The powerful lure of peer pressure is synonymous with adolescence. The adolescent essentially has a need firstly to “belong” and secondly to individuate. What this means is that in order to belong and be accepted one has to ‘fit-in’ with peers and that is more or less wearing certain types of clothes, reading the same books, and generally doing what others are doing. The reasons for bowing into peer pressure vary, and can be for a variety of reasons such as fear, loneliness, depression, fitting in, avoiding embarrassment/humiliation, low self-worth and so forth. Therefore, the views and judgment of their peers is practically like oxygen for the adolescent’s survival.
In addition, adolescents need to ‘separate’ from their parents, which often involves a stage of rebelliousness and a desire to be different to them. Therefore, the opinions and values of parents become less important to them whilst the views (including judgment and acceptance) of their peers becomes increasingly important.
Peer pressure can be both subtle (when a teen says ‘I want those clothes because everybody has got them’ without any peer actually saying they must acquire those clothes) to blatant where teens are told directly to do something so as not to be a “bore” etc.
In addition, peer pressure can be both positive and negative (for example, there may be a culture within certain peer groups that adolescents need to obtain good grades or participate in sport and they therefore feel motivated to achieve which is pressure that is generally positive). Of course, peer pressure is negative as it can heavily impact on issues such as drinking alcohol, sexual activity or promiscuity, substance abuse and other reckless and potentially dangerous behaviours. In addition, peer pressure can lead to criminal behaviour, as well as harmful and damaging behaviour towards others (in the case of the abuse of social media and technology, for example).
How can parents help their teens?
As always communication is key. Parents should discuss peer pressure with their children. They can help their teenagers by reminding them of their values and beliefs and the importance and merit of just “being themselves”. Parents can ask their child to write a list of the pros and cons of peer pressure. Parents will have ample opportunity to discuss peer pressure, as this does not always have to be directly about their teenager. (For instance, they can be watching a TV program where an incident of peer pressure occurs and this can be an opener for a discussion with their teen (..“what do you think about that”..; “what do you think he/she should have done?…” “why do you think he/she acted like that….”). Parents should encourage their adolescents to associate with like-minded peers. In addition, it is important that parents are good role models themselves. Adolescents need to be reminded that there is always a parent they can talk too, no matter how difficult the subject is. They also need to be encouraged to talk to a person they trust, such as an aunt or uncle.
If you require a psychologist for your teenager in the Johannesburg area contact the Sandton Psychology Centre. The psychotherapy and assessment Centre has a variety of psychologists that work with adolescents by providing.