allow him to have friends in the house when they weren’t home, but he always made sure everyone left in time for him to pick up and straighten the house before Mom and Dad arrived.
One afternoon, Deeraj, the boy who had first offered Rohit the cigarette, brought a six-pack of beer with him when he appeared on Rohit’s doorstep. Rohit was already frustrated at the way things were going but he didn’t want to tell Deeraj, so he and his friends smoked and drank beer in the house until Rohit pleaded with them to leave, warning them that his parents would be home soon.
Rohit managed to trash the beer cans before his parents arrived, but the house still smelled of cigarette smoke. His parents accused him of smoking, which he denied. A heated argument ensued, and Rohit’s father punished him.
Two days later, Rohit was arrested at the mall for shoplifting. His friends, who has pressured him into trying to sneak out of a shoe store wearing a pair of expensive boots, had disappeared when the store security person clapped a large hand on Rohit’s shoulder.
Problem of Peer Pressure
A disturbing proportion of youth -kids from good homes who are actively involved in community activity- are involved in inappropriate, immoral, even illegal behavior. A survey of 3795 teens in conservative communities throughout India reveals that in the past three months alone:
- Two out of every three (66 percent) lied to a parent, teacher, or other adult.
- Six in then (59 percent) lied to their peers.
- Nearly half (45 percent) watched Netflix series at least once a week.
- One in three (36 percent) cheated on an exam.
- Nearly one in four (23 percent) smoked a cigarette or used another tobacco product.
- One in five (20 percent) tried to physically hurt someone.
- One in nine (12 percent) had gotten drunk.
- Nearly one in ten (8 percent) had used illegal nonprescription drugs.
Much of this sort of behavior is influenced by peer pressure. Not all, certainly, but much of it. Teens face severe pressure to act in certain ways, to talk in certain ways, to dress in certain ways, to join certain groups, and to try certain things, and any deviation from what is considered the “normal” or popular thing to do can result in ridicule and rejection.
Dr. Bruce Narramore writes:
Few things strike more fear in the hearts of parents than the possibility of peer pressure.
We look at the adolescents around our neighborhood or in the local school and quake at the sight. We hear screeching tires as they pull out onto main street. We see a gang of untidy dressed youths hanging out at the local fast-food outlet. We notice some girls wearing seductive clothes or running around dropping a steady stream of profanity from their lips. And we also hear stories of wild parties and the ready availability of drugs on our high school and college campus. . . .
Even teenagers from “good” families concern us. We wonder about their moral standards, their spiritual commitment, their attitudes toward authority and their responsibility – or lack of it. And we wonder about their music, dress, and other current fads. We know, whether we like it or not, that what our teenagers’ friends say and do will soon influence them as much or more that what we say. . . . [But] teenagers may be just as worried about peer pressure as [their parents]. . . . Srijeet, a sixteen-year-old of junior college put it this way; “My friends want to do things that I know are not right, and it’s hard not to go along. I guess this means mu friends aren’t good for me, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier. No one likes to be the odd-man-out.” Jagruti, a vivacious fourteen-year-old chimed in,
“I know it’s stupid, but I end up doing things I’d never do by myself. I get caught up in the excitement and just don’t think.”
Causes of Peer Pressure
Peer pressure can be both negative and positive. Youth groups, or good friends and older siblings, for example, can exert positive peer pressure. They can “pressure” a teenage to act compassionately towards someone who’s hurting. They can “pressure” a young person to attend a hobby class. They can even “pressure” a young man or woman to consider the claim of being Child of God.
But the peer pressure can also be negative, and it is such negative pressure that concerns many parents, teachers, and youth leaders. The causes of negative peer pressure are varied and may be difficult to identify in a specific situation. Nonetheless, the contributing factors can be categorized as external influences and internal influences.
Adolescents have always been influenced by peer pressure, but modern pressure, says Sharon Scott, former director of youth program, “can be stronger than the child who is not trained to take action to prevent or avoid trouble”, She cites “high-tech lifestyles [that reduce] the quality of adult interaction with children while simultaneously increasing the negative messages and invitations to children.” She implicates the influence of the social media, change in family structure, and societal shifts and expectations.
From our media, children learn more at earlier ages, and of course imitate what they see. The media also reinforces peer pressure: if you want to have a good personality and be popular, you wear a certain brand of jeans or use a particular toothpaste. . . .
Our children are not only being bombarded with outside messages and opportunities beyond control, but in many cases, they are not being reinforced sufficiently in the home to withstand negative pressures. Isolation [such as that created by mobile phones, internet and computer/televisions in children’s bedrooms] and lack of time for family communication, family work together, and family play is at an all-time high. Our technology has increased our mobility, and our isolation both outside and within the home.
Our children go place independently at earlier ages, so parents have increasingly reduced opportunity to guide behavior and control the environments of their not-yet-adult offspring. Additionally, the young driving ages and the fact that many families have several vehicles overbalance the amount of individual leisure at the cost of family activity.
In addition to the above influences,
psychological research also consistently reveals lack of family unity as a key factor in a young person’s vulnerability to peer pressure.
Teens who don’t feel understood or appreciated at home, whose parents fight, whose siblings mistreat them, whose parents “work all the time,” or whose mom or dad are uninvolved, or overbearing are apt to try to fill their needs for acceptance and approval through their friends – no matter what the cost.
The survey of 3795 youth from conservative communities cited earlier revealed that parents are not among the primary counselor youth (ages eleven to nineteen) confide in or turn to for advice. Although the majority of the youth participating in the survey (73 percent) lived in stable homes with both parents and testified to a positive home environment (62 percent), only one in four (26 percent) said they frequently seek advice from their father, and two in five (40 percent) said they frequently seek advice from Mom.
Psychologist Bruce Narramore says that between the age of eleven and seventeen, the amount of time an average teen spends with Mom or Dad declines by half. Obviously, the teen years are a period of acute susceptibility to the opinions, attitudes, and influences of peers- more so than parents.
But this is a perfectly natural- even desirable – development. Narramore even calls it “a God-given process.” He writes:
The Bible says that every child will eventually leave his mother and father to relate to a mate (Genesis 2:24). Peers are one step in that direction, For years. . . . children have grounded their identities in their relationships with [parents]. What [their parents] said and did was pretty much what they accepted as right or true or proper. But the physical and intellectual changes set in motion at puberty are pressing them towards adulthood, in a sense, peers serve as a kind of way station or intermediate point between childhood dependency and adult independency and interdependency.
Teens who see themselves as unintelligent, unpopular, and unattractive are more vulnerable to peer pressure because of their hunger for a sense of acceptance and approval compels them to seek such things through conformity.
Another internal pressure that makes teens more susceptible to peer pressure is low self-esteem. Teens with poor self-concept also tend to choose friends or acquaintances who reflect or reinforce their own self-image, such as underdogs. drug users, and friends who dominate or bully them.
Effects of Peer Pressure
Parents and other adults who work with youth are certainly cognizant of the effects of peer pressure. Even young people themselves tend to have a reasonable grasp on those effects. Most, however, focus on the observable consequences: an arrest, an automobile accident, drug addiction, etc. Such visible consequences of peer pressure comprise just one of five primary results. Other effects include experimentation, fear and frustration, depression, and confusion.
Peer pressure typically prompts a teen to experiment with attitudes and behavior that he or she may not otherwise try. For many teens (and adults), the first puff of a cigarette, the first sip of alcohol, the first exposure to pornographic materials, and the first attempt at shoplifting were prompting by peer pressure. As fourteen-year-old Jisha said, peer pressure caused her to do “things I’d never do by myself.”
Fear and Frustration
Teens don’t like being vulnerable to peer pressure. They don’t enjoy being persuaded to do risky things. They fear discovery by parents or other authorities, and they experience frustration by their inability to control themselves and their surroundings. Like Rohit, the boy whose story introduced this article, they often don’t want to do the things their friends urge them to do, but they feel trapped into a trade – conformity for acceptance. The “trade,” however, results in frustration, because they seldom experience the acceptance they desire.
Repeated attempts to conformity (which tend to result not in fulfillment but in frustration) often send a teen spiraling into depression. They come to feel more lonely, more helpless, and more hopeless than before because they realize that their efforts to gain acceptance are not working. A subsequent sense of powerlessness, added to an already acute sense of worthlessness, can produce depression. Such depression may be expressed in gloomy behavior or in anger and agitation.
Sharon Scott tells the story of an intelligent and disciplined sixth grade student who talked and dreamed of being an astronaut. Unfortunately, however, his high graded and efforts to please the teacher earned him the ridicule of the other students in his class. This threat to “his natural need to be liked” prompted him to stop participating in class and start purposely missing questions on tests. Scott writes:
This child. . . . lowered his standards and reduced his chances to meet his goal, which he had once wanted badly to achieve. He became depressed and confused, because he was being offered an impossible choice between reaching his personal goals and achieving peer approval by fitting in.
Youth who succumb to peer pressure can become confused and alienated by the elusive promise of conformity.
Most adults and teens recognize the visible results of peer pressure. Few, however, think beyond the most obvious and immediate consequences to the true choice that’s being made, as author and speaker Bill Sanders suggests, He proposes that reluctant acceptance to negative peer pressure invariably involves a choice of what to:
- Act like
- End up like
- Be treated like by this group and others
If you choose cigarettes, you choose to: lose over eight years of life; cough; have bad breath, yellow teeth, and a greater chance of cancer.
If you decide to drop out of school you actually choose: a low-paying job; hard, long hours; ignorance in many areas; and the possibility of friends who can’t get ahead either.
If you choose crime, you actually choose disrespect; a possible prison term; a life of looking your shoulder.
Peer pressure promises acceptance and approval to young people, but it is an empty promise.
Response to the Problem of Peer Pressure
How can a youth leader, parent, or teacher help a young person handle peer pressure? The task may differ from teen to teen but it will begin with prayer and a humble dependence on God. Peer pressure is a challenge for everyone, and both youth and caring adult will do well to recognize that will power is not the answer, not are clever techniques, but a humble reliance on God and His guidance and power is the first and most important step toward handling peer pressure. Other steps will very likely include:
Some teens turn somewhat reluctantly to the influence of their peers (at least in some areas) because they don’t think Mom, Dad, or other adults every really listen to them. It is crucial, especially in early- and mid-adolescence, when reliance on peers reaches its peak, that the young man or woman have a parent or other positive adult influence who will actively and attentively listen to him or her.
You may help a teen talk about peer pressure by asking such questions as:
- Do you have any friends that pressure you in positive ways? Negative ways?
- Have you ever not tried in school or in sports in order to avoid being labeled or ridiculed?
- Are there things you do (or don’t do) because of peer pressure? What things?
- Do you ever feel pressure to make fun of someone or be mean to someone because of your friends?
- Do you act differently around family or friends at community than you do at school or among other friends?
- Do you feel like you can talk to your parent(s) about things in general? About things you feel pressured to do?
- Do you ever talk to God about the things you feel pressured to do, say or be? Why or why not?
The above questions may suggest other ways to help a young person talk about peer pressure and its effects on him or her. As the youth talks be careful to listen closely, not only to verbal communication but to nonverbal communication and to the emotions that may lie beneath what is said.
Don’t be too quick to evaluate or criticize the way the teen is reacting to peer pressure; after all, how do you respond to peer pressure? Do you conform in certain ways in order to be accepted at work? Among friends? An honest appraisal of your own response to peer pressure may help you sensitively and compassionately view the young person’s efforts to fit in.
In addition, empathic concern can be communicated by:
- Acknowledging the youth’s feeling without condemn.
- Body language (leaning slightly forward in your chair, not folding your arms on your chest, nodding, making eye contact, etc.)
- Reflecting key statements (for example, “Lets me make sure I understand what you’re saying. . . .”).
- Waiting patiently through periods of silence or tears.
Like all of us, teens have a “tank” inside them that must be filled in order for them to combat peer pressure. Parents and other caring adults can help youth cope with peer pressure by filling that tank of acceptance, approval, affirmation, and affections. “A child who feels good about himself on the inside,” says Scott, “will have more inner strength and security to help him withstand the knocks of the sometimes harsh outside world. Encouragement for his efforts and praise for his successes are [important] tools [to] use to build his self-esteem.”
Affirmation can be offered by:
- Providing a “safe haven” at home from the criticism and ridicule the youth may experience elsewhere.
- Reinforcing the teen’s realization of his or her worth in God’s eyes (see Unhealthy Self-Esteem – Bijoyful).
- Sincerely complimenting the youth for his or her capabilities and qualities.
- Allowing frequent opportunities for the young person to develop competence and confidence. If he struggles athletically, for example, consider signing him to work on cars; if she is self-conscious about the effect of braces on her appearance, encourage her to develop her badminton game or tutor her in photography to help her feel good about other areas of her life.
- Activity encouraging positive peer friendships and associations that will affirm the young person’s good qualities and subtly model attitudes and abilities he or she may lack.
In addition to listening, empathizing, and affirming, a caring adult can also offer suggestions and direction to a teen on how to counter peer pressure. Most importantly, gently urge the young person to turn to God, develop his or her relationship with Him, and depend on Him; He is “an ever-present help in trouble.” In addition, Alison Bell (writing in Teen magazine) offers these twenty suggestions:
- Ask 101 Question. . . .For example, if a pal pressures you to smoke, ask her why she smokes, how long she smoked, if she minds having ashtray breath. “Asking question puts the other person on the defensive,” explains Richard Mills, a consulting psychologist.
- Say No Like You Mean It. . . . Make eye contact, then say no forcefully, with authority. The more certain you are in your refusal; the less people will bug you.
- Back Up a No with a Positive Statement. . . . For example, if you’re turning down an offer to smoke pot (weed), say something like, ” I like my brain the way it is, thanks.”. . .
- Be Repetitive. Don’t hesitate to state your position over and over again.
- Practice Saying No. Practice saying no in safe environments, like when your big brother asks you if you’d like to Saturday night doing his laundry.
- Get Away from the Pressure Zone. Leave the scene. . . . Make your exit.
- Avoid Stressful Situations in the First Place. If you know there’s going to be alcohol or drugs at a party, make other plans. Or, if you’re going out with a guy, avoid being alone with him. . . . anywhere he might pressure you to get more physical than you want to be.
- Use the Buddy System. . . . Find a friend who shares your values and back each other up.
- Confront the Leader of the Pack. The best way to handle a peer-pressure bully is to nab [him or] her when the two of you are alone and explain how you’re feeling [and ask her to] get off your case.
- Consider the Results of Giving In. . .Take a moment to think about the consequences of your actions.
- Look for Positive Role Models. Ever notice that the real popular and successful kids at your school are the ones who aren’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like? . . .
- Don’t Buy the Line that Everyone’s “Doing it”. . . .
- Seek Support. Talk out any peer pressure you’re experiencing with other friends who are also feeling the squeeze. It can be reassuring to know that you’re not the only one. . .
- Be Your Own Best Friend. . . . Remind yourself every now and then that you’re special and keep at bay negative statements.
- Find Ways to Excel. . . . Challenge yourself to do your best. . . .[Focus] your attention on following your personal goals instead of the goals of a group.
- Don’t Pressure Others. Watch out for any subtle forms of pressure you may be exerting. . . .
- Speak Out! Fight peer pressure by taking the side of the underdog. . . .Supporting other’s opinions will send the message that you think for yourself.
- Watch Your Moods. Be aware that your moods can [affect] your sensibility. . . .
- Evaluate Your Friendships. If your friends are always bugging, you to do something you’re not comfortable with, remember that true friends like you for who you are, not who they want you to be.
- Find New Friends. If you’ve decided that your friends don’t have your best interests at heart, search out new friends who share your values and interests. . . .
Enlist the young person’s participation in battling peer pressure, perhaps by using the technique Scott recommends in her book PPR: Peer Pressure Reversal
- Check Out the Scene. (Notice and Identify trouble.)
- Make a Good Decision. (Understand and choose consequences.)
- Act to Avoid Trouble. (Take effective action.)
Take advantage of all available resources. As with any area of teen’s development, the enthusiastic and sensitive involvement of his or her parents is critical. Parents of youth who are struggling with pressure can profit greatly from support groups and informal interaction with other parents of teens. Teens who are struggling with peer pressure can profit from the positive peer pressure of a thriving community and a supportive youth group. Concerned parents may also consider turning to a counseling professional for further help.
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Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.