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“One friend influenced me to become a better person when I wasn’t doing the best,” says Dharma, a sophomore in Thornton, Colorado.
“I have been pressured to not study and [instead] hang out with friends,” says Lucia, a sophomore in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Our peers have a strong influence on us, and it can manifest in both positive and negative ways. When we think of “peer pressure,” we might imagine a bully pressuring a classmate to help him cheat on an exam or a senior pressuring a sophomore to drink alcohol at a party. This kind of negative peer pressure is pretty common in high school. In fact, two-thirds of you say you’ve been pressured by peers to break the rules, according to a recent Student Health 101 survey. But peer pressure isn’t all bad, and the positive influence our peers have on us can make a big difference.
How to stay strong during peer pressure
Here are some things you can do that act as an antidote to negative peer pressure:
- Develop a strong sense of self. Recent studies show a developed sense of identity can do wonders in warding off negativity from peers.
- Have a supportive friend close by to have your back when you need it.
- Better yet, hang out with people who are good at resisting negative peer pressure. That’ll help you do the same.
- Be friendly to everyone, and open yourself to friends outside of your usual squad. (Those are the real #squadgoals.) Being able to move in and out of any group will help you have a support system in place in case you ever need to get away from someone who’s trying to bring you down.
- Pay attention to how your friends make you feel. Do you feel supported, energized, and uplifted by their presence? Or do you feel stressed out, misunderstood, and energy-zapped when you’re around them? Try to hang out with people who make you feel good. Distance yourself from anyone who doesn’t.
- Blame it on your parent. “Sometimes it’s easier to say, ‘My parents won’t let me,’ in order to get out of a sticky situation. It’s a blame most parents are happy to take,” says Dr. Sharon Sevier, a licensed professional counselor specializing in school-related issues for adolescents in Wildwood, Missouri.
The bright side of peer pressure
Having a network of peers who actively strive for greatness, be it academically or otherwise, can influence you to do the same, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Early Adolescence. Seek these types of friendships, and you’re guaranteed not only an awesome study buddy but also good grades to show for it.
“If your friends support you in a way that helps you do something beneficial (in a respectful way that’s not harmful or hurtful), then peer pressure is a positive thing,” says Corrie Sirota, a clinical social worker and counselor specializing in adolescent bullying and mental health in Montreal, Canada.
How have your peers positively influenced you?
You had plenty of stories to share with us about times you’ve been positively influenced by your peers. According to our survey, you found that friends can inspire you to do things like:
- Try new sports
- Work harder in school
- Become more sociable
- Dabble in new creative projects
“Having a solid peer group can really ground a person. Peers open up new experiences and new opportunities that can enhance your life, now and in the future,” says Dr. Sharon Sevier, a licensed professional counselor specializing in school-related issues for adolescents in Wildwood, Missouri.
What about the negative side of peer pressure?
Whether you’ve watched it from the sidelines or been a victim, you’ve probably experienced negative peer pressure too.
“Any time someone who claims to be your friend asks you to do something, say something, or write something that makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, that could be considered a form of peer pressure,” says Sirota. “It’s about respect for boundaries and the comfort level of the other person.”
How do you deal with it?
Most of you say you’ve dealt with peer pressure at some point, according to the survey. But you also had great ideas for what to say when you’re confronted with it.
“It’s cliché, but just say ‘no.’ Explain that you’re not comfortable. If your friend is the one pressuring you, and they actually care about you, they should accept your answer and back off. If not, then they don’t have your best interests at heart. If peers are pressuring you, stand your ground. If they don’t respect your decision, you now know they’re not worth your time. Find people who respect your boundaries,” says Caitlin, a student in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Sirota insists that there is no specific profile of a target or a person likely to get peer pressured. “If the target is blaming themselves, it’s essential to recognize this may be an issue of low self-confidence and/or lack of self-worth, which you can address by talking to someone—a parent, friend, or mental health professional,” she says. “We are all born worthy.”
Choose what (and who) makes you feel good
Friends are super important in high school. They give you a boost when you’re feeling down, they help you figure out who you are and what you like, and they make life way more fun. Because they’re so important to you, you probably place a lot of value in their opinion.
But it’s important to remember that people who truly care about you will want what’s best for you. If you find yourself in a situation where friends are asking you to do things you’re uncomfortable with, take a couple steps back and reevaluate your friendship. Do these people truly care about your well-being? Listen to your instincts, and think about choosing friends who you know wouldn’t put you in a sketchy situation.
If peer pressure turns into bullying, use this “high five” acronym
F = Figure out what’s going on
- Is the person’s behavior bothering you?
- Is the person simply unpleasant and difficult to be around?
- Is the behavior any of the following: repeated, hostile, threatening, abusive, humiliating, and/or intimidating?
*If you’ve responded “yes” to any of the above, go ahead and report them to a teacher, school counselor, or parent.
I = Inform yourself
- Know your rights and school policy
- Know where you can get help and support (parents, school counselors, trusted teachers, and the principal, to name a few)
V = Verbalize
- Address the aggressor directly—stay calm
- Reject insults. Set your limits clearly, consistently, and firmly
- Don’t get into a verbal “power struggle”
- Report incidents of peer pressure
E = Explore available support from resources at your disposal, such as
- School administration
- Student services
- Counseling services
- Police, if necessary
Source: Corrie Sirota, clinical social worker and counselor specializing in adolescent bullying and mental health in Montreal, Canada.
Check out more clever responses submitted by Student Health 101 readers
We asked: If a friend was pressuring you to drink or encouraging you to shoplift, what would you say or do to deal with the situation?
“I would just explain that I honestly would not like to do whatever it was they were trying to get me to do. I only surround myself with people who understand that if I don’t want to do something, then they [shouldn’t] try to make me.”
—Zachary, Indianapolis, Indiana
“Shorty, you tripping. I don’t do that kind of stuff and you know that, so don’t ask again.”
—Leslie, Forest Park, Illinois
“Pretend to get a text/call and say you need to go home.”
—Ashley, London, Ontario, Canada
“I have other priorities and I don’t need something that could seriously ruin my life [or get] in the way of those important priorities.”
—Mattie, sophomore, Indianapolis, Indiana
“Decline it while throwing in a joke about why you can’t do that.”
—Yazan, Dekalb, Illinois
“I’ll say no and leave the situation ASAP.”
—Rodrigo, San BERNARDINO, California
“I avoid pushy, toxic people.”
—Michela, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Sharon Sevier, PhD, licensed professional counselor and retired school counselor, Wildwood, Missouri.
Corrie Sirota, MSW, PSW, lecturer, School of Social Work at McGill University, Montreal.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2012, June). Peer pressure. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Peer_Pressure_104.aspx
Dumas, T., Ellis, W., & Wolfe, D. (2012). Identity development as a buffer of adolescent risk behaviors in the context of peer group pressure and control. Journal of Adolescence, 35(4), 917–927. https://doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2011.12.012
Kiran-Esen, B. (2012). Analyzing peer pressure and self-efficacy expectations among adolescents. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 40(8), 1301–1309.
Simons-Morton, B., Crump, A. D., Haynie, D. L., Saylor, K. E., et al. (1999). Psychosocial, school, and parent factors associated with recent smoking among early-adolescent boys and girls. Preventive Medicine, 28(2), 138–148.
Véronneau, M. H., & Dishion, T. J. (2011). Middle school friendships and academic achievement in early adolescence: A longitudinal analysis. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 31(1), 99–124. https://doi.org/10.1177/0272431610384485