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What is peer pressure?

What is peer pressure?


Kebede Bekere (M.A) I met a girl named Lalitu (pseudonym) who shared with me her experience in tackling peer pressure. She had just completed high school. Lalitu came from a family that has strong moral values.  When she was in grade ten, all her friends had boy friends. They went out with their boy friends and enjoyed weekends. Sometimes they travelled to resort areas and spent days together. Most of them deceived their parents when they went with their boy friends. They said that they would go for an educational trip with their classmates.

Lalitu was advised by her friends several times to have a boyfriend. They told her, “Now you are grown up and you should not be afraid to enjoy times with boys.” Sometimes they showed funny pictures they took with their boy friends. However, she resisted them and said that she was not ready to do so. They used a lot of techniques to persuade her to follow their way but she refused. Moreover, she stated that she went through emotional turmoil when she was pressured by her friends to do something against her family’s moral value.

Lalitu strongly believed in the importance of her family values to postpone having a boyfriend until a later age and focusing on her education at this younger age. Her mother advised her, “Love with men can wait for you; but the opportunity to prepare for a college education cannot wait for you.” Lalitu was convinced that her parents did not prohibit her from having a boy friend; but they advised her to discern the priority- what to do first.

Lalitu had good support from her family. When she was disturbed emotionally, she went home, got into her room and cried. Then she shared what happened with her older sister. Her older sister comforted her and encouraged her to be herself and stick to her moral values regardless of the push from her friends. Her older sister shared with her that she passed through similar experiences when she was in high school. Even in college, she said, “Friends push you to have a boyfriend in a rush. Sometimes they think that one cannot survive without a boyfriend.”

Lalitu’s experience tells us that adolescents are wrestling to choose between going with the ideas of their peers and adhering to family values. Resisting peer pressure is emotionally costly. It is not an easy choice. Many times adolescents feel torn between the expectations of their peers or their parents’ moral standards. Her story also highlights what parents, siblings and others need to do in order to help adolescents overcome negative peer pressure.

One of the positive life styles of adolescents is their ability to resist peer pressure and avoid unnecessary compromise with their core values in their relationships. Take a minute to remember how you handled peer pressure when you were an adolescent. Did you manage to resist negative peer pressure? Did you feel that you had the necessary skills and confidence to overcome peer pressure? If you are in the adolescence age at present, do you have the skills that enable you to resist peer pressure? In this article, I focus on explaining what peer pressure is and its pros and cons. I will publish consecutive articles on the strategies of resisting peer pressure. 

How is peer pressure defined?

There are many ways to describe what peer pressure is. Let us start from the dictionary definition of the two words: peer and pressure. Peer is defined as “a person who is the same age or who has the same social status as you”[1] and pressure is described as “to force or to try to persuade some body to do something”[2]. Therefore, the idea of peer pressure is a persuasion done by a person of your age for you to do something. Below are some descriptions of peer pressure.

  • Peer pressure is a powerful feeling of pressure from peers (persons of similar age) to make decisions and choices in favor of the expectations of the peers in order to remain in and be accepted by the peers. For instance, drinking alcohol because friends want them to drink or cheating on examinations because others are doing the same.
  • Peer pressure is “demands for conformity to group norms and a demonstration of commitment and loyalty to group members.”[3]

In conclusion, peer pressure is a condition in the relationship in which group members try to persuade each other to do something the group wants regardless of an individual’s preference. Peer pressure is the demand to conform to the standards and values of the peers.

      Pros and cons of peer pressure

Friendship has many advantages. However, if the boundary of the relationships is not set, pressure from friends can lead adolescents to a wrong decision that hurts their and others’ lives. Peer pressure can be positive or negative.

Positive peer pressure:– Peer pressure is positive when it contributes to persuading the group members to do something good. If the group members are focusing on something positive such as thriving in their academic work, volunteering for social services, excelling in athletics, the members are pressured to do similar things in order to fit in. Pressure on the peers to do good things is a desired behavior. If adolescents belong to a group that has strong values and purpose, members are positively influenced to have strong values and goal for their lives.

Negative peer pressure:- Peer pressure is negative when it leads group members to do things that they are not comfortable with and in turn destroy their lives.  You are under negative peer pressure when your peers or friends encourage you verbally or non-verbally to do things that are morally wrong, harmful to self and others.[4]

Most young people do not want to deviate from the practice of their peers because deviation will bring rejection by the group. They want to fit in with the group. Most peer groups want strong conformity from their members. The peer pressure that leads adolescents to lose their individuality in the group and cut their healthy relationship with the families is dangerous.

Generally, pros and cons of peer pressure depend on the nature of the group in which adolescents are members. If you are a member of a group that wants to outsmart others in academic performances, you are under the pressure to achieve your best. In order to achieve more, you are supposed to work hard. Failing to meet the standard of the group may jeopardize your membership status in the group. Therefore, it is recommended that you have to choose good friends in order to be influenced to do well. The choice you make regarding peer pressure would lead you either to failure or success. In this lesson, I mainly focus on how to resist the negative peer pressure.

[1] Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th ed. Oxford University Press. 2006.  P. 1074

[2]Ibid.,  P. 1148

[3] Newman, Barbara M. & Newman, Philip R. Development through life: A psychological Approach. Cengage Learning. p. 355.

[4] Scott, Sharon. How to Say No and Keep Your Friends: Peer Pressure Reversal for Teens and keep friends: Peer pressure Reversal for teens and preteens.    Human Resource Development Press, Inc. 1997.  p. 5