Peer pressure occurs when an individual experiences persuasion to participate in the same activities as those in their peer group, or to adopt similar values, beliefs, and goals as the group. For a child, their peer group is usually, but not always, of the same age group. The level of influence a child’s peers has on him generally increases as he ages. His resistance to peer influence often declines as he gains independence from his family. Pre-schoolers tend to be the least influenced by peer pressure to conform, however, once in school, children are more influenced to conform to the pressures.1
Peer pressure is so powerful, because belonging to a group provides a feeling of being accepted. It enhances self-esteem and helps a child feel good about himself. Children tend to gravitate toward others with similar problems and situations where they feel understood and accepted. Because the need is very great to feel acceptance, the feeling of belonging can outweigh ties to their family, church, school, or community. Often the peer group might offer characteristics that are attractive and missing in their own families, such as a strong belief structure, a clear system of rules, and communication and discussion about taboo subjects.2
Peer pressure by itself is neither positive or negative. For example, peer influences are closely linked to both high and low academic achievement. Research has shown that whom the student spends the most time with is a stronger influence on the student’s level of academic achievement than the values, attitudes, and support given by his family. Children whose friends were better students got better grades, and peers, who did not apply themselves academically, influenced others in their group to not excel in school. In fact, some gifted students will actually “dumb-down” in order to fit in with others.3
There are three main types of peer pressure: direct, indirect, and individual. Direct peer pressure is clear express instruction from someone in the peer group to another telling him what to do. Indirect peer pressure is not so obvious. Implied pressure might be felt by the attitudes of a peer group concerning dress or actions, influencing others to conform to their beliefs. Individual peer pressure occurs when a child feels insecure about himself and wants to fit in. The desire to not be left out of what others are doing encourages the reasoning that “everyone is doing it.”4
There are certain risk factors that influence children to give in to peer pressure. They include low self esteem, lack of confidence, poor academic performance, and no personal interests outside of their peer group. Also, children may fear their peers, feel uncertain about their place in the group, and have concerns that the group might turn against them.5
The ability to combat peer pressure depends on how emotionally and intellectually prepared an individual is to recognize the pressure and how “real” his sense of identity is at that time. The more confident, solid, and positive his identity is, the more prepared he is to regulate the pressure and move in his desired direction, rather than away from it. The level of strength of his identity depends on the degree of vividness and level of value and intensity he has toward his goals. Weak goals equal a weak identity, which opens him to giving in to pressures. With vivid, intense goals, the confident individual can filter the pressures to advance toward his goals.6
There are many programs designed to help children resist peer pressure. One of the best known is DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), which is a program used in elementary schools to teach children to resist the pressures to use drugs and alcohol. The programs teach strategies for coping with unwanted pressures to be involved with activities that are illegal, risky, or self-destructive. Some of the techniques include avoiding situations that might present problems, evaluate the risks, communicate forcefully the resistance to conform, and to walk away from the situation.7
Children are often confronted with peer pressure while engaging in play. Risk taking is often encouraged by peers, and playground equipment offers challenging situations where children can “show off” for others, pressuring them to follow their lead. Climbing to the top of the monkey bars or climbing a tree can involve peer pressure when a group is involved.8
- 1. “Peer Pressure.” faqs.org. < http://www.faqs.org/health/topics/76/Peer-pressure.html > 1 Oct. 2010.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. “Peer pressure: Different types and motives.” Helium. < http://www.helium.com/items/111870-peer-pressure-different-types-and-motives > 1 Oct. 2010.
- 5. Hardcastle, Mike. “Beating Peer Pressure.” About.com: Teen Advice. < http://teenadvice.about.com/cs/peerpressure/a/blpeerpressure.htm > 1 Oct. 2010.
- 6. Metz, Lynn. “Peer pressure: Different types and motives.” Helium. < http://www.helium.com/items/191849-peer-pressure-different-types-and-motives > 1 Oct. 2010.
- 7. Op. cit., “Peer Pressure.”
- 8. Frost, Joe L., Pei-San Brown, John A. Sutterby, Candra D. Thornton. The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International, 2004. pp. 56, 75.