Kebede Bekere (M.A).Adolescents need to know how to respond to peer pressure. You need skills that enable you to respond appropriately to the persuasion from your peers. You are not supposed to say, “YES” to all the demands of your peers. You need to know when to say “YES” and “NO”. There are some techniques or skills that help you to resist peer pressure. Some of them are described below.
Focus on prevention
In health education, we are advised to focus on preventing disease. It is easier to prevent a sickness than to cure it. Similarly, it is recommended that you avoid situations that make you vulnerable to peer pressure in your daily life. For instance, if you are invited by your friends for an evening party, you can imagine the situation. Your friends may pressure you to do something during or after the party (drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, experimenting with drugs, or having sex). Imagining the situation helps you to avoid going to the event or prepares you to handle the situation properly without losing your moral standing.
Identify peer pressure tricks
One of the first steps to resist peer pressure is to know the tricks that your friends use to persuade you. Your peers may use a variety of persuasive techniques to convince you to do what you do not want to do. Your friends can employ verbal and non-verbal methods for the persuasion. The pressure can be direct or indirect. If you know some of these tricks ahead of time, you can prepare yourself to tackle them whenever your friends employ them.
- They threaten you to reject you as their friends. In some cases, some may frighten you by threatening to hurt you
- Your peers argue with you to convince you. Some of their reasons may be “Everyone is doing it!” or “If you do it, nothing bad will happen”
- Your peers may put you down, tease you
- They may change the topics of discussion and do not want to listen to you when you state your point of view or argument against what they have proposed.
- Your friends may beg you to do something for the sake of friendship just once. Of course once you start, you will continue doing it.
- They model a certain kind of style: dress, use of language, haircut, gestures and as you spend time with them, you are tempted to imitate them
- Your friends may create an occasion where adults are not around in which to experiment with certain things. For instance, they invite you to a party of teenagers where alcohol is available for consumption
- Sometimes, it is not your peers, but you yourself who puts pressure on your life. Your perception may pressurize you to do something that you think your friends want you to do. At times adolescents think their friends are teasing them non-verbally when they are not really teasing them at all.
If you know some of the ways that your friends can put pressure on you to do certain things that you do not want to do, you can prepare yourself to handle them effectively. If you know the tricks, you can avoid things they want you to do and still keep the friendships.
Being assertive means to be able to formulate and communicate one’s ideas, attitudes, and emotions in a clear, direct, and in a polite manner. For adolescents in peer relationships, being assertive is not an easy job. Adolescents pay the price for being assertive for a time; but in the long term, it is rewarding. Teenagers cannot be assertive naturally; they need to get appropriate assertive training from parents, siblings, teachers and psychologists. There are various trainings available for assertive training for adolescents. Teenagers who are assertive can easily make the right decisions at the right time. Assertive teenagers are straightforward, very clear about their goals, stand for themselves, confident, know how to articulate what they think, and have a good self-image. Teenagers who are assertive can resist negative peer pressure. [I will address about assertiveness in the future].
Lobby others to positive direction
If you find many in your peer group who want to do something you believe is wrong, you have two options. You either give in or try to persuade them to change their direction. There is strength in numbers. The majority has influence. However, that does not mean that the majority is always right. Truth is not always on the side of the majority. I do not believe that what is supported by the majority is always morally right. In order to change the direction of the majority, you can start lobbying some of your friends to stand on your side. You can create a positive pressure on some of your friends to resist the inappropriate actions the majority proposes. You need an ally from your group members to resist the pressure.
Reprove the wrong behaviors of your friends
Do not do what others do if you do not accept the behaviors. Complying with others may seem painless for the time being, but it costs you a lot in the long term. On the other hand, reproving their bad behaviors may cost you for a time; however, it saves you and your friends.
Examine the consequences of your decision
Think before you act. Your friends may put pressure on you to do something you don’t want to do. When you do it, it is you who will suffer the consequences. Your friends may not be part of the suffering. They may not share the negative consequences, you carry the full load. Therefore, before you say, “YES” to the pressure of your friends, think about the consequences of your decision. If the action your friends want you to do leads you to physical, emotional or social harm in the short or long term, avoid it. Making such a decision demands being calm, logical, and taking time, and by taking time to examine the consequences of the action, you can avoid tragic consequences in your life.
Do not enslave yourself to please others
You are a unique person. You cannot be similar with other people in every thing. You should give opportunity for yourself to reflect on your uniqueness. Others may influence you to do things that you are not comfortable with. Do not do these things just to please them. If you continue doing things to please others, you become a lifelong slave of people’s expectations.
Enjoy your personal interest
If you do not have a personal interest that excludes your peer group, you are vulnerable to do whatever your peers do. However, if you have your own personal interest when you are not in a group, you have something to do by yourself. You do not feel idle when you are not with your peers. You do not depend on them or need them always to do something. Therefore, create something you enjoy doing alone.
Practice regular reflection and learning
Everyone makes mistakes one way or another. You may give in to peer pressure and do something because of your poor choice. Even when your mistake has a big consequence, you cannot delete it. However, you can learn a lot from your past experience. Identify things that you did and regret for doing them. Do not condemn yourself for those past actions. Try to understand why and how you did them. What were the wrong reasons that led you to do them? What was wrong in the process? How can you change or improve this in the future? Identify key lessons from your past experience and plan to implement the lessons in the future. If you are smart enough, you can also learn from others’ mistakes. You should not wait to learn until you make mistakes.
Share your challenges with your parents
It is good you share with your parents some challenges you face with your peers. You can maintain your privacy; but if you face challenges and do not get the support of your parents, you will make wrong decisions that may harm you.
Recently I had a discussion with a father of a teenage girl. She was in high school and actively participated in spiritual fellowship in the school. The girl was a member of the team that coordinated the fellowship. The team leader wanted the members to meet during class breaks, after school and during the weekends for spiritual renewal sessions. At one time he told the group that he had a special revelation and wanted to organize a special event of fasting and meditation in a mountain area far from their home town. He named six boys and six girls who should go with him for the special event. Some group members resisted him, but he persuaded and convinced them. They all agreed to go with him.
The daughter of the father [mentioned above] went home and asked her dad to give her permission to go for a special spiritual renewal during the weekend. He said, “Tell me the details of the event: who organized it? Who are going with you?” The girl was afraid to disclose the information. The father told her that he would give permission when he knew the details. Finally, she disclosed the whole story to her father. Then the father contacted the parents of the group members and discussed with them about the issue. The group leader and a few boys in the group plotted this to get the girls separately in remote areas and abuse them. The father told me that the boy dropped out of school, was hospitalized for mental problems and finally died. It was a sad story.
The father of the teenage girl mentioned in the story saved his daughter and the other teenagers because he got information before the execution of the plan. His daughter disclosed the information in order to secure permission to go to the event. I like to remind teenagers that “Your parents are your allies, not your enemies.” Therefore, when you face challenges from your peers, share with them. They are more experienced than you and your friends are and can help you deal with the challenges constructively. Remember that your parents have your best interest in their hearts.
Use a variety of strategies
In addition to what are stated above, adolescents can use a variety of strategies to resist peer pressure. Depending on the situation and its appropriateness, you can use strategies like: saying no, changing the subject of the discussion, walking away, avoiding the situation where there might be a peer pressure, making friendships with peers who have model behaviors, acting shocked, suggesting a better and productive idea, ignoring the suggestion and focusing on something else, making an excuse, making a joke to change the mood or lighten the situation, and seeking someone who you can talk to when you are under peer pressure.
 Tarshis, Thomas P. Living with peer pressure and bullying. Infobase publishing. 2010. P. 17
 Havelin, Kate. Assertiveness: how can I say what I mean? Copstone Press. 2000. P. 7