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Teens and Peer Pressure

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By OTS Staff January 9, 2023

Teens and Peer Pressure

From the beginning, parents try to teach their children how to make healthy, positive choices. But, as they age, the influence of parents decreases and the opinion of peers becomes more and more important to the adolescent community. The effects of peer pressure begin to affect a whole range of actions, behaviors, and thoughts. This can include school performance, substance use, and mental health.

What is Peer Pressure?

Peer pressure is external or internal pressure to behave in certain ways. It can be good or bad. It may begin as early as age 10 with the social groups formed in elementary school and increases throughout middle school and high school.

Research shows that the most impressionable age for influence by peers appears to be the middle school years. This is when children form new friendships and choose their identity among those friends. It’s also the most common age for kids to start exploring drug and alcohol use, sexual activity, and other risky behaviors. The pressure to conform is intense at this age, but teens with larger groups of friends seem to be less influenced by the suggestions and behaviors of their peers.

How Normal is Peer Pressure?

Teen peer pressure is a complicated subject and it’s not just normal, it’s unavoidable. As children grow, they want to spend less time with their parents and more time with their friends–even if it’s only on social media. And the influence of peers is powerful.

However, the reality is that although your teen might be feeling that they are grown up, their brains are still developing. You might be surprised to know that there are different types of peer pressure for this age group. We usually think of peer pressure as negative, but it can also be positive.

The 6 Types of Peer Pressure

Teens and peer pressure

Teens may experience several different types of peer pressure. They include

  • Positive Peer Pressure

    It’s not usually talked about, but peers can have a positive influence on each other and have important roles in each other’s lives such as:

    • Friendship – Acceptance, friendship, and shared experiences among peers can build lasting bonds.
    • Coping skills – Positive peer pressure can help a teen develop the coping skills they will need for adulthood. It may lead them to avoid risky behaviors or to become more involved in athletics. This can be immensely helpful during tough situations.
    • Positive examples – Peers often set good examples for each other. Having peers who are committed to doing well in sports or schoolwork can inspire that in others. Peers who are loyal and kind also help build these qualities.
    • Advice and feedback – Friends listen and give feedback. Peers can also help a person make decisions, being quick to tell them if they’re making a mistake or doing something risky.
    • Encouragement – Peers may encourage hard work and offer support when troubled.
    • New experiences – Peers help their friends get involved in sports, clubs, and other organizations.

  • Negative Peer Pressure

    Asking a teen to take part in behavior that is against their values or moral code is negative peer pressure and it can send teens in a bad direction. Teens see the actions of others with stronger personalities and are put in the position of going along or walking away. According to pediatrician, Dr. Gurinder Dabhia, the brain of a teenager is only about 80% developed. One of the functions that is still in its immature state is judgment. This may lead them to attempt drug use or alcohol cut school, or take part in other behaviors that might risk their health.

    Teens have additional unconnected synapses in the area of the brain where risk assessment occurs. Synapses are small spaces between two cells, where they can pass messages to communicate. Having these spaces unconnected gets in the way of judgment. Likewise, the prefrontal cortex in the brain is underdeveloped. This makes teens more sensitive to peer pressure and impulsive, risky behavior simply because they want to be accepted.

  • Spoken Peer Pressure

    Spoken peer pressure is a peer or peer group directly asking, or persuading another peer to perform an action or behavior. If this occurs in a one-to-one situation, the peer being influenced has a better chance of sticking to their core values and beliefs rather than bending to negative pressure. However, if the spoken influence takes place in a group, the pressure to go along with the group is massive.

  • Unspoken Peer Pressure

    With unspoken peer pressure, the person is exposed to the actions or behaviors of one or more of their peers and is left to choose whether they want to go along with it. This can be negative or positive but because many young teens don’t have the mental maturity to make wise long-term decisions, they may be more susceptible to negative peer pressure influence.

  • Direct Peer Pressure

    Direct peer pressure is when a person or group directly and tells a person how to act and what to do. In this situation, the person is directly confronted by a peer and must make a spur-of-the-moment decision on how to proceed. This type of pressure can be especially challenging because there may be other people watching who want the task or behavior completed.

  • Indirect Peer Pressure

    Indirect peer pressure usually occurs from subtle or implied influences that may make a person feel as though they need to change something about themselves or their behavior. The results may be negative or positive but the method of pressure is subtle and not directly suggested. The same as direct pressure, it can and will result in the same negative or positive changes.

What are the Effects of Social Media on Peer Pressure?

In-person interactions can be both positive and negative and the same can be said of communication through social media. Social media is available constantly, which enables teens to receive messages 24 hours a day. This means that it has a huge potential to magnify feelings of both positive and negative peer pressure.

One of the common misrepresentations on social media is when people post the “best” times of their lives, which creates a false sense of reality. This can cause teens to compare the reality of their lives to the picture-perfect images of others’ lives and feel pressure to keep up. In addition, the lack of in-person feedback can create an environment where people share harmful or abusive content and comments that they wouldn’t typically say in person. This is called “trolling” and it’s a widespread form of negative peer pressure that happens on social media. There have been cases of harmful online challenges that have the potential to impact a child’s health negatively.

Who Are Your Child’s Peers?

Teens and peer pressure

It has long been noted by social scientists that people tend to place themselves and others into agreed-upon and labeled social types. Adolescents also tend to segregate themselves into different peer group types. Identification of an adolescent in a peer group is based on what they perceive about themselves and what others perceive about them.

They give names to their peer group types (as illustrated in popular movies). Group names that adolescents give themselves or each other suggest the groups’ lifestyle characteristics such as shared beliefs, interests in music and clothes, and preferences for certain activities.

Teens may identify with groups to develop their sense of identity and a positive self-concept, along with a feeling of independence from their parents.

Typical Categories

Studies suggest that teen peer groups are made of five general categories:

  • Elites
  • Athletes
  • Academics
  • Deviants
  • Others

The study found that the Deviant group reported generally greater participation in drug use and other behavior problems. However, the Academics and Athletes showed the least participation in problem behaviors. Because of their lack of experience, teens are frequently not sure about the lifestyle decisions they should make and are likely to look for a place among a peer group by conforming to the group’s norms.

How Does Negative Peer Pressure Affect Mental Health?

The effects of negative peer pressure are typically related to influencing:

  • Bullying behavior
  • Drug use
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Negative body image

The effects of these behaviors can lower self-confidence, and self-esteem, and distance the teen from family and friends.

Research indicates that there is a direct, positive relationship between peer pressure and depression in young people. At its worst, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and other harmful behaviors. It also states that peer pressure is a predictor of increased levels of stress, anxiety, and sleep problems.

Possible Signs Your Child Is Being Affected by Peer Pressure

  • Low attendance at school and/or missing classes during the day
  • Behavior changes negatively around a certain group of friends
  • Trying things that aren’t healthy like smoking, alcohol, etc.
  • Showing risky or criminal behavior
  • Poor school performance
  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Bullying

7 Tips to Help Your Teen Avoid Negative Peer Pressure

Due to the effects that peer pressure can have on teens, parents need to strengthen communication with their teens. Open communication can help their teen prepare for negative peer pressure and respond healthily.

  • Create an environment of open communication from an early age. Be aware of opportunities to ask about the pressure they’ve seen or experienced and how they felt about it. Reassure them that you are available to listen if they need it.
  • Relate your own experiences of peer pressure and how you handled them. Model healthy behaviors.
  • Teach your teen how to establish boundaries and be assertive. Ask them to think about what they might say in certain situations and practice saying no differently.
  • Create a plan and a backup plan with your teen for negative peer pressure situations. Be sure they know there’s nothing wrong with making up an excuse if they aren’t sure what to do. Help them think of creative ways to get out of an uncomfortable situation.
  • Try to get to know your child’s friends and their parents, if possible. Encourage your child to invite friends over so you can get more familiar with them.
  • Encourage your teen to choose positive relationships with friends who respect them and don’t unfairly pressure them.
  • Promote your child’s independence and teach them to listen to their gut. Help them understand they can’t please everyone, and that’s okay.

Orlando Treatment Solutions for You and Your Teen

If you’re worried about your child, there is specialized help available at Orlando Treatment Solutions. We can make a thorough assessment of your teen and recommend one of our intensive outpatient programs. We can provide a regular intensive program or our higher level of care, a partial hospitalization program.

Our programs include individual, group, and family therapy because we understand that when one member of the family has an issue with substances or a mental health disorder, all members are affected.

The special Adolescent Treatment Center will help your child feel more comfortable expressing themself and opening up about their issues with a group of peers. Research has shown that treatment is more effective when individuals feel that other people can understand their experiences–another example of the importance of peers. Contact us today before peer pressure has controlled your child down the wrong path.

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