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Coping with Peer Pressure

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Coping with Peer Pressure


By Alphious Mugari

Peer pressure refers to the process by which members of the same social group influence other members to do things that they may be resistant to do. It often involves conformity, where the person changes their behaviour, values, or attitudes to align with those of their peers. Peers play a large role in the social, physical, and emotional development of children and adolescents. 

Generally, the term peer pressure is used when people are talking about behaviours that are not socially acceptable, such as drug abuse, bullying, vandalism, and engaging in pre-marital sexual activity. Negative peer pressure has detrimental effects on an individual’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. On the other hand, positive peer pressure encourages personal growth, social integration, and development of healthy relationships. This article will focus more on negative peer pressure and how to deal with it. 

People give in to negative peer pressure for a variety of reasons. Individuals with low self-esteem, poor family support, conflicts at home, and other psycho-social problems, may succumb to peer pressure to fit in, or feel accepted by their peers. Others worry that if they don’t go along with what everyone else is doing, they’ll be labelled or isolated. There are others who just give in to pressure simply out of curiosity. Just as the saying goes, ‘human beings are social beings,’ most people have a strong desire for social validation and fear of rejection.

Consequence of Negative Peer Pressure

In most cases, negative peer pressure results in anxiety or depression. Trying to adapt to pressure from peers, especially when it goes against a person’s own values can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Cognitive dissonance or psychological discomfort emanates from inconsistences between one’s beliefs and their behaviours. 

Negative behaviour changes can also result from negative peer pressure. Peers might encourage someone to start acting negatively, and engage in disorderly behaviours such as bullying, truancy and stealing. Friends may influence each other to partake in risky behaviours such as, underage drinking, experimenting with drugs, reckless driving, or unsafe sex, all of which usually results major health and legal consequences. Most young people engage in gender based violence to prove their masculinity to their patriarchal peers. 

Negative peer pressure can derail young people from academic responsibilities. An individual may start neglecting schoolwork, skip classes, or engage in cheating, which can damage their educational outcomes. Constant comparison to peers, and feeling like an outcast if they don’t conform to their social group can decrease someone’s self-esteem, leading to a negative self-image and diminished self-worth. 

Peers that obsess over appearances can make their colleagues to experience feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with their looks. In response, they will be indirectly forced to change their appearance to fit in, and feel valued. This may result in eating disorders (anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa) in an attempt to feel accepted by colleagues. Others may end up resorting to unsafe body altering supplements or pills for weight loss or gain. 

The pressure young people face to conform can persist into adulthood. Negative peer pressure in adults often includes risky behaviours. Adults usually experience peer pressure at work as they are compelled to dress, behave, think or have a lifestyle that matches their workmates. They can also feel an internal pressure to do what their colleagues consider normal, which can put them at risk for addictions. Some of the addictions that may be resultant of succumbing to negative peer pressure include gambling, food, internet, shopping, and sex addiction.

Dealing with Peer Pressure 

There are various strategies that can be employed in dealing with negative peer pressure. Dealing with peer pressure can be difficult, but through adoption of evidence based practices and commitment, peer pressure can be very beneficial as it can influence positive beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours. 

Young people must be taught to set healthy boundaries in social groups to avoid negative peer pressure. This can be achieved through communicating their personal beliefs and values to their peers. The boundaries should be clearly set in such a manner that their colleagues know that the friendship may be compromised if they keep on insisting on certain behaviours.

 Planning ahead also helps in managing negative peer pressure. This can be done through anticipating situations with negative peer pressure, and preparing how to deal with it. The plan can include preparing an excuse for avoiding certain behaviour which an individual may not be comfortable doing, such as drinking alcohol at a party. 

Developing self-confidence and assertiveness plays a significant role in resisting negative peer pressure. Through recognising their strengths, talents, and accomplishments, children can develop self-confidence.  Generally, children who feel good about themselves are less vulnerable to negative peer pressure. Parents, guardians and teachers must therefore foster assertiveness, and self-confidence among children, and young people. Assertive people are able to confidently say ‘NO’ to anyone who forces them either directly or indirectly to behave in dangerous or inappropriate ways. They also have good emotional self-regulation which helps them to stick to their own values and control thoughts, emotions and manage current behaviours towards long term goals. 

Children must also be taught at an earlier age on morality (Unhu/Ubuntu) to be able to manage negative peer pressure. Children must be taught that their beliefs, values, and behaviours must be centred doing what is right in every situation as well as respecting elders. This helps them to resist peer pressure even if they meet new friends or they get in new environments. Rather than worrying about the effects of their children’s friendships, parents must focus on creating a positive, supportive home environment. 

Children and young people must also be taught on choosing friends, and social groups that respect their personal beliefs and behaviours. They can also have an accountability buddy with similar lifestyle goals who helps them to be always on track especially in social groups. They can share their values to their accountability buddy and ask them to help them stay on track. The fact that everyone is doing something does not make that thing right, young people must therefore be guided by what is right rather than what others are doing.

 It also helps to avoid getting in situations which may exert negative peer pressure on someone. Parents on the other hand must also know the friends of their children and also encourage their children to communicate their experiences and feelings. They must also teach their children to say ‘No” to anyone who wants to extern negative peer pressure on them.

Educating children and young people on the negative effects of peer pressure also helps them to know the potential consequences of engaging in potentially harmful activities influenced by negative peer pressure. Understanding the risks and implications of certain behaviours can help children to make informed decisions and resist the pressure to behave in certain ways. 

Young people can also be taught on engaging in alternative activities that are positive and fulfilling. The alternative activities help to redirect their focus away from negative peer pressure. This can be achieved through exploring hobbies, sports, clubs or community organizations that reflect their interests and values. The alternative activities also help them to find like-minded individuals and build stronger support systems that provide positive peer influence. 

In conclusion, negative peer pressure is a prevalent issue affecting countless individuals, particularly during adolescence and young adulthood. Through understanding the consequences of negative peer pressure and implementing preventive measures, young people can resist negative peer pressure and be empowered to make independent and healthier choices. Parents and teachers must also create an environment that nurtures individuality, foster resilience and promote positive relationships. This will ultimately enable children to better resist negative peer pressure and thrive. 

Alphious is a registered Intern Community Psychologist – AHPCZ  (A/PSY0796)

[email protected] 

0773 227 688

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