Peer Influence Isn't All Bad
already know that the teen years can be tough. You're figuring out who you are,
what you believe, what you're good at, what your responsibilities are, and what
your place in the world is going to be.
comforting to face those challenges with friends who are into the same things
that you are. But you probably hear adults — parents, teachers, guidance
counselors, etc. — talk about peer pressure more than the benefits of belonging
to a peer group.
might not hear a lot about it, but peers have a profoundly positive influence
on each other and play important roles in each other's lives:
- Friendship. Among peers you can find
friendship and acceptance, and share experiences that can build lasting
- Positive examples. Peers 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! For example, watching someone your age compete in the Olympics,
give a piano concert, or spearhead a community project might inspire you
to go after a dream of your own.
- Feedback and advice. Your friends listen and
give you feedback as you try out new ideas, explore belief, and discuss
problems. Peers can help you make decisions, too: what courses to take;
whether to get your hair cut, let it grow, or dye it; how to handle a
family argument. Peers often give each other good advice. Your friends
will be quick to tell you when they think you're making a mistake or doing
- Socializing. Your peer group gives you
opportunities to try out new social skills. Getting to know lots of
different people — such as classmates or teammates — gives you a chance to
learn how to expand your circle of friends, build relationships, and work
out differences. You may have peers you agree or disagree with, compete
with, or team with, peers you admire, and peers you don't want to be like.
- Encouragement. Peers encourage you to
work hard to get the solo in the concert, help you study, listen and
support you when you're upset or troubled, and empathize 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 far
less rich without peers to encourage you try sushi for the first time,
listen to a CD you've never heard before, or to offer moral support when
you audition for the school play.
everyone ends up in a sticky peer pressure situation at some point. No matter
how wisely you choose your friends, or how well you think you know them, sooner
or later you'll have to make decisions that are difficult and could be
unpopular. It may be something as simple as resisting the pressure to spend
your hard-earned babysitting money on the latest MP3 player that
"everybody" has. Or it may mean deciding to take a stand that makes
you look uncool to your group.
these situations can be opportunities to figure out what is right for you.
There's no magic to standing up to peer pressure, but it does take courage —
- Listen to your gut. If you feel uncomfortable,
even if your friends seem to be OK with what's going on, it means that
something about the situation is wrong for you. This kind of
decision-making is part of becoming self-reliant and learning more about
who you are.
- Plan for possible pressure
situations. If you'd like to go to a party but you believe you may be offered
alcohol or drugs there, think ahead about how you'll handle this
challenge. Decide ahead of time — and even rehearse — what you'll say and
do. Learn a few tricks. If you're holding a bottle of water or a can of
soda, for instance, you're less likely to be offered a drink you don't
- Arrange a
"bail-out" code phrase you can use with your parents without
losing face with your peers. You might call home from a party at which you're feeling pressured
to drink alcohol and say, for instance, "Can you come and drive me
home? I have a terrible earache."
- Learn to feel comfortable
saying "no." With good friends you should never have to offer an
explanation or apology. But if you feel you need an excuse for, say,
turning down a drink or smoke, think up a few lines you can use casually.
You can always say, "No, thanks, I've got a belt test in karate next
week and I'm in training," or "No way — my uncle just died of
cirrhosis and I'm not even looking at any booze."
- Hang with people who feel
the same way you do. Choose friends who will speak up with you when you're in need of
moral support, and be quick to speak up for a friend in the same way. If
you're hearing that little voice telling you a situation's not right,
chances are others hear it, too. Just having one other person stand with
you against peer pressure makes it much easier for both people to resist.
- Blame your parents:
"Are you kidding? If my mom found out, she'd kill me, and her spies
- If a situation seems dangerous,
don't hesitate to get an adult's help.
not always easy to resist negative peer pressure, but when you do, it is easy
to feel good about it afterward. And you may even be a positive influence on
your peers who feel the same way — often it just takes one person to speak out
or take a different action to change a situation. Your friends may follow if
you have the courage to do something different or refuse to go along with the
group. Consider yourself a leader, and know that you have the potential to make
by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD Date reviewed: October 2012