Peer pressure is unavoidable. It can have a lasting, positive impact on your life, but it’s more likely to cause some issues. Teenagers’ social environment is the most significant influence on their life, so it’s crucial to help them develop coping strategies before they face solid social pressure and cues. Without these, their peers can push them to act unreasonably to fit in. It can lead to several consequences that increase their risk for mental health problems and depression.
What is Peer Pressure?
Peer pressure is the perceived feeling that you must behave in a certain way or else. It can influence behavior positively or negatively and starts as early as your children start forming social groups in grade school, increasing dramatically during adolescence through middle and high school.
While everyone, no matter their age, can face peer pressure, teenagers are the most vulnerable to it. Teenagers’ hormones kick in, influencing their bodies and developing brains, and their newfound identities emerge. Their friend groups are essential in their life, so they can feel a strong need to fit in.
They can experience six different types of peer pressure:
- Spoken: This is the stereotypical verbal suggestion or persuasion such as, “C’mon, everyone else is doing it.”
- Unspoken: This is when your child identifies traits about their friend group and follows along. Take sports, for example, they may love soccer, but when their friends don’t want to join the team this year, they decide they don’t want to either, or vice versa.
- Direct: This is an on-the-spot behavior that puts your child in a position to choose not to participate publicly. If their friend puts a beer or joint in their hand or they catch their friend copying their test. They can passively go along with the peer pressure or face the group’s consequences when they actively say no.
- Indirect: When your child hears their friends gossiping or making fun of someone, they can internalize that to ensure they don’t make the same “mistake.” Or if they see all the popular kids wear specific brand names, they decide to wear those to be popular too. No one directly said anything to them, but they picked up on the indirect pressure to behave a certain way. It can be very pervasive and have a strong influence on your children.
- Positive and Negative: The influence of peer pressure goes both ways. Positive peer pressure can be spoken or unspoken, while negative peer pressure tends to be unspoken, causing kids to pick up bad habits that are popular in the group.
What Can Peer Pressure Do?
When you are focused on being included or feel you’re under pressure to conform, it is difficult to focus on other tasks. For example, your teen is invited to a party next weekend, and they know all their friends will be drinking. They may not want to drink but don’t want to be excluded either. So they constantly think about their decision. It impacts their concentration and productivity, and it will likely show up in their grades, school, or sports performance.
Even if your child has always been self-assured, they can start to doubt themselves when faced with strong peer pressure. If they stick to their guns and make wise decisions, they can become social outcasts. That can make them doubt their choices and impact their self-esteem in the long run.
Increase Emotional Vulnerability
No one wants to be excluded or feel their preferred social group doesn’t accept them. Since teenagers are already emotionally vulnerable, they can make poor decisions, so the social circle welcomes or includes them. Because they are doing things they don’t want to do, they pretend to be happy instead of actually enjoying themselves. This behavior can worsen their vulnerability and harm their emotional health.
While your child used to love spending time with family or didn’t care about the car you drive or what job you work to provide, peer pressure can make them feel ashamed of you and their background. They are starting to understand the disparity or differences between themselves and their peers. They won’t want friends to see them in public with you or in the loud, rusty car, but they feel bad about feeling that way. They start to distance themselves, even if it makes them unsettled or anxious.
Encourage Bad Habits
More extreme forms of peer pressure, often experienced in high school or college, can lead to the formation of bad habits. These can include: skipping a class or school, smoking, substance use, engaging in risky or criminal behavior, and bullying. Many of these can influence their physical health and mental wellness.
How Peer Pressure Can Lead to Depression
Engaging in bad habits, they don’t enjoy, distancing themselves from their family support system, lower self-esteem and confidence, and feeling more vulnerable take a toll. Research supports the conclusion that adolescent peer pressure predicts future anxiety, sleep problems, and increased stress levels. Poor sleep, stress, and anxiety all contribute to developing depression. Furthermore, studies show that peer pressure is directly associated with depression. In addition to peer pressure, depression itself can pass through social groups. Read more about it here. Unfortunately, as peer pressure starts younger, depression can as well, leading to the need for clinical depression treatment from an early age.
How To Help
The best way to combat peer pressure to avoid developing anxiety and depression is to establish a non-judgemental environment of open communication with your children early on. Be present to listen and offer help if they need it. Encourage them to listen to their instincts, be independent, set their own boundaries, and be assertive in their communication. Have them practice what they would say in negative situations and how to say no differently. Help them choose a peer group likely to provide positive peer pressure instead.
If your child is already dealing with large amounts of peer pressure, and you are concerned about either anxiety or depression, avoid talking negatively about their friends, as they can feel like that’s a personal attack. Instead, seek out mental health services in Bellingham, WA. They can recommend alternative depression treatments instead of immediately turning to antidepressants.