Everyone experiences peer pressure. It’s totally normal to want to fit in and be accepted by a group, especially in your teenage years!
There are so many great things that come with having friends. For one, it feels good to belong to a group of people whom you admire. On top of that, you’ll always have people to eat lunch with, study with, and hang out after school with.
However, there is always the chance that your friends may encourage you to do something that you aren’t ready to do, or don’t want to do at all. It can be as small as talking poorly about a friend behind their back. On the other hand, it could be as damaging as underage drinking.
Like it or not, we’re influenced by everyone around us. That means everyone will experience peer pressure at some point in their life.
Though it can feel, at times, like you may be rejected for saying “no,” remember that you always have a choice! You have the ultimate say in how you want to live your life.
Here are our top tips for how to figure out whether you’re being peer-pressured, and the steps to take in order to stand your ground—even when you’re nervous.
What is peer pressure?
Everyone has peers. You and your peers share a common group or community; your peers are the people around your age from school, an intramural sports team, a piano class, or church.
Not all of your peers are necessarily your friends. However, all peers can influence you.
Peer pressure can be a good thing, or it can be a harmful thing. Positive peer pressure encourages you to be your best. Negative peer pressure happens when you feel like you’re being forced to do something you don’t want to do. When you give in to negative peer pressure, it often makes you feel guilty or disappointed for doing something when you knew better.
Some examples of negative peer pressure are:
- Needing to dress or act a certain way.
- Excluding certain people in social activities.
- Posting mean-spirited (or otherwise regrettable) stuff on social media.
- Cheating on tests, copying essays, or letting others do the same to you.
- Driving recklessly.
- Using drugs or alcohol.
- Shoplifting or stealing.
- Engaging in (unsafe) sexual activity before you’re ready.
- Bullying or cyberbullying others.
Why do people give into peer pressure?
A lot of people think that peer pressure involves the stereotypical queen bee or domineering bully. This forceful teen usually demands that their friend do something against their will, lest they become the odd one out.
That may be the case in certain peer pressure scenarios. But oftentimes, peer pressure can be much less obvious. It’s more like a dance where everyone tries moving in this or that direction, hoping that it’ll make them look like they fit in. What’s more, those who make the suggestions often do it to show that they are the leaders.
Especially if you’re just learning “to dance,” you may not detect subtle peer pressure. Or, you may feel like giving in in order to fit in. It’ll probably feel a little bit uncomfortable to decline—and sometimes, you’ll have to do it multiple times before your peers really get it.
But think about this: How else will you develop the confidence in your ability to stand up for what you believe in? Your boundaries tell others how to treat you. Saying “no” to peer pressure will help you effectively develop confidence in your own ability to stand your own ground.
How to deal with peer pressure
Get to know yourself.
The better you know yourself, the easier it is to tell when something doesn’t vibe with you.
If you don’t feel like you know who you are, make a pact with yourself to try new things. Try meditating, journaling, or volunteering. Delve into your inner life to clarify the important things—namely, your feelings, values, and beliefs.
Ask yourself important questions, like:
- What do I like about myself?
- Where do I see myself going in the next three to five years?
- What kind of impact do I want to leave on my friends? On the world around me?
- How do I feel about the person I’m becoming?
- What can I do to explore more authentic, audacious self-expression?
- What feels healthiest and “most right” given all the information I currently have?
- How do I want my future self to look back on the current situations that I’m dealing with?
There is no right or wrong way to approach this. All you need to do is stay curious and open-minded to possible problems and solutions!
Get to know your goals.
With a little planning, you’ll be able to identify important goals and live your happiest life.
So, what should you do with your life? Consider:
What do you want to accomplish in the next 3 months? 6 months? 12 months?
Then, use those goals as a roadmap for an awesome tomorrow.
Like a GPS, your roadmap will tell you where you are and help you get to where you want to do. You can always refer back to your roadmap when you’re faced with a tempting decision.
Invited to a party the night before an important exam?
Check the roadmap!
Trying to decide whether to spend your summer vacationing or completing an internship?
Refer back to the roadmap.
Not sure whether to go to the same small-town college as your friends, or attend the international university of your dreams?
Again, refer back to the roadmap.
Be a goal-getter.
Next, make a SMART plan for reaching those goals.
SMART goals are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.
Specific: Your goal is clearly defined.
“I want to get into a top college.”
“I want to get into UC Berkeley, UCLA, or UCSD.”
Measurable: Your goal is measurable, and you can measure your progress along the way.
“I want to do well on the ACT.”
“I want to get at least a 32 on the ACT.”
Achievable: Your goal is realistic and attainable.
“I expect to receive a full ride scholarship from all the colleges that accept me.”
“I will apply for five to seven scholarships per month.”
Relevant: Your goal is relevant to your big-picture vision.
“I want to go to UC Berkeley because my parents went to UC Berkeley.”
“I want to go to UC Berkeley because I want to become a software engineer, and an EECS degree will help me get there.”
Time-bound: Your goal has a deadline so you stay focused.
“I want to get an A on my next calculus exam.”
“By the time my next calculus exam happens, I will have clocked 12 hours of study prep.”
When you make a choice that is right for you and stick with it, you learn to express your values. With practice, you’ll become more confident in sticking to your guns.
Equally importantly, plan for possible peer pressure situations.
It’s inevitable that, at some point, you’ll feel pressured to do something you don’t want to do.
Get ahead of any potential peer pressure situations by planning ahead.
Let’s say that you’re at a party and someone offers you some alcohol. How will you respond? What will you say? What will you do?
Having a planned response will make it easier to say no. Perhaps you can say that you have a serious allergy, or that your parents are strict. Maybe you can offer a better alternative to the peer pressure situation. Even if you’re caught off guard, remember that it’s okay to say “No” without an apology or explanation.
You can also draw on safety and strength in numbers. When you have like-minded friends who share similar values and beliefs, it’s easier to say “no” together.
“No” is a complete sentence.
Have an exit plan.
If all else fails, have an exit plan.
Make sure you have your parents and a few good friends on speed dial. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, ask someone to call or text to say that you need to come home.
A Word from A Brighter Day
During a time when friends and relationships mean so much, it’s easy to get hung up on what people will think of you. In these tricky times, go back to your guideposts—your values, your beliefs, and your goals. The better you know yourself and your goals, the easier it’ll be to say “no” to things that don’t agree with you.