Introduction to Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is the single most powerful and character defining
force in every individual of society. It is particular strong and
evident in children and teenagers who have a lesser capacity to resist
its influences. Peer pressure is defined as the influence of a group on
an individual member of that group to conform to group norms and
accepted behaviours. In other words, the group dictates to the
individual what he should do and how he should behave. If the individual
refuses to accept the group’s norms, he/she risks ridicule and even
becoming an outcast. Hence, most people simply adopt group norms and
behaviors (especially children and teens who need peer acceptance) even
though they may not personally feel at ease with them.
What are the
types of peer pressure?
Peer pressure is not altogether a bad
thing. It can sometimes have a positive effect on the child’s character
and development. Peer pressure can therefore be categorized in terms of
the effects they produce on the child:
- Positive peer pressure—which encourages the individual to adopt
good attitudes and behaviors; for example, members of a sports team
encouraging each other to give their best.
- Neutral peer pressure—does not really involve the adoption of
particular attitudes and behavior but occurs naturally just by being
part of a group. For example, school friends might ask an individual
teenager to go to a movie together. This is usually not harmful.
- Negative peer pressure—which encourages the student to adopt
attitudes and behaviors that are harmful to himself and to others.
This type of peer pressure is the most harmful for a teenager.
The notion of good and bad attitudes and behaviors are of course
defined by morals, society at large and the law. They are therefore
externally imposed rules about what is a “bad” thing to do (like
taking drugs, having unprotected sex…etc.) or what is a “good” thing
to do (study diligently, respect elders…etc.). The notion of good
and bad can be taken from the viewpoint of character formation.
Given any particular behavior, an individual will either want to do
it or not want to. If the group forces the individual to do things
that he/she does not want to, then it is negative peer pressure and
may lead to inherent psychological distress. If, on the contrary,
the group is only encouraging the individual to do something that he
already wants to do (but may lack the courage to do it), then it can
be considered as a positive peer pressure.
Why is peer pressure so powerful?
Whether is adults or
in children, peer pressure remains a powerful determinant of
behavior. In children particularly, peer pressure is a very potent
force because they spend most of their time with other children at
school. Moreover, teenagers are at a defining moment in their lives:
they are in the process of building their own identities and
characters. They are thus vulnerable to external influences in ways
that adults are not.