Making healthy decisions is a crucial part of growing up to be a healthy and happy individual. At first, our parents played the most important role in helping us make decisions. However, the opinions of peers have a more significant weight during our teen years, influencing how we choose what to do or what not to do. Types of peer pressure can greatly affect how we decide on all sorts of things, from what to wear, who to date, and even what to eat, drink, or smoke.
Here, we’ll talk about the different types of peer pressure and how young individuals can resist the temptation to give in.
What is Peer Pressure?
Peer pressure is the influence, whether direct or indirect, that is placed on individuals within the same social group that impacts their behavior. This can affect all sorts of different groups, but perhaps some of the most susceptible to peer pressure are the groups formed in adolescence. In other words, peer pressure influences people to do certain things and behave in certain ways that they might not usually do.
This phenomenon is rooted in Social Learning Theory, which states that we learn new things based on observing and modeling how others act [*]. The psychologist who coined this term was the late Alfred Bandura, who explained that “most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions, this coded information serves as a guide for action.” In the context of peer pressure, this means that we learn from the people around us, whether they are friends, classmates, influencers, or even celebrities.
Peer pressure is usually used to persuade individuals to join in on group activities. Some negative examples of peer pressure may include playing a prank, breaking the rules, or doing something illegal. Most of the time, teens may feel pressured to take part in such activities, even if their conscience tells them not to. Fortunately, there are also positive forms of peer pressure that can lead to better outcomes. Learning how to cope with peer pressure matters as it can help us stand by our values.
What are the Different Types of Peer Pressure?
There are many different types of peer pressure.
1. Unspoken Peer Pressure
In group settings, decisions can be made together to influence the actions of others, even without explicit instructions. For instance, if a friend group decides to break curfew even without speaking the words telling each other to do so, an individual might feel pressured to follow suit and fit in. Since everybody is doing it, one would feel influenced to do it as well.
2. Positive Peer Pressure
Positive peer pressure, on the other hand, influences others to engage in healthy, age-appropriate, and socially acceptable behaviors. Examples of positive peer pressure may look like this: for instance, a study group in high school wants to get good grades. A young teen might be positively influenced to study harder as a result. Another great example of positive peer pressure is a popular friend going out to get a part-time job to save up for a car. Their peers might be influenced to also get a job and open a savings account. Similarly, if popular members of the football team abstain from drinking and drugs, then other students who look up to them might adopt the same behavior.
3. Negative Peer Pressure
Negative peer pressure is the opposite of positive peer pressure. Instead of influencing peers to follow good behaviors, negative peer pressure influences others to go against their moral code or values. Teens may look to the actions of teens with stronger personalities and follow their example, even if they don’t agree with them. For instance, a teen may know it’s wrong to drink alcohol while underage, but they may do it anyway because they want to be accepted by the group.
4. Direct Peer Pressure
Among all the different types of peer pressure, direct influences are the most powerful. It can be spoken or unspoken and often involves forcing a person to take action. Let’s look back at the drinking example above. A group of teens who drink may practice direct peer pressure on a new member of the group by handing them a beer at a party, even if it wasn’t requested. The message this sends is that drinking is not an option but, rather, a requirement. This forces many young individuals to make on-the-spot decisions under stress, where they usually disregard their own views to fit in or avoid being rude. Being forced to make these decisions can cause extreme uneasiness, and it then becomes important to know how to cope with anxiety and other symptoms that arise.
5. Indirect Peer Pressure
Indirect peer pressure is similar to unspoken pressure in that it is subtle and not explicitly stated but can still strongly influence an impressionable young individual. For instance, when a teen overhears their friend gossiping about another person and then reacts to the gossip, that is considered indirect peer pressure. Another example would be if a student learns that popular kids have alcohol and drugs at their parties. The indirect pressure may prompt them to experiment with alcohol and drugs as well to gain acceptance from the “in” group.
6. Normative Peer Pressure
Normative peer pressure involves others pressuring you to conform to certain social norms and behaviors. This can include dressing in a certain style or speaking a certain way. This can pressure young individuals to change different aspects of their identity to conform to what everybody else is doing.
7. Cyber Peer Pressure
Cyber peer pressure is any peer pressure that comes from online influences, such as social media and other peers online. This can include cyberbullying, online shaming, or promoting negative behaviors like substance abuse. For example, a teen might feel pressured to take part in a prank online, like sending a nude picture to someone they like or commenting on another person’s posts to bully them.
8. Academic Peer Pressure
Academic peer pressure can be positive or negative. On the one hand, positive peer pressure can improve academic performance. This happens when students have good relationships with other peers who promote academic engagement. However, when pressure is bad, academic success suffers. This often occurs when students join groups that encourage disengagement from school, which has a negative impact on academic practices.
9. Appearance Peer Pressure
Appearance peer pressure is the pressure of influence to appear a certain way. A common example would be when groups of female friends pressure each other to be thin. This often factors into how teens view themselves, including body image. Body image is a huge part of developing self-esteem as a teenager, so when teens don’t like how they look, their self-esteem plummets. This can lead to depression and anxiety [*].
10. Relationship Peer Pressure
Developing romantic relationships is also a normal part of teenhood, but it can also lead to lots of peer pressure. Teens may feel pressure to do things in a romantic relationship that they are not ready for, just to prove that they care about the other person. The pressure to be in a relationship may also be significant, even if teens don’t feel ready to be in one yet.
Coping Strategies for Peer Pressure
To combat the different types of peer pressure, it is helpful to keep three things in mind.
First, resist making snap decisions. Ask your peers for more information so that you can make an informed choice.
If you feel uncomfortable with what your peers are doing, formulate a plan or an excuse to exit the situation. You can also suggest an alternative idea.
After you have removed yourself from the situation, focus on surrounding yourself with positive and uplifting friends and get involved in lots of healthy activities.
How Can Parents Help Their Children Deal with Peer Pressure?
Parents can help their children by continuing to be a significant influence in their lives. They can do this by putting effort into understanding the types of peer pressure that their teenager is facing. By supporting healthy friendships, modeling responsible behavior, and maintaining open, judgment-free family communication, parents can be a positive influence on their kids. They can then be in a position to help combat the difficulties of peer pressure.
How Can Schools and Communities Address Peer Pressure?
Schools and communities can also help address peer pressure.
One of the most important factors in preventing situations where peer pressure might grow is to promote a culture of diversity and inclusivity. Doing so will help students feel like they belong and that they are heard. Inclusiveness ensures that students feel connected to their peers while diversity ensures that they are well represented in the student body.
It is also important to talk openly and honestly with teens about what peer pressure is and how it can lead to positive or negative outcomes. Create a safe space where students can talk about the pressures they may be facing, such as the pressure to conform, and then discuss practical ways to manage this pressure.
Educators can also provide students with opportunities to practice their communication skills in situations where they may need to resist peer pressure. Role-playing and using real-life scenarios can help significantly. Using tools such as social skills worksheets may also help.
Can Peer Pressure Have Long-Term Effects on Mental Health?
Peer pressure can actually have effects on one’s mental health. Not only is this evident in the short term, but it has also been observed in the long term.
A 10-year study examined more than 600 Canadian youth and examined the effects of peer pressure and the changes it had on depressive symptoms between ages 14 and 25. Results showed that young individuals with friends who used alcohol and drugs consistently were more depressed at each age. On the other hand, those with friends who engaged in positive activities reported free depressive symptoms with age, particularly during adolescence [*].
Peer pressure can affect how we make our decisions from a young age, and this can translate into our behaviors and habits as we grow into adults. Given this, it is especially important that young individuals learn how to resist peer pressure early on.
The Bottom Line
Saying no to peer pressure can be really challenging. Knowing the types of peer pressure there are is the first step to understanding what can be done to resist giving in. There are many coping skills for teens that can be used to deal with the pressures of being influenced by peers. Let us remember that dealing with peer pressure is not an individual task but a collective one.
- UC Berkeley. How Social Learning Theory Works.
- Soares L, Batista R, Cardoso V, et al. Body image dissatisfaction and symptoms of depression disorder in adolescents. 7 December 2020.
- Homel J, Thompson K, Leadbeater B. Changes in positive and negative peer influences and depressive symptoms from adolescence to young adulthood. 7 September 2020.