Peer Pressure

"Come on! ALL of us are cutting math. Who wants to go take that quiz? We're going to take a walk and get lunch instead. Let's go!" says the kid in school with whom you're dying to be friends. Do you do what you know is right and go to math class, quiz and all? Or, do you give in and go with them?

As you grow older, you'll be faced with some challenging decisions. Some don't have a clear right or wrong answer, like should you play soccer or field hockey? Other decisions involve serious moral dilemmas, like whether to cut class, try cigarettes, or lie to your parents.

Making decisions on your own is hard enough, but when other people get involved and try to pressure you one way or another it can be even harder. When people your own age try to influence how you act, it's called peer pressure. It's something everyone has to deal with - even adults. Read on to find out about peer pressure and how to deal with it.

Defining Peer Pressure

A peer is a friend or acquaintance who is about the same age as you. You probably interact with peers in school, at your church or synagogue, on your soccer team, or in your tutoring session. Peers influence your life, whether you know it or not, just by spending time with you. You learn from them, and they learn from you. It's only human nature to listen to and learn from other people in your age group.

Peers can have a positive influence on each other. Maybe another student in your science class taught you an easy way to remember the planets in the solar system, or someone on the soccer team taught you a cool trick with the ball. You might admire a friend who is always a good sport and try to be more like her. Maybe you got others excited about your new favorite book, and now everyone's reading it. These are examples of how peers positively influence each other everyday.

Sometimes peers influence each other in negative ways. For example, one kid in school might try to get another to cut class with him, your soccer friend might try to convince you to be mean to another player and never pass her the ball, or a kid in the neighborhood might want you to shoplift with him.

Why Do People Give in to Peer Pressure?

Some kids give in to peer pressure because they want to be liked, to fit in, or because they worry that other kids may make fun of them if they don't go along with the group. Others may go along because they are curious to try something new that others are doing. The idea that "everyone's doing it" may influence some kids to leave their better judgement, or their common sense, behind.

Peer pressure can be extremely strong and hard to resist. Experiments have shown how peer pressure can influence someone to change her mind from what she knows for sure is a correct answer to the incorrect answer - just because everyone else gives the incorrect answer! These studies have also shown that all it takes for someone to stand her ground on what she knows is right is for one other peer to join her. That principle holds true for people of any age in peer pressure situations.

How to Walk Away From Peer Pressure

It can be hard to walk away from peer pressure, but it can be done. Paying attention to your own feelings and beliefs about what is right and wrong can help you know the right thing to do. Inner strength and self-confidence can help you stand firm, walk away, and resist doing something when you know better.

Having at least one other peer who joins you takes a lot of the power out of peer pressure and makes it much easier to resist. It's great to have friends with values similar to yours who will back you up when you don't want to do something.

You've probably had a parent or teacher advise you to "choose your friends wisely." Peer pressure is a big reason why they say this. If you choose friends who don't use drugs, cut class, smoke cigarettes, or lie to their parents, then you probably won't do these things either, even if other kids do. Remember to join a friend if you see him having trouble resisting peer pressure. It can be powerful for one kid to join another by simply saying, "I'm with you, let's go."

Even if you're faced with peer pressure while you're alone, there are still things you can do. For example, if you're out at recess and you see the group of kids who are always trying to get you to smoke cigarettes with them, avoid them. If you don't go near the group at all, they can't try to pressure you. Simply telling them you don't want to smoke might be another option for you. Or, if you're going outside during lunchtime, hang out with other people who are doing things you enjoy. Maybe there's a dodgeball game getting started or a group of kids are running races.

If you continue to face peer pressure and you're finding it difficult to handle, talk to someone you trust. Don't feel guilty if you've made a mistake or two. Talking to a parent, teacher, or guidance counselor can help you feel much better and prepare you for the next time you face peer pressure.

Powerful, Positive Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is not always a bad thing. It can be powerful in shaping positive behaviors in kids.

For example, in some schools where bullies have been a problem, peer pressure has been used to influence the kids who are bullying to straighten up and act right. There are many elementary schools in which peer groups have joined together to prevent bullying.

Sometimes it takes adult guidance to help with such a big plan, but the power of the peer group for positive change is a major force. Remember, if you stand your ground and do what you know is right, you'll never regret it!

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