This is one term we all are familiar with-either we have been through it, heard about someone who fell into trouble because of it, or been taught about how to avoid getting into it, by our parents and in the Moral education classes at school. Simply defined, ‘peer pressure’ is the pressure we get from our peers to do things we otherwise wouldn’t have done. It leads to a change in life-style, attitudes, habits, thinking and can even completely change a person’s nature, so much so that he cannot recognise himself. And all these changes are brought about to conform to the group’s norms.
The scary thing about peer pressure is that it mostly affects us at an adolescent stage, when we are most vulnerable to it. To adolescents, their friends are more influential than their parents, and peer pressure is literally a ‘hallmark’ of our adolescent years. Adolescents feel that their parents don’t really understand them, and their friends do, so they end up spending a lot of time with their peers, and as a result get influenced into doing things just because their friends think it is cool!
And you know what the worst part is? It is called peer “pressure” because we feel “pressurised” to do something even if we do not want to. We feel scared that if we don’t do it, our friends will think we are boring, and they will not want to be with us anymore. And at a stage when friends are our lives, losing our dignity seems easier than losing friends.
So is doing something which my friends do, that bad? What are the risks? If they can do it, why can’t I? These questions are asked by someone who is torn between not doing something which feels wrong, and not wanting to disappoint his/her friends.
But really? What can peer pressure push us to do? Are the stories really that bad? I would like to elaborate on this with a few real-life examples (some of which are based on the internet stories I have read, and the rest are stories I have heard around me):
A 15 year old girl went to a party with her girlfriends from school. Her mum had asked her to be very careful, and always stick to her friends, and not get close to anyone she did not know properly. But her friends wanted to have some fun, and they wanted to flirt with boys, because apparently they had done it so many times before. So while the friends were dancing with boys, this girl goes out into the garden with a boy, who lures her there, in apparent need of peace and quiet. She reluctantly goes, and there the boy rapes her. And because everyone else was inside, with really loud music playing, no-one could hear her screams. Needless to say, the girl had to face hell because of one wrong decision and thereafter the matter got dirtier with the cops getting involved.
An 11 year old boy started smoking cigarettes because his friends used to do it, and he didn’t want to be different. Although he wasn’t comfortable doing it, it soon became a habit with him, and he got hooked onto it.
A 13 year old boy who was friends with senior boys of his school, got into gambling, because he felt lucky to be with the “cool seniors” and wanted to do something to impress them. Not only did he end up facing terrible losses, his family had to clear his debts, and had to face a lot of social embarrassment.
Peer pressure doesn’t always influence us to do things which our friends do. Sometimes we want to be like our friends, in the way they look, the gadgets they use, the places they go to. And to do this, we use under-hand means of getting the resources to be like them. It can influence us to steal money to buy clothes or shoes which our girlfriends recently bought. It can force us to lie about our families, and life-style just because we like the lives our friends lead. I have read about cases where teenage girls, from very respectable families, have ‘willingly’ gone into prostitution, because they wanted smart-phones and laptops like their friends had.
Peer pressure forces us to do things we don’t want to. It ruins our social reputation. It frustrates us internally, and we cannot share our problems with our friends, or with our parents. We see ourselves willingly do things we are not comfortable with, and we lose respect in our own eyes. We distance ourselves from our families, and feel very lonely because of it. And more often than not, we are so deep into the wrongs, that turning back is tougher than carrying on. Added to the mental breakdown, are the bad habits which we get hooked on to- smoking, drinking, gambling, drug-abuse, unhealthy sexual activity, stealing etc.
Although peer pressure isn’t always negative, it is very rare that a good person forces a bad person into becoming good. Although this is usually good, at times things like trying to get higher marks, than their friends, in academics, can cause a lot of stress on students.
So how can we avoid this? How do we not get pressurised into doing things to impress our friends? Although very tough, it isn’t impossible. First of all feel good about yourself. People with very low self esteem are at a higher risk of getting affected by peer pressure, than those who are confident about themselves. Love yourself, feel good in your own skin, learn to be different, be unique. Each one of us is special just the way we are, we just have to keep discovering new things about ourselves. We do not need to be like someone else to be cool because we are ALREADY cool! And imagine how boring it would be to have friends who are into the same things as us..our world would be full of clones then.
So to every person out there, who is reading this—there is nothing as cool as being comfortable in your own skin, and learning to stand up for yourself. One ‘no’ can really turn your life around. So instead of copying your friends, make them want to be you, ‘because you are amazing just the way you are!’