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Peer pressure

Wikipedia defines peer pressure as "the influence exerted by a peer group, encouraging individuals to change their attitudes, values, or behaviours to conform to group norms...peer pressure is most commonly associated with youth, in part because most youth spend large amounts of time in schools and other fixed groups that they do not choose and are seen as lacking the maturity to handle pressure from friends. Also, young people are more willing to behave negatively towards those who are not members of their own peer groups"

So what's wrong with being like other people, and who wants to be different anyway?

Well, the whole thing that's wrong with it is the "pressure" bit, because it's about making you feel uncomfortable, unhappy, unacceptable or just plain UNABLE to be different when you should be allowed to be yourself.

It's about imposed standards which may be negative ones, although they can be for good.

It's about making you feel inferior, worthless or an outsider unless you are the same. It  might even be you making yourself feel like that for being different.

It is part of human nature to be social, to want to belong and have some sort of identity as an individual but also within some sort of group or community. So it's quite natural to want to be or to look the same as other people you see as your contemporaries or desirable examples. Growing up and especially in teenage years is usually when you start to assert your own identity, to explore who you really are or experiment with who you think you want to be. In an ideal world, you would have been brought up with good examples of values which make you a happy, confident, caring individual who fits well into society and makes a contribution, and you would feel supported in your own choices, with people around you who accept and appreciate you whoever you are and however you look, whether you are the same or different to them.

Teens health has quite a bit to say about what peer pressure is and how it works.

This video also explains what peer pressure is and how it works

In reality, you may already have felt under pressure to be a certain kind of person or behave a certain way because it is what parents, family or carers expect of you, force you to be or to do. Resisting this may be difficult and GTRT tries to deal with the problems which arise if this happens to you. On the other hand, the same people may expect nothing of you, fail to encourage you or guide you at all, let alone impose their own standards, and oppose or discourage you trying to be yourself.

However, you are probably at an age where it doesn't bother you to be different to your parents or other adults in your life, and to feel a certain amount of rebelliousness towards them- this is normal, to see them as a different generation and out of touch with yours; although if you decide they know nothing and can't possibly understand, you may be misjudging them considerably - perhaps times haven't changed as much as you think since they were young and you might want to trust them a little bit more. Most adults do actually want the best for you and to help you stay out of trouble by passing on advice and knowledge, rather than to control you, stop you having fun, or live their lives through you. Read more about parents and how to get on with them.

The following video was made as a humourous attempt to look at who you take most notice of, your mates or your mum :

but what is almost certainly harder to deal with is your own age group and their influence -  when you feel under "peer pressure" to conform to the standards of people who are supposed to be like you and you feel you have to join in or be rejected. At times you might not want to conform and yet you feel totally unable to show that for fear of being teased, bullied or left out. Boys don't cry and It's different for girls talk about good role models and being yourself.

Peer pressure can lead to lots of other problems. It might be the result of other people's reaction to you, or how you really feel about yourself : bullying which may be how other people exert peer pressure, or punish you for not conforming; eating disorders because you may become convinced you must look a different way to fit in; self harm because you feel worthless;  Childline talk about some of the things you might feel peer pressure to do, such as taking drugs or drink because your friends do, bunking off school, or having sex before you are ready.

You may feel so dissatisfied with yourself that not only do you lack self esteem but in extreme cases you may feel that life is not worth living, or feel like running away from home to escape the pressure. Talk to someone. Childline, The Samaritans, Centre 33 in Cambridge, your school counsellor, your local Connexions branch, a teacher you can trust. But don't bottle it up. GTRT topic pages have contact details and there are a lot of general help sources on the Rough Stuff Remedies page.

How can you deal with peer pressure?

Ask yourself some questions which might help you understand why you feel unhappy, afraid, isolated, confused, lacking in confidence and self esteem, or even angry and frustrated, how you react to peer pressure and why.

  • Who are you?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • Who do you appear to be?
  • Do people see the real you or the one you think they want to see?
  • Are you just covering up the real you for fear of ridicule or rejection?
  • Why are they different (if they are) - does peer pressure make you feel you have to appear to be someone you're not, or do you really want to change who you are? and what you can do about them if you want to change?
  • Why do you want to give in to peer pressure (except for a quiet life of course)? Is it  something which really matters to you and you want to change for your own reasons, or only to please other people, stop them picking on you or make them like you?

Be realistic. Could you change if you really want to? For instance, if you wish you were taller, or thinner, or had blonde hair, or your nose was a different shape, or (lads) were more muscular: so, taller - no can't be done. Thinner - yes. Maybe you could lose weight - if you really need to but not if the clothes industry says you should be a size 0. Hair - can always dye it but that becomes a routine pain and regular expense so best to know if it would really suit you first! Nose - well, you can save up for surgery if you are desperate. Muscular - go to the gym but don't go mad. Take advice on your optimum body shape and performance.

Haven't a clue except about any of this but you want to be part of the crowd so you're happy to go along with whatever they say? See peer pressure for what it really is: what you are part of promoting might be just a fashion which will pass, a harmless trend, or an undesirable or potentially dangerous thing not in your interest to follow and irresponsible to encourage others to do. The media has a lot to answer for in this because they help to set the trends which young people want to adopt. Body image is often influenced by this, the cosmetics and fashion industry maintain their income by fuelling your insecurities and offering you an unattainable ideal which makes you more dissatisfied with yourself. It's fine fitting in, but it shouldn't squash all sense of your own identity  - and don't underestimate your part in making other people miserable. You're also missing out on knowing some interesting, unusual and nice people by keeping them out of your little "club".

Understand why you do or don't want to conform, whether you are trying to please yourself, only other people, or struggling to do both. Learn how to be sure of who you are and how you want to be, boost your self esteem, assert your own identity. Become confident, unashamed of who and what you are. It's ok to say no and to take control of yourself. Know your value to be no less than anyone else's.

 

Is it really worth it to be the same as everyone else? asks this thought provoking video  Unfortunately the organisations mentioned at the end of the video are not in the UK so please don' try to contact them.

Resist the cliques

Teens health suggests ways to resist the cliques and deal with the pressure they put you under by understanding how they work and the difference between having friends and being in a clique. Looking for other people like you is one way of strengthening the sense of being part of your own group, or at least looking for people who also don't conform and accept people however they look or whatever they think or believe in. Bullies are much less likely to pick on people who don't look weak or afraid and especially not groups rather than individuals.

Being a friend

Actively encouraging friendships with people who share your values and interests makes you, and them, feel better and improves self-esteem for all of you. Being a friend means you can expect acceptance for who you are, mutual loyalty and support and it's a good way to resist peer pressure from people you might not want as friends and who certainly are not acting like proper friends. Join things, take up activities where you might meet people you can become real friends with and who accept you whoever you are. Start your own mutual appreciation society! Encourage respect for and acceptance of the individual.

Wikipedia continues its definition of "peer pressure" by noting that "Peer pressure can also have positive effects when people are pressured toward positive behaviour, such as volunteering for charity or excelling in academics or athletics, by their peers. This is most commonly seen in youths who are active in sports or other extracurricular activities where conformity with one's peer group is strongest." Here's another student's view of changing how pressure works in a short, silent but eloquent video :

What else can you do?

Well, just like bullying in extreme cases maybe change schools or even move! But that's thankfully an absolute last resort and very rare. So apart from making some real friends, trying to spend more time with people who make you feel good and valued instead of bad and insignificant, you could also consider how if enough of you got together and clearly set good standards, you might even start a trend for something worthwhile.

Understand the hypocrisy of advertising and the false values of negative things which peer pressure can promote and see it for what it is, which takes away its power. Question the values being pushed at you and encourage others to do so too. If you don't see it as valid any more then you can start to avoid the people who are still signed up to it.

But while you are waiting for this to happen, maybe you need to make a few adjustments to things like who you have to sit with or work alongside if you are at school or college. It might be possible to alter these things by choice, or you might need a quiet word with a kind teacher or school counsellor. You may need some space and a break from the people putting you under pressure especially if you are being bullied and should seek help accordingly.

Once you have learned to resist the bad effects of peer pressure, consider whether you can help younger teenagers by offering them an example to learn from, or support when they are finding it hard.

It's not bad to want to be like someone else, but it is if you feel you have to. You are unique and special for who YOU are and not who your "friends" are. 

The page was last updated on 17 June 2014 by andrea.bateman.

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