Tip Sheets - Peer Pressure
Information sheet for parents and carers.
Peer pressure is a normal part of children and young people's lives. The need to belong is so strong, particularly in adolescence that the consequences of not being able to go along with the group's beliefs and preferred behaviours may bring about extreme embarrassment and isolation. Real-world data shows that young people have a much higher risk of having a car accident when other teenagers are in the car.
During 2011, Kids Helpline received 5,590 contacts from children and young people presenting concerns about their relationship with friends and peers, accounting for 9% of all counselling sessions for the year. This Hot Topic has been prepared to: help parents and carers gain a better understanding of issues around peer pressure; and assist them in providing support to young people in relation to this concern.
What is peer pressure?
When a child or young person's friends, classmates or sports teammates try to influence how they act, or dare them to do something, it's called peer pressure. Peer pressure is the influence a peer group has on its members to fit into a particular way of thinking and behaving. This influence increases as children and young people grow older and reach adolescence.
Ways your child may experience peer pressure
There are different ways a child or young person may experience peer pressure, which range from direct, open pressure, to more subtle and non-confrontational pressures to think and act like everyone else.
A child or young person may experience peer pressure in a direct way. This is usually when they are being pressured into something they are not happy with. Because of the heightened awareness on bullying, many parents and carers worry about children and young people being influenced to do something against their better judgement by their own peer group or by others. However, peer pressure is often experienced in a much more subtle or indirect way. Peer pressure is more about a child or young person choosing to do something, or wear something, or say something or view things in a particular way in order to feel accepted and valued by their peers, perhaps because it's what everyone else is doing.
When does peer pressure become bullying?
Children and young people are pressured when their peers say things like 'Come on, don't chicken out'; or 'Don't be scared, no one will find out'. In these scenarios, while children and young people may feel the 'pressure', their peers are likely to drop the issue if they refuse to take part. On the other hand, if children and young people feel threatened or forced to do something, or if they are isolated from their peer group because they do not want to conform, this can be considered bullying. Check out our Bullying Hot Topic.
Is peer pressure always bad?
Peer pressure is not always a bad thing because peer groups can actually have a very positive influence on the behaviour of children and young people. For most children and young people, a peer group is one, if not the main source, of security at a time where they are learning to become independent from their parents/carers and forming their own identity.
Positive peer pressure
Sometimes, peer pressure can bring about positive changes in children and young people. For example, they can be encouraged by their peers to participate in sport or work hard at school. Other forms of positive peer group influence include:
- Avoiding acting in a negative or anti-social manner
- Participating in a group sporting or social activity
- Developing new skills with a group of their friends (e.g. take a cooking class)
- Working on a school or university project together
The difference between negative and positive peer pressure is the impact it has on the person. While most forms of influence don't necessarily feel comfortable for the person on the receiving end, the outcomes of the influence are likely to be mostly positive. Positive peer pressure results in a child or young person feeling better, healthier or happier. Negative peer pressure on the other hand, results in children and young people feeling the opposite - unhappy, unwell or uncomfortable.
The best possible support that a parent or carer can give to a young person revolves around prevention or early intervention of negative influence and to promote the positive aspects of peer groups.
Negative peer pressure
Some of the common pressures children and young people may experience include:
- Pressure to try drugs including alcohol or cigarettes
- Pressure to have sex, either by a partner or friends
- Illegal behaviours such as speeding or shoplifting
- Cheating on tests, copying assignments or letting others copy their work
- Skipping school for the day to do something else with friends
- Pressure to dress a certain way that doesn't feel comfortable or appropriate
- Pressure to not be friends with certain people or to ignore or not include certain people in social situations.
Children and young people may know that these kinds of things are a bad idea but may still give in to the influence of their peers.
Why do people give in to peer pressure?
Children and young people may give in to peer pressure because they want to be accepted and fit in. Sometimes, they may worry that other kids will make fun of them if they don't agree with what the group does or believes in. Other children go along because they are curious to know and try what other young people their age are doing. The thought of everyone else doing something may likely influence your child to not think carefully and to forget their better judgment.
Despite the risk, peer groups remain a very essential part of your child's development because they can help your child to:
- learn how to be independent
- have a safe place to meet like-minded individuals
- take positive risks and test out values and opinions of others
- test out their strengths and limitations
- feel safe and boost their self-confidence
- explore new and positive things including music, clothing, hobbies and sports, and other interesting activities
- feel understood and accepted by others going through the same phase
- improve their ability to make personal choices
What are the impacts of negative peer pressure?
When children start school they begin to seek more independence from their parents and carers. By the teenage years, peers generally become the most influential as young people try to establish their own identity. Unfortunately, teenagers who choose the wrong peer groups may find themselves getting into trouble.
A child or young person who has experienced peer pressure may either suffer from the loss of their individuality or experience significant distress and other emotional problems that may continue into adulthood.
How to assist children and young people in dealing with peer pressure
There are children and young people who are simply more independent and can resist peer pressure better than the others. Studies show children and young people who are supported by family members are less likely to be affected by peer pressure. Below are some suggestions you may find helpful in supporting children and young people in relation to peer pressure:
- Always keep the communication line between you and your child open, allowing them to come to you for help and advice when they experience peer pressure.
- Try to be open and open-minded when discussing peer-related issues with your child or young person. It is important to let them know that you understand the pressure they may be going through.
- Try not to take it personally when your child or young person wants to be with their peers. Remember that a criticism of their friends and peers is like a criticism of their ability to make good choices.
- Help them understand the values that are important in making decisions and remind them to think about the possible consequences of their choices.
- Don't worry too much about minor things such as hairstyles or fashion. With understanding and guidance, children and young people generally get past this experimenting phase in their lives without too much drama.
- Encourage your child to 'choose their friends wisely' - if they choose to be with peers who don't do drugs and are respectful of others, then they are likely to act in the same way.
- Teach children and young people how to be assertive in a respectful but firm way. Good friends should accept them for who they are and respect the positive choices they make.
- Show children and young people that you trust them. If they make a mistake, be patient and discuss with them how they could do better next time.
- Support your child to be confident and true to themselves and take time to show them you care.
- Help them realise that life it not about fitting in to a set mould or conforming to the behaviour of their peers; rather, it is about being a part of a group while retaining their own individuality.
Who can I contact for more information?
You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.
You may also encourage your child to ring Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 any time, any day. We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can visit the website www.kidshelp.com.au to learn more about accessing confidential phone, email or web counselling.
- Parenting SA - Peer Pressure
- Headroom - Peer Pressure
- Better Health Channel - Peer Pressure Fact Sheet
Useful Hot Topics
- Langholt, A. (2012). 'Common causes of peer pressure in teens.' Life 123. Retrieved from: http://www.life123.com/parenting/tweens-teens/peer-pressure/causes-of-peer-pressure.shtml on 21 May 2012.
- Pope, T.P. (2011). The Impact Of Peer Pressure On Teenage Decision Making. New York Times. Retrieved from: http://counsellingcentral.com/the-impact-of-peer-pressure-on-teenage-decision-making/ on 23 May 2012.
- Government of South Australia. (2010). Peer pressure. Parent easy guide 42. Retrieved from: http://www.parenting.sa.gov.au/pegs/Peg42.pdf on 17 May 2012
- Better Health Channel . (2011). Peer pressure. Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Peer_pressure?open on 17 May 2012
Published: 1 November 2012