Peer pressure is stupid and damaging (maybe)

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We all know about peer pressure. We all experience it as kids, especially in school. We are also susceptible to it as adults as well if we have low self-esteem or lack self-confidence.

Peer pressure stems from the need to fit in. And it's human nature to want to fit in. We want everyone to like us and have nice things to say about us. Think about the last time someone said something bad about you. It probably made you at least a little upset.

When you've been bullied as a child, it's especially upsetting when someone doesn't like you or says something bad about you. It takes time to get to a point where these things don't bother you anymore.

The thing with peer pressure is that there's always going to be this push and pull between who you want to be and who others want you to be. The problem is that no matter how hard you try, you're never going to be able to please everyone. The question becomes then, is it even worth it to try?

According to Wikipedia, peer pressure is...

Influence that a peer group, observers or individual exerts that encourages others to change their attitudes, values, or behaviors to conform the group norms.

It's typically the strong-minded and outspoken ones who will exert influence over those who are susceptible to influence and are not as outspoken. This can lead to dangerous situations.

Why Peer Pressure Is Bad

The problem with peer pressure is that it can make you do things you don't really want to do. Things that can get you into trouble. Peer pressure is a source of childhood deviant behavior.

Underage drinking, smoking, drug use, and even bullying can be the result of peer pressure. Some kids would rather do something potentially harmful than risk not be accepted. The last thing you want as a teenager is to be rejected by your peers. If you've been bullied then you know how painful being rejected can be.

Studies have shown that teens are more susceptible to peer pressure than adults for two reasons. One, teens tend to get more pleasure from behaviors they perceive as rewarding. Two, they tend to get more pleasure from social acceptance than adults. This is due to connections in the brain involving decision making not being fully formed until our 20's.

Experiments have been conducted to better understand conformity.

In the 1950's, the Asch conformity experiments were done to see how an individual would react to the behavior of a group. Check out the short video below to see how the experiments were done and ask yourself what you would have done if you were the participant.

As you can see from the video, participants tended to conform with the group even when the group gave the wrong answer. When interviewed after the experiment, participants gave one of two reasons for their responses. They either said that they went along with the group (even though they knew the group was wrong) because they didn't want to be seen as different, or because they actually came to believe that the group was right.

What's really interesting here is not that the participants conformed to the group, but why they conformed.

The implications of these results can show us why peer pressure can be a really bad thing.

Peer pressure is about being socially accepted. This can cause internal conflict within ourselves. As you saw in the video, some of the participants were uncomfortable when the group was giving the wrong answer. One part of them knew it was wrong, but another part of them felt pressure to go along with the group anyway.

This is how someone can believe a lie when they hear the same thing over and over again. This is why those who are bullied come to eventually believe what everyone is saying about them. As you can see, peer pressure can change someone's identity for the worse.

One of the biggest reasons that I call peer pressure stupid is that it robs a person of their individuality and what makes them unique. As I wrote in a previous post about being different, we all have a right to be who we truly are. The world needs us to be who we truly are.

But is peer pressure always bad?

How Peer Pressure Can Be Good

There's no question that the wrong type of peer pressure is bad. Always. But can peer pressure be used for good?

Positive peer pressure is used when you're pressured into doing something good or discouraged from doing something bad. Think about being around others who strive to be healthy, for example. You'll probably find yourself eating better or working out more if you are around these people. That certainly would be a positive impact.

This same group would also probably not smoke or drink very much. If you adopted their good habits then they might actually be preventing you from adopting bad habits like smoking a pack a day or drinking to excess.

It is said that you are the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with, so think about how the people you spend your time with are influencing you. Peer pressure can have its benefits.

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has shown you that peer pressure can be both bad and good. The problem is that when it's bad, it can be really bad. It can lead you to do things you don't want to do and don't believe in. It can cause you to experience internal conflict which can lead to confusion and, ultimately, becoming someone other than your unique self.

Negative peer pressure is most damaging when it strips you of your individuality for the sake of conforming to the group. This takes you down a rabbit hole where you find yourself having low self-esteem and lacking confidence. Two things that you can lose faster than you can get back.

Of course, peer pressure can also be positive. Positive peer pressure can help you to more easily become the person you want to be. It can allow you to reach goals that would be difficult trying to reach alone.

I see the term 'peer pressure' as having a negative connotation to it so I don't like using it for positive life influences. To me negative peer pressure is about trying to get someone to become less of who they are, whereas positive peer pressure is about trying to help someone become more of who they are. So I like to think of it as more of an influence than a pressure.

Whatever you want to call it, the important thing to take away is to be mindful of who you surround yourself with. We can't help but be shaped by those around us, for better or for worse, so make sure to surround yourself with more of the type of people who want to help you become more of who you truly are.

Have you been influenced by someone or a group of people to do something that was either really bad or really good for you? Share your story in the comments below.  
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photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc

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