Peer pressure happens when someone tries to do something or be a certain way to fit in with peers. It might be within a social or work context. Usually, it occurs because you’re feeling uncomfortable or awkward. Peer pressure is also known as peer influence. There are different types of peer pressure and not all of it is bad. However, when it is negative it’s good to know how to buffer against it.
Why Peer Pressure Happens
A peer is someone connected to a person based on something in common. This could be age, similar interests, place of work or school, friends or attending the same events. Peer pressure happens when a peer or peers influence your thinking or behaviour in a specific direction. The result is conforming to the wants and actions of those around you.
Peer pressure is real and something that everyone will experience throughout their lives. Most people don’t want to stand out in a crowd or feel different. When we feel awkward it’s quite natural to look to others for cues on how to fit in. This helps us to know what’s acceptable and unacceptable within a specific context. Doing this can prevent embarrassment or being made fun of and enable us to do what we want without interruption.
What is Peer Pressure?
Peer pressure can happen on multiple levels, such as one-on-one, in a group, within a family or even nationally. There are four different types of peer influence. They take place in either an overt or covert manner. For example, overtly ridiculing someone to try to get them to eat something. Or subtle pressure brought on by seeing everyone else dressing in a certain way.
4 Types of Peer Pressure
- Direct: Clear and direct instructions are given on how to act or do something. Often involves demanding on-the-spot decisions.
- Indirect: Implied or subtle influences that make someone feel directed in how they should act or do something.
- Spoken: Asking, persuading, or suggesting an action or behaviour.
- Unspoken: Interactions and/or observations that result in someone thinking about and changing their behaviour to align with others.
The Negative Impact of Peer Influence
The main reason peer pressure increases anxiety and stress levels is because it can feel like you’re being forced to do something. Feeling like you don’t have a choice or must do something you don’t want to can have a negative impact on your well-being. Especially if the situation is prolonged. Peer pressure can also erode self-esteem and thereby render someone powerless or feeling worthless. As a result, issues or unhappiness with appearance and ability can manifest, thereby further impacting the way someone behaves.
Negative pressure from peers can also result in engaging in risky activities, such as experimenting with drugs, unsafe sex, or reckless driving. It can also result in negative behaviour changes such as shop-lifting, bullying or absenteeism. Additionally, two potential consequences could be derailing a responsible and respectable lifestyle or incurring of legal penalties.
The Positive Impact of Peer Influence
Not all peer pressure is negative. In fact, it has been shown to be a great motivator for some people. Conforming to a higher standard of those around you can lead you to set better goals and achieve more. The quality of what you do can be improved by experiencing positive peer influence.
Consequently, when peer influence causes you to do something positive, embark on self-improvement or growth building it can be great for you. It has also been shown that surrounding yourself with positive, loyal, and supportive people causes you to mirror those qualities. This can be especially impactful on the life trajectory of young children and teenagers. For example, an expectation to study hard or get an after-school job can help foster responsibility and reliability. Peer group disapproval of gossip and bigoted attitudes or jokes can nurture better tolerance, and acceptance and prevent “othering.”
How to Deal with Peer Pressure
Figuring out what to do about peer influence is about finding the right balance between fitting in and being yourself. There are also decisive actions you can take ahead of time and in the moment which can assist in buffering against negative peer influence.
5 Ways to Resist Peer Pressure
- Work on your self-esteem. This will enable you to feel happy and comfortable with who you are, therefore less likely to be swayed.
- Remember actions have consequences. Ahead of a situation, where you know there could be negative influences, think through your possible responses and the probable consequences.
- Practice saying no. You have every right to refuse and/or walk away from a situation you don’t agree with. Part of saying no is to set and keep healthy personal boundaries.
- Choose your friends. The people you’re surrounded by are the ones you’re most likely to become like. Therefore, be decisive and choose friends rather than fall into friend groups.
- Screen social media. Social media has been shown to be an influential factor in people’s behaviour and motivations. Choose to be part of groups, on platforms or networks that promote positive outlooks and pursuit of all-around wellbeing.
Assist Others to Overcome Peer Pressure
Are you interested in helping people build their self-esteem and thereby resist negative peer pressure? If you’d like to change other’s lives for the better, enrol in one of the SACAP Applied Psychology courses. Alternatively, consider a career in coaching. All SACAP coaching courses are accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Contact a SACAP admissions officer for further information.
1. Can positive peer pressure change bad habits?
Yes, being around people who have healthy expectations of you can help you give up bad habits.
2. Is all peer pressure bad?
No, some peer pressure is positive. It can result in healthier life choices and better wellbeing. For example, having active friends will help keep you physically fit and healthy.
3. When is peer pressure bad?
Peer pressure that results in behaviours, activities or thinking that is not in line with personal choices can be negative. Usually, the result of bad peer pressure is an action which would otherwise not have been engaged in.