Learn how to deal with peer pressure

By Zaninka Umutesi
On 25 December 2022 at 08:32

“Well, would you jump off cliff if those friends did?” A sentence thundered by every angry African parent at one point or the other as they scolded you for taking part in some group activity that ultimately ended with you and your friends in trouble. If you were anything like me as a child or teenager you fought the raging urge pulsating through every bone in your body to reply with: “No, because I’d be the one jumping first!”.

If you were smart, you held your tongue and took your punishment gracefully because being alive meant more to you than winning an argument. Unless you were feeling especially lucky and you didn’t fight that urge and you let that response out. Although, the fact that you’re here in one piece reading this means you were smarter than that.

What your parents were scolding you about was peer pressure. Something they repeatedly warned you to watch out for and steer clear from. If you were anything like me, you only had a vague idea of what peer pressure is from what your parents told you and to some extent the definition they gave you was right.

They may have told you something along the lines of, “It is the influence or negative voice of friends, classmates, or other people around you to do or take part in some foolish or harmful activity.“

Even though this definition isn’t wrong, it isn’t completely accurate. Therefore, it is important to understand what peer pressure really is, what causes it, and when we should and should not give in to it.

So what causes peer pressure? The Miriam Webster dictionary defines peer pressure as a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one’s age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them. Anyone falling under the influence of peer pressure might be of a timid demeanour, hoping to better their treatment from a certain person or people.

Peer pressure is predominantly seen in youth between the ages of twelve and nineteen but can be observed in people both above and below that age range.

The main participants in a peer pressure cycle are an influencer and the compliant.

The an influencer is the one coaxing toward a particular action. This role could also fall on a group as a whole if there is no designated leader or if all members are in agreement with the leader’s instruction. On the other end is the complaint, who might be trying to join the group, seeking acceptance, or trying to gain respect.

There are several different ways the influencer could instill pressure on a complaint such as: Spoken peer pressure where the influencer asks, suggests, persuades or even directs the complaint to engage in specific behaviour.

Unspoken peer pressure where the complaint is exposed to the actions of one or more peers and is left to choose whether they want to follow along. This could be participating in fashion choices, personal interactions or ‘joining’ types of social groups such as clubs, cliques, teams, etc.

Direct peer pressure which is normally behaviour-centred, meaning it is often more dependent on the suggestive actions of the influencer and the decision of the complaint that immediately follows.

Examples of direct peer pressure would be when a person hands another an alcoholic drink, or makes a sexual advance, or looks at another student’s paper during a test.

The underling is put in a position of having to make an on-the-spot decision. Indirect peer pressure which bears similarity to unspoken peer pressure. Indirect peer pressure is subtle but can still exert a strong influence on an impressionable youth.

An example of indirect peer pressure would be when the complaint overhears a friend gossiping about another person and then acts in response to the gossip.

What’s important to note is that all these forms of peer pressure can be used both negatively and positively. Enforcing negative peer pressure could be asking a colleague to engage in behaviour that is against their moral code or values and taking advantage of their simply wanting acceptance.

On the other hand, positive peer pressure would be using any of the different methods mentioned earlier to promote behaviours that are healthy, age-appropriate,
socially acceptable, and that uplift all those that participate.

We all fall on one side or the other on the train of influence. At some point, in some of your social circles, you are the influencer, while in some cases, you are the compliant. While neither is bad, your actions in these positions of influence are what make the difference. As the influencer, are you pushing those around you to destructive or uplifting behaviour?

As a complaint, just how far are you willing to go to be accepted by those around you? Are you prepared to say no to the things you know aren’t right even if it means losing the ‘respect’ of those around you?

The answers to all those questions are completely up to you.