What Is Peer Pressure? (2023)

Peers are people who are part of the same social group, so the term "peer pressure" refers to the influence that peers can have on each other.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is the process by which members of the same social group influence other members to do things that they may be resistant to, or might not otherwise choose to do.

Usually, the term peer pressure is used when people are talking about behaviors that are not considered socially acceptable or desirable, such as experimentation with alcohol or drugs.

Though peer pressure is not usually used to describe socially desirable behaviors, such as exercising or studying, peer pressure can have positive effects in some cases.

Types of Peer Pressure

In reality, peer pressure can be either a positive or negative influence that one peer, or group of peers, has on another person. The following six terms are often used to describe the types of peer pressure a person may experience.

Spoken vs. Unspoken Peer Pressure

As the name suggests, spoken peer pressure is when someone verbally influences another person to do something. For instance, a teenager might influence their friend to smoke a cigarette by saying, "Come on, one cigarette won't hurt."

Unspoken peer pressure, on the other hand, is when no one verbally tries to influence you. However, there is still a standard set by the group to behave in a certain way.

Even if no one tells the teenager to smoke a cigarette in the example above, the teen may still feel pressured by their peers to partake in the activity because it seems like everyone is doing it.

Direct vs. Indirect Peer Pressure

Direct peer pressure is when a person uses verbal or nonverbal cues to persuade someone to do something. The example mentioned above of a teen handing another teen a cigarette is also an instance of direct peer pressure because the teen on the receiving end must decide on the spot how they're going to respond.

With indirect peer pressure, no one is singling you out, but the environment you're in may influence you to do something. If you're at a party where everyone is drinking, for instance, you might feel pressured to drink even if no one asks you to.

Positive vs. Negative Peer Pressure

Finally, peer pressure can be described as either positive or negative. Positive peer pressure is when a person is influenced by others to engage in a beneficial or productive behavior.

Negative peer pressure is the influence a person faces to do something they wouldn't normally do or don't want to do as a way of fitting in with a social group. People often face negative peer pressure to drink alcohol, do drugs, or have sex.

Examples of Peer Pressure

Peer pressure causes people to do things they would not otherwise do with the hope of fitting in or being noticed.

Things people may be peer pressured into doing include:

  • Acting aggressively (common among men)
  • Bullying others
  • Doing drugs
  • Dressing a certain way
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Engaging in vandalism or other criminal activities
  • Having sex
  • Physically fighting
  • Only socializing with a certain group

Peer pressure or the desire to impress their peers can override a teen or tween's fear of taking risks, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Kids. Risky behavior with drugs and/or alcohol may result in the following:

  • Accidents
  • Addiction
  • Alcohol or drug poisoning
  • Asphyxiation
  • Driving under the influence (of alcohol or other drugs)
  • Overdose
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

Behavioral Addiction

People can also feel an internal pressure to participate in activities and behaviors they think their peers are doing, which can put them at risk for the following behavioral addictions:

  • Food addiction
  • Gambling addiction
  • Internet addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Video game addiction

In the case of teens, parents are rarely concerned about the peer pressure their kids may face to engage in sports or exercise, as these are typically seen as healthy social behaviors. This is OK, as long as the exercise or sport does not become an unhealthy way of coping, excessive to the point of negatively affecting their health, or dangerous (as in dangerous sports).

What starts out as positive peer pressure may become negative pressure if it leads a person to over-identify with sports, for example, putting exercise and competition above all else.

If taken to an extreme, they may develop exercise addiction, causing them to neglect schoolwork and social activities, and ultimately, use exercise and competition in sports as their main outlet for coping with the stresses of life. This can also lead to numerous health consequences.

Examples of Positive Peer Influence

We tend to hear more about the potentially negative effects of peer pressure. But the reality is, peer pressure can be positive. For instance, two friends might put positive pressure on each other to go to the gym together and stay accountable for their fitness goals.

Teens who volunteer in their community can keep each other motivated to participate. This involvement can lead to exposure to role models and eventually lead to the teens becoming positive role models themselves.

You can also positively peer pressure others by the way you respond to situations. For instance, if your friend is body-shaming another person, you can say, "Actually, it can be really harmful to criticize people's bodies like that."

In turn, your friend might reconsider criticizing people based on their appearance. By simply adhering to your own values and sharing them with a friend, you can positively peer pressure them to think before making a negative comment.

Parental Influence vs. Peer Pressure

Although parents worry about the influence of peers, overall, parents also can have a strong influence on whether children succumb to negative peer pressure.

Rather than worrying about the effects of their children's friendships, parents would do well to focus on creating a positive, supportive home environment. That way, even if your child is peer pressured to do something they don't want to do, they'll feel comfortable coming to you to talk about it first.

Role modeling good emotional self-regulation may also help your child stick to their own values when it comes to peer pressure. Self-regulation involves the ability to control thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in order to manage current behavior and achieve long-term goals.

This will teach your child positive ways of solving problems and coping with uncomfortable feelings, rather than trying to escape by doing things to fit into a crowd. Peer pressure to take potentially harmful risks can be balanced by parents ensuring that they set appropriate boundaries, provide support, and help to avoid risks. A few examples:

  • Pick up your child from events where alcohol or drugs may have been consumed.
  • Provide balanced, truthful information on issues such as alcohol and drug use.
  • Stay involved in your child's life. Believe it or not, you are one of their biggest influences and they listen when you talk.
  • Urge the importance of thinking before doing. Teach teens to ask themselves questions like: Could this harm me or someone else? Will this put my health or safety at risk? Is it legal? What are the long-term consequences for my health, family, education, and future?

Peer Pressure Beyond Childhood

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure because they are at a stage of development when they are separating more from their parents' influence, but have not yet established their own values or understanding about human relationships or the consequences of their behavior.

They are also typically striving for social acceptance and are more willing to engage in behaviors against their better judgment in order to be accepted.

However, adults are also vulnerable to peer pressure. Many adults are susceptible to drinking too much because their friends are doing it, or putting work before family because they're competing with other people in their office for a promotion.

The bottom line: Being aware of, and carefully choosing the influence of peers that will lead to healthy and happy experiences is a lifelong process.

How to Deal With Peer Pressure

Dealing with peer pressure can be difficult, but below are some ways to help address it.

Take Your Time

Instead of quickly agreeing to do something you'd rather not do, pause and take a few deep breaths. If someone is waiting for you to answer them, tell them you need to take a few days and think about it. It's easier to resist the pressure when you put some time and space between yourself and the situation.

Consider Your Reasons

When you're faced with a choice, ask yourself what your reasons are for doing something. If it's because all of your friends are doing it and you're afraid they won't talk to you if you don't join them, then you may want to reconsider.

You deserve to surround yourself with supportive people who respect your decisions—not people who pressure you into doing something that doesn't feel right.

Set Boundaries

Saying "no" can be hard, but it's necessary to set healthy boundaries in relationships. If someone persistently pressures you to do something, you can try telling them how it affects you.

For instance, you might say something like, "It upsets me when you offer me a cigarette when you know I don't smoke. I won't be able to keep hanging out with you if you don't respect my answer."

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Offer an Alternative

It's possible that a friend who is peer pressuring you simply wants to spend more time with you or connect with you, but they don't know how else to ask.

If they pressure you to do shots with them at the bar when you aren't drinking, for example, you might suggest that you both hit the dance floor instead. Or maybe, you make a plan to go on a hike or to the movies the next time you hang out. That way, you're fulfilling both of your needs in a mutually beneficial way.

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