All about peer pressure

Having good friends in our life is important to our happiness, but sometimes trying to fit in with a group can turn sour. Find out what peer pressure is and how to handle it, including knowing what to do if things get serious.

Signs this might be a problem...

  • you feel like you don’t fit in
  • you feel like you act in a certain way around particular people
  • you’re doing things you don’t want to
Alternative guy with lip ring

What is peer pressure?

It’s pretty common to want to belong and feel part of a group. There’s nothing wrong with that at all and in fact having good friendships in our lives is really important to our happiness.

There is a down side to seeking out good relationships though. That desire to be part of something and have good friends can put a lot of pressure on people to act in a certain way. When we’re influenced to do something we wouldn’t normally do, or stopped from doing something we’d like to do, because we want to be accepted by someone/a group, we start moving into peer pressure territory.

Peer pressure can show itself in lots of ways including:

  • dressing in a certain way
  • getting involved in particular activities
  • listening to particular music
  • decisions about using drugs and alcohol
  • decisions about who we date
  • choice about who we’re friends with
  • academic performance.

The pressure to act in a certain way can be:

  • direct, e.g. someone telling you what you should be doing.
  • indirect, e.g. it’s not always obvious, but a group might have certain habits or do certain activities together. When you are in a different group of people, you might be unlikely to do those things.
  • self motivated, e.g. putting pressure on yourself to fit in with your friendship group

How to navigate peer pressure

Peer pressure is not always a bad thing– sometimes your friends influence can be a good thing– they might, for instance, stop you from doing something stupid that you’ll regret later. But if you’re doing/not doing something because you’re trying to fit in, but it’s not sitting well with you, then it’s not a positive thing.

Some ways you can try and navigate peer pressure include:

  • Value common interests. Try and hang out with people who do like doing similar stuff to you. It sounds obvious, but you’re less likely to feel pressured to do things you don’t want to
  • Say no. If you’re finding it hard to work up the guts to say no to something, you should know that sticking up for what you believe in feels really good. If you can explain to people in a calm way why something‘s not for you, more often than not, you’ll gain their respect.
  • Try not to judge others. Respecting someone else’s choice may help them respect yours. People don’t have to agree on everything, and understanding that’s ok will mean both parties are likely to be less defensive about their choices.

What to do if things are getting serious?

No matter how skilled you are at managing peer pressure, you can only control your own behaviour and there are some situations where pressure from other people can get out of hand.

If you’re in a situation where you feel threatened, are being hurt, or pressured into something that you are really uncomfortable with, you need to tell someone. Tell a family member, a friend from outside the situation, a teacher, or a counsellor. It’s horrible to be in a bad situation and you shouldn’t have to deal with it on your own. Get support and get help.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 16 February, 2014
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