An expert from The Mix, a free, confidential information and support service for under-25s, talks about the good and bad influence of friends and classmates and what parents can do if peer pressure is having an adverse effect on their child.
What is peer pressure?
Peer pressure is the influence we feel from friends, classmates or other people in our social circle to act a certain way or do certain things we may not have considered doing otherwise. This pressure often comes from a desire to fit in with a particular group of people. It can also come out of low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy.
While peer pressure has a bad reputation, it can have a positive influence on young people – for example peer encouragement from study groups or sports teams. In other cases, negative peer pressure may lead to risky behaviours.
It’s also important to distinguish between peer pressure and bullying. There can be a thin line between the two. But as a general guide, bullying tends to be negative pressure intentionally directed at an individual, whereas peer pressure isn’t necessarily intentional.
How is peer pressure perpetrated through social media and the internet?
Social media and the internet can expand our pool of peers. There’s a strong temptation to compare our lives to other people’s curated Instagram or Facebook feeds. This can affect our perception of ‘normal’ and can lead to feelings of inadequacy and wanting to conform.
The continuous availability of social media can also mean little respite from these pressures – whereas in the past, peer pressure may have been restricted to offline environments such as school, it can now permeate all aspects of a person’s life.
Spotting the signs
Recognising the signs of peer pressure is not easy as they are not always obvious. Look out for uncharacteristic fashion choices, drink/drug habits, relationship status, choice of friends and academic performance. Any sudden changes or new habits that are out of character may be an indication of peer pressure.
How parents can help
While parents can't protect their children from pressures to take drugs or to have sex for example, they can provide them with the skills and knowledge to make informed decisions by themselves.
It's a case of opening up conversations about these things rather than shying away from them in the hope of protecting a young person's innocence.
Let your child know that you are there for them if they want to talk about anything and avoid being judgmental or critical of the other people involved.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.