Peer pressure is something we’re taught about at a young age; we learn that, as our friends get older, their ideas get dumber, and it’s our job to be the bigger person and walk away. We’re taught tactics on how to deal with the confrontation, from switching the subject to asserting yourself and your beliefs. When I was in grade school, and thus too young to really understand what ‘peer pressure’ meant, I vividly remember imagining a situation where I would be the ‘hero’ and stand up for myself.
Obviously, time has passed — my grade and age are no longer in the single digits. I, as I’m sure most of you feel in regards to yourselves, like to think I’m smarter and more mature than my second-grade self. Which is ironic, because in this context, I still feel like a little girl in pigtails.
I’ve never truly faced peer pressure, or at the very least, I haven’t experienced it in the way we’re taught about it. I’ve never walked into the bathroom to find girls smoking and offering me a cigarette. I haven’t been given beer before a dance. I’ve never gone to a party and been passed pills, weed, or any other drug you can think of. But, at least from what I’ve heard, these aren’t the most accurate representations of modern peer pressure.
The closest I’ve come to dealing with the peer pressure seen in media is following a crowd rather than following my gut. I suppose in some ways, that’s all peer pressure really is: after all, as Kayelona is about to explain, there is such a thing as good peer pressure. Still, based on what I’ve learned in the past, it’s taken me years and multiple experiences to recognize peer pressure isn’t just people offering you things and you saying no.
So, now that I know peer pressure comes in so many different forms, I think it begs the question of why we’re taught it in such a specific way.
I personally believe we’re taught about peer pressure with such extreme examples because — as I mentioned above — we’re all too young to actually experience this phenomenon by the time we learn what it is. We’re not smart enough to realize that there are subtle ways to peer pressure, or that it doesn’t always revolve around illegal substances/practices. So, we learn about it in the most cut-and-dry style: this is what it is, and this is how you deal with it.
But how much does that actually help? How are we supposed to recognize that (when coerced by friends) staying out a little too late, wearing an outfit you normally wouldn’t, or in some other way feeding into misguided behavior are all peer pressure, just like being offered drugs or cigarettes is?
I’m sure all of us have learned about peer pressure, if not from health class, then from another source. If you can recall, there is good and bad peer pressure. We all know that a friend that forces you to do drugs or whatever else is bad peer pressure. A friend who encourages you to further a skill you are good at is good peer pressure. But where’s the line and how can we tell how far is too far? How do we know what is good and what is bad?
First of all, what is peer pressure? Merriam-Webster Dictionary says, “a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one's age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them.” As the definition says, peer pressure comes from our peers. Everyone wants to be liked and accepted, so peer pressure exceeds adolescence, but during our teenage years, this desire is huge. Because we all long to be accepted, peer pressure is a prominent problem during this time in our lives. Peer pressure can come in all shapes and sizes: friends, parents, clothes, technology, and so much more.
Now that we’ve covered what peer pressure is, let’s talk about good versus bad. Bad peer pressure is anything that makes you uncomfortable or compromises who you are. This can look different for everyone. For example, the pressure of social media might significantly impact one student but have no effect on another. Bad peer pressure can have an impact on something so minor as your style of clothing to something as serious as your health. On the other hand, good peer pressure is something we don’t often think of. Good peer pressure is anything that makes you a better person or enhances a skill. If you like photography and a friend encouraged you to join the photography enthusiast club, that would be good peer pressure. A good alternative word for good peer pressure might be ‘encouragement.’
So how can you tell the difference? If peer pressure makes you uncomfortable or asks you to do something you know is wrong, it’s probably bad. Positive peer pressure is something that stretches you to think beyond your average mindset and may make you a better person. You might also be able to tell if it’s good or bad based on where it comes from. If a trusted family member or friend is pressuring you into something beneficial, it might be good. But if pressure is coming from bad influences or untrustworthy friends, it’s bad peer pressure.
Another thing we don’t think about is that good peer pressure can turn bad. Let’s say you enjoy something and there is a club that offers your interest. Maybe a friend wants you to join, and that is good; they are encouraging you to expand your horizons and become better at your interest. Let’s say, for various reasons, you don’t want to join that club but your friend pesters you constantly to join. You’ve told them “no” but they won’t stop. At this point, the pressure is becoming disrespectful; even with good intentions, this is bad because it pushes you into something you don’t want.
How do we say no to bad peer pressure? Well, you can simply say “no.” Even though it’s hard, I would rather be rejected than compromise my morals or wishes. We can avoid people or sources who would provide bad peer pressure. Choose friends that lift you up and don’t ask you to do things you are uncomfortable with. Maybe social media is presenting negative peer pressure for you. Take a “social media cleanse.” In other words, step away from the screen for a little while. You have the power to choose what influences you, so choose well.
Kayelona pointing out that peer pressure can ‘turn bad’ is SO important. I think that, after spending so much time getting to know someone, you start to believe that good intentions is all that matters, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Of course, in these situations, your friends probably don’t mean to manipulate you. But when it comes down to it, if you’re doing something you don’t want to do because of someone else, it’s peer pressure, whether the intention was good or bad.
I think almost all of us can recall a time we felt like the odd one out. It’s a very isolating and alien thing, and if you’re anything like me, you wanted nothing more than to shake the feeling away. When it comes down to it, though you have to ask yourself: is feeling good in the moment worth the years/lifetime of regret it could bring?
Like I said: I’ve never been confronted with drugs, cigarettes, etc. However, I have absolutely regretted saying something or acting a certain way because I thought it would impress someone. Now, I’ve decided that people can take me or leave me. But in the past, I’ve made jokes at other people’s (or even my own) expenses, and I’ve changed my personality because I thought it would better complement someone else’s. And I can personally assure you: it didn’t do me any good in the long run.
Peer pressure isn’t fun, it just isn’t. As Lauren said, it can make us feel isolated and alienated, and no one enjoys feeling lonely. Aside from feeling lonely, when you stray away from popular opinion, you are left feeling like a weirdo. But again, as Lauren said, is a moment of satisfaction and acceptance worth the inevitable consequences? You might end up feeling lonely or weird, but when you stay true to what you know, you won’t regret it.
Impressing yourself will always be more respectable than impressing someone else. So, if someone is pressuring you into doing something that doesn’t feel right, it’s peer pressure. And there is a simple way to make the feeling go away — don’t do it. Obviously, this is far easier said than done, but like Kayelona mentioned, staying true to yourself and what you believe in is something you’ll never truly regret.
Until next time…
K + L
| The idea for this article was brought to you by Monique Roberts, an RVA Student.
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