Children encounter peer pressure as early as nine years old. It’s as simple as keeping up with the latest hairstyle, and then there’s trying to fit in 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 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 of the same age and a social group. Research suggests that middle school years are where peer pressure is most impressionable, during Grade 6-8, and aged 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 where risky behaviors like experimenting with drinking beer and smoking starts. Often, experimenting with these risky 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 right discernment to differentiate right from wrong. Are all peer pressure a bad influence? Not necessarily. 

Is Peer Pressure Always Bad? Types of Peer Pressure

Peers play a significant role in how a kid can turn out. If the child hangs out with positive peers who prioritize their academics, it will 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 from there when not addressed immediately. 

Peer influence may be understood in the wrong context because as we hear peer pressure, we only think of a group of friends of bad influence. There are two types of peer pressure: Positive and Negative; of course, everybody wants positive peer pressure. 

Positive Peer Pressure

Positive peer pressure is defined as belonging in a peer group that encourages kids or teens to do good or use their time to be productive. Few examples of positive influence are:

  • Adolescents are encouraging friends to study harder to have better grades. 
  • Friends drive others to engage in after-school activities like sports, study groups for educational purposes, theater, or music groups. 
  • Teaching friends to save up money for college or buy a new car by working. 
  • Says no to drinking alcohol, smoking, doing drugs, or engaging in sexual activities. 
  • Thinks of long-term goals like life after high school, plans for college, or career goals. 
  • Refuse to go along and spend time with bad groups.
  • Respects their parents and prioritizes their family. 
  • Follows the rules, school policies and does what is right. 

Negative Peer Pressure

On the other hand, negative peer pressure means hanging out with a group of friends engaging in damaging, dangerous, or risky behaviors. Negative influence may not show outright when hanging with peers. Here are some examples of negative peer influence: 

  • May start with convincing to skip classes or school. 
  • Convincing to try one beer or one smoke, because it’s what cool and everybody is doing it. 
  • Goes to parties and goes on drinking, especially for underaged youths.
  • Encourages to bully or make fun of someone.
  • Gossips about other people and backstabs friends. 
  • Encourages to try sexual activities. 
group of school friends

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 friends when you feel guilty about what you do. Do you feel guilty about skipping class because your friends told you so? You’re probably hanging out with the wrong bunch. Are you feeling guilty after that first puff of a cigarette? You probably should stay away from those peers. 

You know you’re hanging along with the group with positive influence is when you do or act the things to goes with your values and beliefs. If you believe that 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. 

How To Deal With Negative Peer Pressure

A piece of advice for teens, if you feel good about yourself and you feel you’re hanging with the right peers, go with it 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? 

Say NO!

When bad peers are trying to convince you that one puff of smoke just keeps saying NO, eventually, they will get tired of convincing you when you keep saying NO. Say it in a strong 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”. These will all pass; just remember to stick to your values and do not get influenced easily. Stand by what you believe, and say NO to what you think is wrong. Turn a blind eye to these little insults and jabs because these will all pass. Is it really worth risking your grades and your future when you say yes to these negative influences? Just say NO! 

Related: What to Do If My Child is Being Bullied?

Make Up Other Plans

If your so-called friends invite you to hang and you know there will be drinking alcohol or drugs, avoid it. Try to make other plans to keep you occupied. Are you trying to get away with the bad influence? Join another group of friends that positively influence you. Get a part-time job to keep you busy after school. Volunteer to babysit or be a dog walker, you’re earning, and at the same time, you have valid reasons to avoid these bad peers. 

If you get preoccupied with these other important plans, they may have a hard time convincing you to ditch your plans. In the future, they won’t even bother inviting you anymore. 

Plan A Response to Peer Pressure

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 negative peers. Have your response or actions ready so it will come naturally and you won’t feel any pressure. 

For instance, 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”. 

Avoid Situations Or Places With Negative Peer Pressure

If you know hanging out in the park exposes you to situations or friends that are bad influences, avoid that situation. If you know going to that rave party exposes you to do drugs, avoid that situation. Trust your instincts; if you think that activity is not doing any good or that you feel guilty, avoid it at all cost. If the “bad kids” are hanging out on the bench, avoid them as well. 

Talk To Someone

If you’re struggling with this situation, talk to someone you trust. Talk to a trusted friend, your sibling, a cousin, your parents, the school’s guidance counselor. When you talk to someone, you can receive insight and advice on how to handle peer pressure. 

For example, if you tell a trusted friend that bad peers are trying to convince you to do risky behaviors, the next time it happens, they can help you. They can hang out with you to avoid peer pressure and might be the ones who can stand up for you. If you tell your parents about this, they can enroll you in after-school activities like music lessons to avoid these friends.

Advice for Parents

Help your child by sitting down with them and asking them what’s going on. In all of this that’s happening, your influence as parents is nothing stronger than the influence of the peers. Teach your child self-confidence and making their own decision. 

If you suspect your child is under the influence of bad peers and resist talking, let them know you’re there for them. Your kid might be scared of confessing about their wrong deeds, so talk in a soft and tone manner. Try to understand and do not panic; most especially, do not get mad if your kid has confessed to you about their wrong deeds.

How Can Negative Peer Pressure Affect A Teen’s Mental Health?

Negative peer pressure can affect a teen’s mental health. When the situation continues to escalate, it can decrease the teen’s self-confidence and self-esteem, resulting in mental health problems like depression or anxiety. When these mental health problems are leaf untreated, it may lead to teens engaging in self-harm or having suicidal thoughts. 

Final 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 for online counseling. KCC provides counseling and therapy for the residents of Kentucky and Ohio. Schedule an appointment now through the KCC Direct Services.

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