Peer pressure -- we've all felt it before, and most of us have done something we regret because of it. An intense and powerful social force, peer pressure is the influence that people we see as equals have on us. While peer pressure can be experienced at any age, the concept is most often associated with kids and teens, who can be more susceptible to social pressure than adults. In this article, we'll break down the different types of peer pressure, then look at ways of breaking peer pressure's binding spell.
In general, there are two predominant types of peer pressure: explicit and implicit. Explicit, or active, peer pressure is a direct and often intentional form of social influence. A classic example of explicit peer pressure would be a teen convincing their friend to drink or use drugs. Another common example is when one student makes fun of another's clothes, backpack, or other personal object, causing the second student to replace that thing in order to fit in and avoid further embarrassment.
The second principal form of peer pressure is implicit pressure. Implicit, or passive, pressure is a more obscure, unprompted form of influence, occurring when someone adjusts their behavior to match their peers. An example of implicit peer pressure is a teenager drinking or using drugs at a party because they want to fit in and "everyone else is doing it". While implicit pressure may not be as specific or unambiguous as explicit pressure, it is no less powerful.
Peer pressure also has another dimension: positive and negative. The above examples are more traditional and all fall into the negative category, but matching the behavior of our peers can be beneficial in some cases. For example, if a teenager is friends with students who are high academic achievers, they could feel implicit pressure to pay better attention in class and get higher grades.
So how do we help our youth resist negative peer pressure? The first step for parents is to help their kids identify all the times where someone is trying to influence them -- and not just their peers. In childhood and throughout life, we are constantly bombarded with attempts to influence us, whether from peers, advertisements, celebrities, or any number of other sources. When kids learn to recognize those attempts at influence and see them for what they are, they'll become better prepared to think and make decisions independently. After a child starts to identify attempts at influence, encourage them to think critically about whether they want that influence to affect the person they become. If they don't, you can then move to specifics: if you're at a party and others are drinking, can you hold a drink but not actually drink it? What about if one of your peers pressures you directly -- what are you comfortable saying to get them off your back?