Children as young as nine years old encounter peer pressure. It’s as simple as keeping up with the latest hairstyle, and then it turns into doing things to fit in with the popular kids in school. During the formative years of a child, their peer influence can either be positive or negative, and these influences may affect their mental health.
Peer pressure plays a big role in a child’s life because whatever they go through from childhood to their teenage years influences their behavior during adulthood. This article aims to educate kids, teens, and parents about peer pressure, how it impacts mental health, and ways to deal with peer pressure.
What Is Peer Pressure?
Peer pressure or peer influence is defined as doing what other people do or say to be accepted or liked, usually by the same age and a social group. Research suggests that peer pressure is most impressionable in middle school years, during grades 6–8 or ages 11–13 years old. This is the age where the child forms new friendships, wants to be accepted in the “cool kids” group, and does not want to be bullied for being different from others.
This is when risky behaviors like experimenting with drinking beer and smoking start. Often, experimenting with these behaviors results from peer pressure. The so-called friends tell the kid to try smoking because it’s cool or to drink beer because everybody does it.
At this age, some kids do not have the proper discernment to differentiate right from wrong. This does not necessarily mean, though, that peer pressure is always negative.
Peers play a significant role in how a kid can turn out. If the child hangs out with positive peers who prioritize their academics, then this will also be their priority. But when a teen hangs out with peers who are into risky behaviors like drinking alcohol and smoking, it can go downhill for the child or teen if this is not addressed immediately.
Peer influence may be understood in the wrong context because the connotation when we hear peer pressure is bad or negative. In reality, there are two types of peer pressure: positive and negative.
Positive peer pressure is defined as belonging to a peer group that encourages kids or teens to do good or use their time to be productive. Some examples of positive influence are:
- Adolescents encouraging friends to study harder to have better grades
- Friends driving others to engage in after-school activities like sports, study groups for educational purposes, theater, or music groups
- Teaching friends to save money for college or buy a new car by getting a job
- Encouraging peers to say no to drinking alcohol, smoking, doing drugs, or engaging in sexual activities
- Thinking of long-term goals like life after high school, plans for college, or career goals
- Refusing to go along and spend time with bad groups
- Respecting their parents and prioritizing their family
- Following the rules and school policies; doing what is right
On the contrary, negative peer pressure means hanging out with a group of friends who engage in damaging, dangerous, or risky behaviors. Negative influence may not show outright when hanging out with peers. Here are some examples of negative peer influence:
- Encouraging others to skip classes or school
- Convincing others to try one beer or one smoke because it’s cool and everybody is doing it
- Going to parties and engaging in underage drinking
- Influencing peers to bully or make fun of someone
- Gossiping about other people and backstabbing friends
- Encouraging others to try sexual activities
How Can You Tell If Something Is Negative Peer Pressure?
For teens, there is a way to tell if you’re hanging out with a group with a positive or negative influence. You know you’re hanging out with the wrong group of people when you feel guilty about what you do.
Do you feel guilty about skipping class because your friends told you to do so? If yes, then you’re probably hanging out with the wrong bunch. Are you feeling awful after that first puff of a cigarette? If your answer is in the affirmative, then you probably should stay away from those peers.
You know you’re with a group with positive influence when you do or act the things that go with your values and beliefs. If you believe studying hard during high school can help you with your long-term plan and your friends have the same goal, then you’re with the right group.
A piece of advice for teens: if you feel good about yourself and think you’re hanging out with the right peers, stay with such friends and live a productive life. However, when you feel guilty about the things you do with your so-called friends, maybe it’s time to make some changes. How do you deal with negative peer pressure?
When bad peers try to convince you to take that one puff of smoke, just keep saying no. They will eventually get tired of convincing you when you keep saying no. Say it in a strong, firm, yet calm tone, and do not let them tell you what you should do.
There will always be the fear of being bullied because you’re not doing “the cool thing.” This will all pass. Just remember to stick to your values and not get influenced easily.
Stand by what you believe, and say no to what you think is wrong. Turn a blind eye to your friends’ little insults and jabs because these will all pass.
Think rationally and ask yourself if doing what your wayward friends like is worth risking your grades and future. They will leave you alone if you stand your ground and stay the course.
If your so-called friends invite you to hang out and you know there will be alcohol or drugs, avoid their invitation. Try to make other plans to keep yourself occupied.
Are you trying to get away from your friends’ bad influence? Join another group of friends that positively influence you.
Get a part-time job to keep you busy after school. Try babysitting or walking dogs. This way, you’ll be earning money, and at the same time, you have valid reasons to avoid bad peers.
If you get preoccupied with other plans that are more worthwhile, they may have a hard time convincing you to ditch your plans. In the future, they won’t even bother inviting you anymore to do things with them. The key is to focus on your plans and dreams, not theirs.
This advice is for teens who experienced peer pressure and those who haven’t tried to avoid it. Plan your response in case you encounter undisciplined or misbehaving peers. Have your response or actions ready so they will come naturally and make it easy for you to reject any negative pressure.
For instance, if somebody asks you to skip class, plan your response in a nice but dismissing tone and say, “No thanks.” If somebody invites you to a party, you can say, “I have to go home and feed my cats.”
If you know hanging out in the park exposes you to situations or friends who are a bad influence, avoid going to the park. If you know going to that rave party exposes you to drugs, then skip the party.
Trust your instincts; if you think that a certain activity won’t do you any good, or if you know you will only feel guilty in the end, avoid it at all costs. If the “bad kids” are hanging out on the bench, avoid them as well.
Talk to someone you trust if you’re struggling with resisting negative peer pressure. Talk to a trusted friend, sibling, cousin, parents, or school counselor. When you talk to someone, you can receive insight and advice on handling peer pressure.
For example, if you tell a trusted friend that bad peers are trying to convince you to do risky activities, they can help you the next time it happens. They can hang out with you so you can avoid peer pressure and might be the ones to stand up for you. If you tell your parents about this, they can enroll you in after-school activities like music lessons to help you avoid misbehaving friends.
Help your child by sitting down with them and asking them what’s going on. Your influence as their parent is not weaker than that of their peers. Teach your child self-confidence and how to make their own decision.
If you suspect your child is under the influence of bad peers and resists talking, let them know you’re there for them. Your kid might be scared of confessing their wrong deeds, so talk in a soft and tone manner. Try to understand and do not panic; do not get mad if your kid has confessed to you about their wrong deeds.
Negative peer pressure can affect a teen’s mental health. When the situation escalates, it can decrease a teen’s self-confidence and self-esteem, resulting in mental health problems like depression or anxiety. When these mental health issues are left untreated, teens may engage in self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.
Do not let peer pressure affect your child’s mental health. Schedule an appointment with a therapist or counselor right away. Kentucky Counseling Center offers telehealth care services, which include online counseling. KCC provides counseling and therapy for the residents of Kentucky and Ohio. Schedule an appointment now through the KCC Direct Services.