Self Development

How to handle Peer Pressure


“Come on! ALL of us are bunking maths class today. The professor is giving a test and who wants to go take that? We’re all going to take a walk and get lunch instead. Let’s go!” said Rohan the coolest kid in class who was also the group’s leader. If you were in that class and in Rohan’s group what would you have done? Do you do what you know is right and go to math class, test and all? Or do you give in and go with the rest of the group?

Defining Peer Pressure

Friends influence our life, even if we don’t realize it, just by spending time with us. We learn from them, and they learn from us. It’s only human nature to listen to and learn from other people who are the same age as us.

Making decisions on our own is hard enough, but when other people get involved and try to pressure us one way or another it can be even harder. When friends try to influence how we act, or try to get us to do something, it’s called peer pressure. Whether it is pressure to conform to a group norm (like wearing certain types of clothes or taking part in specific activities and clubs) or pressure to act (like trying drugs or alcohol, or alienating another teen), peer pressure is something everybody has to deal with at some time in their life.

How successfully you handle peer pressure depends a great deal on how you feel about yourself and your place in the world. There are certain “risk factors” for peer pressure, some personality traits that make you more prone to give in to peer pressure:

  • Low self esteem / Lack of confidence
  • Uncertainty about ones place within a given peer group
  • No personal interests exclusive of one’s peer group
  • Feeling isolated from peers and/or family
  • Lack of direction in life
  • Depression
  • Poor academic abilities or performance
  • Fear of one’s peers
  • Lack of strong ties to friends, feeling that friends could turn on you easily or with little reason

How do you prepare yourself to face peer pressure and win?

 The answer is simple.

  • Prepare yourself ahead of time for uncomfortable situations, mentally script out the reaction you WANT to have in a given situation (the reaction that goes AGAINST peer pressure) and play that script out in your head over and over again.
  • Know where you stand on key issues like sex, drugs, alcohol and bullying and do not allow anybody to make you deviate from your position.
  • Flatly refuse to take part in anything designed to cause harm or distress to another person and speak up when/if such a situation arises. You do not have to be angry, a comment like “lets not bother with this” or “why do we need to do this” is usually enough to inspire others who are uncomfortable to stand up and be counted.
  • Think of yourself as a leader and act accordingly. The more you see yourself in this role the more comfortable you will feel asserting your own opinions and feelings.
  • Refuse to let yourself down! Often when we give in to peer pressure it hurts our already fragile self esteem creating a vicious circle. If you think of giving in to peer pressure as letting yourself down it becomes easier to combat and your confidence will earn you respect.

When ugly situations arise and peer pressure kicks in to high gear it is very easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that you will have to live with the choices you make. If you are not comfortable with those choices or if you give in and do something that is contrary to your character or core value system it will cause you distress later and in the long term you will feel regret. When peer pressure rears its ugly head try to focus on that long term reality rather than the short term negative effects of standing up for what you think is right. Peers may seem unpleasant when you speak up against the group but that initial reaction will blow over and you will likely find that you were not so alone in your feelings and that others will admire you for doing what you felt was right. Peer pressure only works if you let it, if you refuse to let it intimidate you it loses its power. The secret is to assert yourself without becoming preachy or self-righteous. Stand your ground but refrain from standing on a soap box.

Remember, peer pressure can only bite you if you let it. So become strong and don’t let the peer pressure pressure you.

Shital Ravi
Counseling Psychologist

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