Kebede Bekere (M.A). No adolescent is immune to peer pressure. All adolescents experience some sort of peer pressure. However, not all adolescents yield to negative peer pressure. Some are more susceptible to peer pressure than others.
Adolescents join peer groups for various reasons. They want to improve their social standing, to learn something, to attract attention, to get support to achieve their goals, and so on. However, sometimes they join the peer groups without making proper choices. After joining the group, some may lose their individuality and are influenced by their peers to make decisions.
It is very important to know what kinds of adolescents are more susceptible to peer pressure and what makes them more vulnerable? Adolescents who show the following characteristics are more susceptible to peer pressure.
Low self-confidence:- How adolescents feel about themselves is one of the risk factors for giving into peer pressure. Adolescents who have low self-esteem are more vulnerable to peer pressure. They may be worried that if they do not say ok to the demand of their friend, they will lose them and be unable to get other new friends. Such a kind of perception is not true, but those who do not feel confident about their ability have already convinced themselves that they are not capable to make new friends.
Adolescents with poor self-esteem also do not make decisions by themselves. They seek the advice of their peers and do what they are told without sieving the content of the advice and evaluating its consequences. On the contrary, adolescents with good self-confidence give less attention to what others think about their decisions.
Low family support:- One of the sources of strength for adolescents to thrive in life and overcome peer pressure is the support they get from the family. When adolescents do not have good communications and relationships with their parents and other family members, they want to fill the gap by making friendships with other people. In a family where there is no freedom to express one’s thoughts and emotions, adolescents will not disclose their experiences with their peers to their parents. In most cases, adolescents do not seek advice from their family if they are afraid of their reactions.
From my experience in serving parents, traditional and conservative parents complain that their teenage children do not talk with them about their personal life. Since they do not know about their teenage children’s conditions, they cannot support them. The problem is that these parents do not create a family atmosphere for teens to seek advice when needed.
Longing for acceptance:- All of us want to be loved and accepted by others. The desire for love and acceptance during adolescence is huge for they are in the time of searching for their real identity. When adolescents cannot get love and acceptance in the family, they start looking in the wrong place. They join the peer group in order to be accepted. They conform to the norms of the group just to be accepted and feel that they are someone who is important. They want to fill the vacuum in their life with the love and acceptance they get from their peer groups.
Poor academic performance:– Adolescents who have poor school performance are more susceptible to peer pressure than high achievers. Poor academic performance leads to low self-esteem which in turn contributes to vulnerability to peer pressure. In most cases, adolescents with poor school performance do not care about their behaviors and they are more likely to get involved in deviant behaviors. Poor academic performance negatively affects the self-image of adolescents, which leads them to despair and loss of a sense of direction of life. Loss of direction in life in turn leads them to do things that give them immediate gratification regardless of the long-term consequences of the behaviors.
New to a certain setting:- If you are moving to a new setting, you are disconnected from your old friends and in need of making new friends in the new area. Everyone in that setting knows that you need new friends and you may do what people want in order to fit in. You want to be accepted and as a result you do what your peers ask you to do. Even if you do not want to do it, you do not have friends to talk to or support you. This puts you at risk of being influenced by your new friends.
Walo came to the town for his secondary education. He was born and raised in the rural area. Most of his friends did not go to the school where he attended. He had a desire to make friends from the town so that they would teach him how to behave as a town boy. He joined a group in his class that had four members. They became very friendly to him and he began enjoying their company. After a few months of relationship, one of them invited him to join them in the after-school entertainment program. Walo told him that he wanted to complete his homework and study for a test after school. He persuaded him, and Walo did not want to lose the relationship so he went with him.
He took Walo to a small house near the school compound. Walo’s friend took off his shoes and went in. Walo did what his friend did. He went to the room and found his other friends sitting on the mattress at one of the corners of the room. A waitress brought a bundle of Chat (local stimulant) for them. His friends welcomed Walo to the entertainment. They began chewing chat. Coffee came; they drank. The waitress brought cigarette, his friends began smoking. Until this time, Walo did not know they chewed chat and smoked. They asked him to smoke, he refused. But as he went to the house with them more times, he gave in to it. Walo began asking his parents to send him more money. When his parents asked him why he needed more money, he told them that life in the town is costly; he wanted more money for coffee and tea to study hard. His parents thought he was right and sent him the money. At the end of the year, Walo became addicted to Chat and began Shisha, a more strong stimulant.
Impulsive personality:- Teenagers who have impulsive personalities tend to do things without analyzing the consequences of their behavior. They are guided by their impulses, not by their reasons and fail to discern the end result of their actions. If what their peers are telling them to do is appealing to them, they do it regardless of its consequences. If teens make decisions impulsively, they become more susceptible to negative peer pressure. Adolescents have the capacity to understand the consequences of their behaviors; however, because of several factors like hormones, moods, and impulsivity, they tend to act spontaneously.
Children raised in permissive and authoritarian homes:- Adolescents raised in the permissive homes do not know the boundary of their responsibilities. Such adolescents think that everything is permitted for them. They tend to act without evaluating the consequences of their actions and do whatever their friends ask them to do. They do not have a sense of direction that they received from their parents. The peer group members fill the gap by providing guidance for the adolescents raised in the permissive homes.
On the other hand, adolescents raised in the authoritarian families tend to rebel against the standards of their parents to declare their independence. The search for freedom leads these teens to give into the negative peer pressure. These two parenting styles encourage adolescents to give in to negative peer pressure. This implies that parents need to review the effects of their parenting styles on the capacity and will of teenagers to resist peer pressure
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 Rathus, Spencer A. Childhood & Adolescence: Voyages in Development. Cengage Learning. 2010. P. 205