From the beginning, parents work to teach their children how to make healthy decisions. But as children age, parents' influence decreases and the opinion of peers becomes more and more important. Social pressure can affect a wide range of thoughts, actions and behaviors, from academic performance to substance use to mental health.
"Teens have so much on their plates," says Stacie Goran, LPC, LCDC, Teen Recovery Program Manager at Children's Health℠. "Between school expectations, parental guidelines, the desire to fit in and the influences of their peers, it's easy to become overwhelmed and follow the group. It's important that teens develop their own identity and learn how to hold firm to their values to avoid peer pressure."
Learn more about the types and effects of peer pressure and how you can prepare your child to deal with it in a healthy way.
What is peer pressure?
Peer pressure is internal or external pressure felt to behave in certain ways, both good and bad. Peer pressure begins as early as age 10 with the forming of social groups in elementary school and increases during adolescence, throughout junior high and high school.
Changing hormones, developing brains and emerging identities makes the start of adolescence a particularly vulnerable time, where peer pressure is most influential. This is also a stage in life where friend groups are of utmost importance and the need to fit in is a major factor in decision making.
Types of peer pressure
There are several different types of peer pressure that kids and adolescents may experience. Types of peer pressure include spoken and unspoken, direct and indirect, and negative and positive.
What are the effects of peer pressure?
The effects of peer pressure can manifest differently in each person. Peer pressure can play on certain strengths or challenges that an adolescent already faces. For example, a teen with low confidence and few close friends may be more susceptible to the effects of negative peer pressure, while a confident, extroverted teen may be more likely to give and receive positive peer pressure.
Negative peer pressure can encourage teenagers to participate in negative behaviors and habits, such as:
Negative peer pressure can also affect mental health. It can decrease self-confidence and lead to poor academic performance, distancing from family members and friends, or an increase in depression and anxiety. Left untreated, this could eventually lead teens to engage in self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.
On the other hand, social pressure can have positive effects on teens as well. Positive effects of peer pressure can include pressure to:
- Excel academically
- Develop leadership qualities
- Become a leader of a school group
- Participate in extracurricular activities
- Volunteer for a good cause
Positive peer pressure can foster sense of belonging, self-confidence and a solidified sense of self.
What are the effects of social media on peer pressure?
Just as in-person interactions can be both positive and negative, communication through social media can also have a positive or negative effect. Social media is constantly available, enabling teens to receive those messages 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This means social media has great potential to amplify feelings of peer pressure, both negative and positive.
One common social media misrepresentation is when people post the "best" of their lives, creating a false sense of reality. This can lead teens to compare the true reality of their lives to the "picture-perfect" portrayal of others' lives and feel pressure to keep up. Additionally, the absence of in-person feedback can enable an environment in which people share harmful content or abusive comments that they would not otherwise say in person. This phenomenon (called trolling) is an incredibly pervasive form of negative peer pressure found on social media. There have also been examples of harmful online challenges that have the potential to negatively impact a child's health.
Fortunately, social media can also promote positive peer pressure through groups that support charitable causes or pages that highlight inspirational stories. Access to social media also allows us to stay connected to far away family and friends in ways that were not possible before.
To support children in an age of screens and social media, it's important for parents to teach healthy digital habits that encourage emotional health.
How can teens deal with peer pressure?
Given the effects that peer pressure can have on adolescents and teens, it's important for parents to encourage open communication and help their child prepare for situations of negative peer pressure. See seven tips to help teens avoid negative peer pressure and respond in a healthy way.
- Create an environment of open communication with your child from an early age. Look for opportunities to ask your child about pressure they have seen or experienced and how that made them feel. Let them know you are there to listen and help if they need it.
- Share your own experiences of peer pressure as appropriate and ways you've handled them. Model healthy behaviors with your friends and family.
- Teach your child how to set boundaries and be assertive in their communication. Ask them to think about what they would say in a negative situation, and practice saying no in different ways.
- Establish a plan and a backup plan with your child for situations of negative peer pressure. Let them know there is nothing wrong with making an excuse if they are unsure what to do and help them brainstorm creative ways to exit an uncomfortable situation.
- Make an effort to get to know your child's friends and their parents. If possible, encourage your child to invite friends over as one way to become familiar with them.
- Encourage your child to seek out positive relationships and to choose friends who respect them and do not put unfair pressure on them.
- Foster independence in your child and teach them to listen to their gut. Let them know that they cannot please everyone, and that is okay.
If you continue to have concerns regarding your child and peer pressure, reach out to teachers, school administration or a mental health professional for additional support.
The Children's Health pediatric psychiatry and psychology department provides comprehensive services to support children's and teens' mental health. Learn more about our programs and services.