What is Peer Pressure? Definition & Examples

Words by
Jackie Baucom

JUL 08, 2024

What is Peer Pressure? Definition & Examples

One of the most challenging aspects of growing up is dealing with peer pressure. This powerful force can shape our children’s behavior, choices, and overall well-being.

The introduction of smartphones and social media has added a whole new dimension to the peer pressures most parents experienced in their own childhoods.

Not only are kids today pressured to be on social media, but once on these platforms they are confronted with constant pressure that far outweighs the already-significant pressures found in real-life adolescence.

“In a real-life social setting, it takes a while—often weeks—to get a good sense for what the most common behaviors are…but on a social media platform, a child can scroll through a thousand data points in one hour…

Social media platforms are therefore the most efficient conformity engines ever invented. They can shape an adolescent’s mental models of acceptable behavior in a matter of hours.”

-Jonathan Haidt

Understanding peer pressure and its impact is essential for helping our kids thrive. In this article we hope to provide parents with the tools and knowledge necessary to support their kids through these critical years.

Peer Pressure Definition

Peer pressure is the influence applied by a peer group on its individual members to conform to the group’s norms, behaviors, and attitudes. It can be both positive and negative, though it’s often thought of negatively. Peer pressure can impact a young person’s decisions and mental health.

What Are 5 Examples of Peer Pressure?

Peer pressure can happen anywhere, and at any time. Here are some examples of situations where kids may face negative group pressure.

  1. Substance Use: Teenagers might feel pressure to try alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs in order to fit in or seem cool.
  2. Fashion Choices: A child may feel the need to wear certain brands or styles of clothing to align with their peer group’s fashion style. 
  3. Academic Performance: Students might feel pressured to cheat on exams or homework to meet expectations, or keep up with others.
  4. Risky Behaviors: Teens may be pressured into participating in dangerous activities, like reckless driving or vandalism, to gain peer approval.
  5. Social Media Presence: Young people may feel compelled to join a social media platform to gain approval from their peer group.

How to Deal with Peer Pressure

Adults will understand the basic allure of peer pressure. We’ve been there too. Peer pressure doesn’t stop once we reach adulthood. There’s a reason “keeping up with the Joneses” is a popular saying. 

We may no longer feel pressured to try drugs, but we still feel pressured to keep up with others by getting a bigger house, a better car, or even going on an Instagram-worthy vacation.

Talking to our kids about our own current and past pressures can be a great learning and connecting opportunity. Kids like when we share our own experiences. Plus, knowing that even parents make mistakes and get past them can be empowering. 

Help build your child’s self-esteem so they can resist negative peer pressure. This can be done in many ways:

  • Provide unconditional love and support through affection and quality time.
  • Praise efforts, not just results.
  • Encourage independence and responsibility by assigning them tasks or chores that are suitable for their age to build a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. 
  • Foster a positive environment by providing constructive feedback without harsh criticism, and encourage a positive outlook.
  • Set realistic goals and break them down into smaller, manageable steps.
  • Encourage curiosity by supporting their interests and hobbies, and providing opportunities for them to try new experiences.
  • Encourage positive friendships and encourage kids to empathize with others, promoting kindness and cooperation.
  • Encourage kids to face challenges and find solutions rather than avoiding problems.
  • Limit exposure to negative influences such as media or pessimistic friends.
  • Be a good role model by expressing self-confidence and acknowledging that making mistakes is part of learning and growing.

Set clear expectations for how kids should behave, such as being honest at school, following the rules, or staying away from illicit substances. Talk through the consequences that can come from not meeting these expectations.

Some kids, especially younger ones, may benefit from role playing different scenarios to prepare them for situations where they might feel pressure.

What Is Positive Peer Pressure?

Positive peer pressure occurs when peers encourage each other to make healthy, beneficial choices. This can include studying diligently, participating in extracurricular activities, or practicing kindness and inclusivity.

Positive peer pressure can enhance self-esteem and promote good mental health.

Why Do People Give into Negative Peer Pressure?

Several factors contribute to young people’s susceptibility to negative peer pressure. Research shows that during adolescence, the brain’s reward system is highly active, making teens more sensitive to the potential rewards of risky behaviors, especially in the presence of peers. At the same time, their impulse control system is still maturing, making it harder to resist peer pressure and consider long-term consequences.  

illustration of teen girl feeling unsure of herself

Apart from brain development, some kids may have a fear of rejection, so they choose to conform in order to avoid being ostracized or ridiculed by peers. Others may experience low self-esteem, making them likely to seek validation through peer approval. Some kids are naturally curious and may have a desire for new experiences. 

Mostly, giving into peer pressure comes down to a desire to feel accepted. It’s human nature to want to belong and feel loved, so it’s not surprising that some will do whatever it takes to experience these feelings.

Causes of Peer Pressure

Peer pressure arises from various factors, primarily the desire for social acceptance and the fear of being excluded or judged by peers. As children develop, they naturally seek approval and validation from their friend group — often valuing their opinions as much as, if not more than, their family’s. This need for belonging can lead kids to conform to the behaviors, attitudes, and norms of their social group.

The influence of social media and popular culture can amplify peer pressure, presenting idealized images and behaviors that young people feel compelled to emulate. Low self-esteem and a lack of confidence can also increase susceptibility to peer pressure, as individuals may struggle to assert their own values and choices in the face of group expectations. 

Ultimately, the combination of these social, emotional, and psychological factors creates an environment where peer influence can significantly impact behavior and decision-making.

Effects of Peer Pressure

The effects of peer pressure can be profound and far-reaching, impacting various aspects of a young person’s life. 

On a negative level, it can lead to risky behaviors such as substance abuse, underage drinking, and participation in delinquent activities, as individuals may conform to the group’s behavior despite their better judgment. 

Constant pressure to meet the expectations of peers can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, as the struggle to fit in and avoid rejection can be overwhelming. 

On the flip side, positive peer pressure can encourage beneficial behaviors, such as striving for academic success, engaging in healthy activities, and developing good social habits. 

The overall impact of peer pressure largely depends on the nature of the influence exerted by the peer group and the individual’s ability to navigate these social dynamics effectively.

Peer Pressure to Get Social Media

In today’s digital age, social media is a significant aspect of peer pressure. Young people may feel pressure to join social media platforms to stay connected with their friends and be part of the digital community. 

We’ve long heard about the dangers of social media, and it’s encouraging to see governments and other groups taking it seriously. 

illustration of teen feeling peer pressure

Social media usage comes with many dangers, such as the potential for cyberbullying and online harassment, which can lead to psychological distress and even depression among kids.

Also, the constant exposure to curated and often unrealistic portrayals of others’ lives can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Even adults struggle with this one, so it’s unfair to expect kids to be able to handle it when we can’t.

Additionally, excessive social media usage has been linked to sleep disturbances, reduced physical activity, and a decline in real-world social interactions.

The Role of Parents 

Parents are not immune to peer pressure. How often have we made parenting decisions because other parents were doing it?

Something as simple as choosing which toys to get, which extracurricular activities to sign our kids up for, or even letting our kids use social media because their friends all do. There’s a way out of every problem, but the easiest is preventing it to begin with.

Best-selling author, Jonathan Haidt explains it this way: “Few parents want their preteens to disappear into a phone, but the vision of their child being a social outcast is even more distressing.” 

Of course we want our kids to be included and have friends, but if the cost is all the mental health issues that potentially come with social media, is it worth it?

It’s our duty as parents to build up our kids and help them navigate the challenges that come with growing up, including peer pressure. We can help them by fostering open communication, building confidence, and providing them with the best tools to navigate a largely digital world. Our guidance and support play a crucial role in their ability to make healthy, informed choices.

Do you think peer pressure in your child’s life is different from what you experienced growing up? What strategies have you found effective in helping your child resist negative peer influences? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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