Overall, there are two types of effects of peer pressure: negative and positive. In life, we are often influenced by the lifestyle of our peers. Those we are close with, whether it’s family, friends, classmates, or co-workers, to some degree, we allow their styles of thinking, their choices, and their behaviors to influence our own. That’s peer pressure. To a certain extent, it can be beneficial. In other ways, the negative effects of peer pressure are much more apparent. Unfortunately, teenagers are often the most vulnerable to the effects of peer pressure.
Growing up already comes with a myriad of challenges. Most of us face an identity crisis and as we learn independence, we look to others to form opinions and outlooks. This is the way we learn and adapt to the society around us. Understanding how to deal with peer pressure takes time, but with the right resources, teens can make better choices that are geared toward health and long-term success.
Why Are Teens Prone to Negative Peer Pressure?
In a large group, such as a crowd at school or a sports team, the peer pressure is generally unspoken and directed towards how to dress, how to interact, what music to listen to, and what activities to engage in, according to the article “Adolescents and Peer Pressure,” published by the University of Michigan.
In a group setting, teenagers can remain quiet or behave as though they are going along with the crowd to avoid drawing attention to themselves. While this can work to some extent, teens must be aware that they can get into trouble just by their association with the crowd in question. For example, if a group of teens is caught vandalizing personal property, the whole crowd may be questioned. Teens may blame each other in situations such as these. Steering clear of these types of situations is a teenager’s best defense for staying out of trouble.
Friends can have a positive or negative effect on teens depending on the behaviors they exhibit. While parents may desire to give their teen independence, striving to find a balance between giving too much or giving too little can prove challenging.
Negative Effects: Friends & Peer Pressure
Parents are understandably concerned if their teen’s friends smoke, drink, use illegal or legal drugs, or are overly concerned about body image, or have exhibited self-injurious behavior. Of course, these behaviors have the potential to spread and cause lasting damage to a child’s present and future. Sadly, teens are much more susceptible to the negative effects of peer pressure.
In fact, the brain activity of adolescents changes when a teen is alone versus when they’re surrounded by their friends. In a Temple University study published in the New York Times, results showed that teens watching their friends increased risk-taking and misbehavior despite the lack of direct coercion.
What are the Warning Signs?
Peer influence happens when a person chooses to do something they otherwise would avoid because they seek acceptance among a group of friends or acquaintances. It isn’t just or always about doing something against your will.
You might hear the term ‘peer pressure’ used a lot. But peer influence is a better way to describe how teenagers’ behavior is shaped during adolescent years when the brain is still forming the skills it requires to make decisions independently. It’s a tricky time for parents, but learning the warning signs and the effects of peer pressure is vital to address directly with your child.
Of course, peer pressure and influence can be positive in some ways. For example, your child might be influenced to become more assertive, try new activities, or participate in group projects, or excel in school due to other friends doing the same.
However, the negative effects of peer pressure are usually what most parents focus on. Some teenagers might choose to try things they normally wouldn’t be interested in, like smoking or behaving in antisocial ways.
Peer pressure and influence might result in children:
- choosing the same clothes, hairstyle or jewelry as their friends
- listening to the same music or watching the same TV shows as their friends
- changing the way they talk, or the words they use
- doing risky things or breaking rules
- working harder at school, or not working as hard
- dating or taking part in sexual activities
- smoking or using alcohol or other drugs.
It’s normal to worry that your child is being influenced too much by peers. There are steps or actions to take to help nurture your child without impeding their sense of independence.
Inner Workings: A Teen’s Brain
In situations like the two above, “what we are doing is very quickly, and often unconsciously, calculating the rewards and costs of different actions,” says psychologist Laurence Steinberg, a leading expert on adolescent peer influence. “When we do this calculation and come to the conclusion that the potential rewards of a particular action outweigh the potential costs, we act in that way.”
One reason for the difference in teen decision-making involves a chemical called dopamine in the brain’s reward center. Dopamine helps transmit signals in the brain that make people feel happy. The number of brain receptors interacting with dopamine is higher in adolescence than at any other time of life. This means that when a teen is exposed to a reward—such as a compliment—the reward center reacts more strongly than it would for an adult or a child. You can begin to understand why the effects of peer pressure are much stronger among adolescents and teens.
How to Help: Addressing Effects of Peer Pressure
It’s worth remembering that you have an influence over your child too, especially over the longer term. If your child has a strong sense of himself and his values, it’s more likely he’ll know where to draw the line when it comes to the risky stuff.
Here are some ideas to help your teen manage peer pressure:
- Keep the lines of communication open. Staying connected to your child is important. This can help make them feel more comfortable talking to you about issues that arise day-to-day.
- Suggest ways to say no. Your child might need to have some face-saving ways to say no if they’re being pressured to do something outside of their comfort zone. For example, friends might be encouraging to try smoking, so rather than saying ‘No, thanks’, your child might say, ‘No, it makes my asthma worse’, or ‘No, I don’t like the way it makes me smell’.
- Give teenagers a way out. If your child feels in a risky or high-pressure situation, it might help if she can text or phone you for backup without worrying you’ll be cranky. If your child’s embarrassed about having to call you, you could agree on a coded message.
- Encourage a wide social network. If your child has the opportunity to develop friendships from a wide range of sources (such as through sport, family activities or clubs), this will mean he’s got lots of other options and sources of support if a friendship goes wrong.
- Build up your child’s sense of self-esteem. This can help her feel more confident to make her own decisions and push back on peer pressure.
When to Be Concerned
If you notice changes in your teen’s mood, behavior, eating, or sleeping patterns, which you think are because of her friends, it might be time to have a talk with her. Some mood and behavior changes are normal in teenagers, but if they go on for a few weeks, you might want to pay more attention to your teen’s mental health and wellbeing.
AspenRidge: Substance Abuse Education
AspenRidge Recovery offers support to parents, teens, and other family members who might be facing the potential of substance abuse and addiction. Peer influences can easily trigger the dangerous use of alcohol and drugs and, understandably, parents are looking for ways to educate themselves to avoid the deadly consequences associated with drugs.
If you or someone you love is facing negative peer pressure and are using substances habitually, it may be time to seek outside help. Our Colorado addiction care centers offer support for those facing substance dependency. Our certified clinicians have experience addressing all symptoms within the spectrum of addiction. Contact us today at (855) 281-5588.