A term often read and heard about but very little pondered upon. The Cambridge dictionary defines peer pressure as ‘the strong influence of a group, especially of children, on members of that group to behave as everyone else does’. A simple definition but an impactful cycle. It plays an extremely important role in the social and emotional development of children as well as adolescents .So what exactly is a peer group? A peer group is made up of individuals who socialize together. It generally increases through childhood and reaches its intensity in the preteen and teen years. Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs defines social acceptance and acknowledgement as one of the primary needs for survival of human being in a society. This urge of social acceptance gives rise to a constant need for validation. As long as this urge is in alignment with one’s will and control, it creates a positive peer influence and the moment this urge takes over one’s ability to distinguish between the right and the wrong, it starts to create a psychological pressure. This psychological pressure exists in various forms amongst us and becomes a means to gauge what one ought to do.
Broadly classified as positive and negative, peer pressure can be spoken or unspoken and direct or indirect. While positive peer pressure leads to outcomes that are healthy, negative peer pressure leads to catastrophes. For example, if your friend constantly pushes you to eat healthy, its a positive peer influence. While a peer pressure to participate in a bike race without a driving license is a negative peer pressure. Positive peer pressure is beneficial and is also an important way to create and retain social bonds. It’s the negative peer pressure what needs attention today. You remember the last time you went for a movie with your friend despite detesting it? Or the latest college fashion wear that you had to pretend to like because it was the ‘new cool’? You might wonder what harm did it do and is it even that bad to switch priorities and likings in order to have a healthy peer group? Well, taking the above examples it actually isn’t but this is the initiation point of negative peer pressure. In most cases it starts off with incidents too minute to be reacted upon which is why the ‘initiation points’ goes completely unnoticed and neglected. What follows later leads to a devastating impinge like consumption of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and one’s indulgence in unethical and illegal activities. The vicious cycle of peer pressure is sometimes attributed to ‘Social Stockholm Syndrome’. It is a psychological response where over the course of time, the victim starts to develop a sense of commonality with their victimizer. This sense of commonality later becomes toxic.
It isn’t always a cakewalk to shield yourself from negative peer pressure. But it isn’t a herculean task either. An individual’s environment at home greatly impacts one’s reaction when exposed to negative peer pressure. When children and adolescents have parents whom they can confide in, their psychological response towards this social infliction is more positive and less hampering in comparison to those who find it difficult to express themselves and are subjected to some or the other form of abuse at a very early age. As a parent one needs to gain their progeny’s confidence and trust. It requires small initiatives like a before bed talk every night and spending quality time with them at least on the weekends. Teens have to be taught to trust their instincts when in doubt and to say the magical word ‘NO’ when subjected to circumstances their morals don’t approve of instead of blindly following someone else’s path. Schools on the other hand, should hold more seminars on peer pressure to enable teens to identify the red flags which often come across as subtle signals. If prepared at a tender age to hold onto one’s own belief irrespective of the pressure around, negative peer pressure is one such social stigma that wouldn’t take much to eradicate.