THE popular Igbo saying that, “What an elder can see while sitting cannot be seen by a youth standing on top of a tree” has been challenged by today’s young technology savvy generation.
Mitigating or eliminating the ruinous effects of peer pressure can be dealt with if there is understanding of the causes and mechanics of peer pressure.
What causes peer pressure?
Alice Langholt, an author, examines this question stating that, ‘some of the main causes of peer pressure are related to age-appropriate behaviour. Adolescents develop a strong desire to fit in with their peers and be accepted by them. This desire makes adolescent peer pressure tough to resist.
It’s important for parents to equip their children with the skills needed for dealing with peer pressure. If teenagers do not learn to be confident in themselves and their decisions, they will be more likely to engage in unsafe or illegal behaviour. They will also have a higher risk of depression and other emotional issues.
Knowing peer pressure
Peer pressure isn’t just about a group of kids daring someone to do something. Often, it’s much more subtle. Peer pressure occurs when a group of people coerce each other to go along with certain beliefs or behaviours. The group approves of the followers and sometimes harshly disapproves of those who do not fall in line. The consequences of being rejected by one’s peers are embarrassment and shame, both very negative emotions for teens.
An obvious form of peer pressure is teen drinking at parties. Kids who attend are expected to drink and some may be expected to drink heavily. Subtler forms of peer pressure exist in clothing choices or attitudes toward sex or illigal drug use. Simply agreeing with the group’s attitudes usually isn’t enough; teens have to prove themselves by backing their words with actions.
Generally, a few people in the group are usually the leaders. These individuals set the rules for everyone else and are seen as authority figures by their peers. Anyone who challenges the rules is challenging the authority of the leaders. Teens may be unwilling to speak up because they’re afraid to lose a friendship with one of these leaders or because they fear losing their status in the group.
Who is most vulnerable?
Teens with few boundaries, or rules at home are far more susceptible to peer pressure than those with firm expectations and strict rules. Parents have a surprisingly strong influence on teens. Setting clear boundaries, with consequences, cements this influence.
Parents who are involved in their children’s lives give their children the confidence to stand up to their peers. Teens don’t expect their peers to respect them for standing up for themselves, but most who do find that they are respected. If a group rejects a teen for resisting the pressure, that teen is often strong enough to find a different peer group that will be more positive.
Help your teen find peers who exert a positive influence, and all will be well. If the leader of the group is one who has few boundaries at home, or is looking for peers to go along with rebellious behaviour, encourage your teen to find a different set of friends. The leadership of the peer group determines what the group will do.
Know your teen’s friends. Try to involve your teen in clubs, sports and other groups that will offer a positive form of peer pressure that respects achievement, cooperation and teamwork.