If you think everyone your age likes a certain type of music, you will probably be interested in that music too. If most of the kids your age are wearing a certain style or make of clothing, you might feel like you should also wear that clothing. Even though you might not know all of your peers well, the things they do, and say, the way they behave, can still be a powerful influence in your life.
It might seem like everyone is doing something, or that “all the cool kids” are doing something, which makes you think you have to do it too. It might be something harmless, like wearing a certain style of clothing, or hairstyle. Or, it might be something harmful, like smoking, or under-age sex. Some of your peers, or people you thought were your friends might even try to get you to do these things. (Remember, if someone tries to get you to do something harmful, they are not a true friend.)
This is called peer pressure. It is the pressure you feel to do something because others are doing it or trying to get you to do it. Peer pressure, or influence, can be positive or negative.
The reason you feel like you should do what your peers are doing is that most people want to feel normal. Most people want to fit in, and can even be afraid of being different. This is very normal.
The problem is if you start to act and behave in a way that is disrespectful, unkind or hurtful towards others. Or, if you start to do things that are unhealthy or dangerous to yourself or others, like smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs, or breaking the law.
The important thing to remember is that if what others are doing goes against your values and beliefs, or it is unhealthy, harmful or dangerous to you or others, there is no good reason for you to do it.
Remember, being different is not a bad thing. You might worry that you will have less friends or be bullied if you look different, think, or dress, or act differently from most of your peers. BUT you have to know who you are (see: Your relationship with yourself)
- What are your beliefs and values? (your religious beliefs, what is important to you, like honesty, respect, uBuntu, kindness)
- What are your likes and dislikes?
- What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
There are some things we cannot change about ourselves (our gender, race, age, sexual orientation, ability/disability), and some things we should not change about ourselves (eg. wanting to do well at school, being kind and helpful, standing up for someone being bullied). If anyone has a problem with any of these things, then being different is the best thing to do!
Positive peer pressure/influence:
You might not hear a lot about it, but peers can have a very positive influence on each other
- Friendship. You can find friendship and acceptance, and share experiences that can build lasting bonds.
- Positive examples. Peers can set plenty of good examples for each other. Having peers who are committed to doing well in school or to doing their best in a sport can influence you to be more goal-oriented, too. Peers who are kind and loyal influence you to build these qualities in yourself. Even peers you’ve never met can be role models. Watching someone your age compete in a sport, play in a band or lead a community project might inspire you to go after a dream of your own.
- Feedback and advice. Along with your friends, peers can also listen and give you feedback as you try out new ideas, explore belief and discuss problems. Peers can help you make decisions, too and even give each other good advice. Your good friends will be quick to tell you when they think you’re making a mistake or doing something that is not good for you.
- Socialising. Your peer group gives you opportunities to try out new social skills. Getting to know lots of different people your age gives you a chance to learn how to expand your circle of friends, build relationships and work out differences.
- Peers can encourage you to work hard to get the position in the tea, help you study, listen and support you when you’re upset or troubled and empathise with you when they’ve experienced similar difficulties.
- New experiences. Your peers might get you involved in clubs, sports or religious groups. Your world would be boring without peers to encourage you listen to music you’ve never heard before or to offer moral support when you audition for the school play.
Tips for dealing with negative peer pressure:
- Say ‘no thanks’ – it’s not always easy, but you can do it
- Find others who agree with you and also want to say ‘no’
- Choose your friends wisely (see Friendship)
- Work out plans with your friends for dealing with peer pressure situations
- Avoid situations where you might feel pressured into doing something you feel is not right for you
- Speak to your parents or a trusted adult about how you are feeling
- Know yourself, believe in yourself, and focus on your future
If you are struggling to deal with peer pressure, call Childline 0800055555