Tips & Info
Tips & Info

Handling Peer Pressure

What is peer pressure?

Peer pressure is a really common experience for young people. Peer pressure is when someone influences your decisions around what you should or should not do. Someone you know may try to get you to do something you don’t want to do, or they may try to stop you from doing something that you really want to do. The reason that you may decide to change your mind and do what they say is because you may want to ‘fit in’ and be part of a group. Feeling part of a group is really important for everyone, so it is understandable that most people do feel pressured to go along with what other people are doing. But if you’re doing/not doing something because you want to fit in and it’s not sitting well with you, then it’s not a positive thing.

Have you ever wondered why they call it “peer pressure” and not “teen pressure”? The reality is that peer pressure occurs at every age regardless of whether you are at school, work or uni, so learning how best to deal with it is really a learning skill you can use for the rest of your life.

While peer pressure is mostly viewed as negative, sometimes your friends influence can be a good thing – they might stop you from doing something that you may regret later such as smoking, drinking, or taking drugs.

What is negative peer pressure?

Negative peer pressure is the type of pressure that you may find yourself wanting to ignore because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Take a second to think about that statement. Can you think of any occasions recently when you have felt uncomfortable around certain people or social settings because you felt pressured to do something to please someone else in order to fit in or not stand out?

As you think about this, can you remember back to what sort of thoughts and ‘self-talk’ you were having at the time? Were you thinking something like “I don’t want to do this…” or “what if someone finds out…”

Can you remember the feelings you were having at the time? Were you feeling uncomfortable, maybe feeling sick in the stomach, sweaty, hot or shaky? Our bodies are designed to tell us when something negative or dangerous is happening to us and sometimes it is the physical symptoms that we feel first before we notice the thinking or self-talk happening.

Thoughts and feelings that make our bodies react are signs that what you are feeling pressured to do is not healthy for you. In the long run the actions you are thinking about doing or not doing that you know are the wrong actions to take don’t make you feel good about yourself at all. In fact, you can end up feeling guilty and disappointed with yourself.

Some of the common pressures, teens and young adults talk to Kids Helpline about are:

  • Pressure to try drugs, alcohol or cigarettes
  • Pressure to have sex, either by a partner or friends
  • Pressure to engage in risky behaviour online or via social media
  • Stealing or shoplifting
  • Illegal actions such as speeding or driving unlicensed
  • Cheating on tests, copying assignments or letting others copy your work
  • Ditching school for the day to do something else with friends
  • Pressure to dress a certain way that doesn’t feel comfortable
  • Pressure to not be friends with certain people or to ignore or not include certain people in social situations.
You're not alone. Give us a call :-)Jane, Kids Helpline Counsellor
What is positive or helpful peer pressure?

On the other hand, there is positive peer pressure. For example, things like being encouraged by friends to do well in sport or school. Other forms of positive peer pressure may be:

  • Encouragement to stop smoking
  • Pressure to stop any illegal activity such as underage drinking or drug taking
  • Friends supporting you to stop any activity that might be damaging your health or well being such as bad eating habits or unhealthy relationships
  • Encouraging you to try new things that are of interest to you

The difference between negative and positive peer pressure is how it makes you feel and the intention behind your friends’ pressure or encouragement. From the above examples, it may feel uncomfortable if your friends are encouraging you to stop smoking but on some level, you may feel that you probably should stop because of all of the health risks. The common theme with positive peer pressure is that the pressure is designed to assist you to feel better, healthier or happier. Negative peer pressure on the other hand, can make you feel the opposite; unhappy, unwell or uncomfortable.

How to handle negative peer pressure

This is not an easy thing to do because as the name applies it can be your friends who are pressuring you. So how do you stand up to the pressure from friends?

  • Sometimes humour is a good strategy. Some people are really good at deflecting attention from themselves or their actions by using humour. Have you noticed those people? A quick witted one liner can take the pressure off the current conversation without offending anyone.
  • Having a direct conversation with the person or people who you feel are pressuring you is another way to stop peer pressure. To do this effectively it is good to have some idea of what you want to say, choose the right time and place to say it and speak honestly by letting your friends know how much their actions are affecting you.
  • Seeking support. Getting help from others, whether they be friends, family or a teacher, school counsellor or a counsellor here at Kids Helpline. Sometimes, just talking about it can start to make a difference. With support, you can begin to not feel so alone with the problem and talk through some useful strategies that will work for your individual situation.
  • Be true to yourself. Being aware of your values can help you to stand up for what you believe in and can limit the effect other people have on your actions and beliefs. Learning more about your values and being true to your values and beliefs is something that you continue to develop over your life, so starting to identify these things now can be a great help as you get older.
Make your own decisions. Live your own life...Jeff, Kids Helpline Counsellor


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Last Reviewed May 2014

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