We have all been in situations where we feel pressured to do something, whether it is being put in a situation that makes us feel uncomfortable or make a decision that could ultimately hurt ourselves or others. Most often, these situations arise because those that are around us, whom are sometimes even very important to us, are pressuring us into doing something that we may not want to take part in- or peer pressure. We may have been introduced to the idea of peer pressure in high school health class or from our parents; we may have even laughed it off at first. But, in reality, peer pressure plays a significant role in the choices that we make on a daily basis.
Adolescents and teens may not fully comprehend the role that peer pressure plays in their lives, but we know how prevalent this type of pressure can be during these years. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology (AACAP) ,“The majority of teens with substance abuse problems began using drugs or alcohol as a result of peer pressure.” Often times this can occur at parties or other times where children may feel vulnerable to risky behaviors. According to the AACAP, parents can be proactive in addressing teen peer pressure with their children. For instance, it can be important to know who your child’s friends are, encouraging open lines of communication, and helping your child gain self-confidence. Again, many adolescents may not know how to appropriately react to peer pressure; it may be something they have to grapple with and, over time, learn how to cope with. Here is one such example of someone who struggled with being pressured:
“Although I have to take accountability for my own actions, I have to say that some of my actions would not have happened without some peer pressure. Whether I received peer pressure because I was in situations that I was not ready to be in at the ages I put myself in, or because I may have appeared vulnerable at that time. Looking back, I may have not realized that I was being pressured by my friends, new people, or especially, older people. But now I comprehend things I didn’t at those times. Specific examples of my experience with being peer pressured are usually about upping my addiction to its next level, or just certain behaviors that led me down that path. But now I know what it looks and sounds like to be peer pressured, I can see it early and make sure not to give in, and I can also have the ability to not peer pressure people when I want things.”
Many adolescents feel the need to fit in with a particular crowd. Some other factors as to why teens may be more susceptible to peer pressure than adults include: fear of rejection, not wanting to be made fun of or lose a friend, not understanding how to avoid certain situations, and the exposure to drugs and alcohol in the media. There is no magical answer for how to appropriately deal with peer pressure- everyone is different; however, it is important to be aware to help make good choices and decisions.
“I was the plus one to a party with my partner for a girl she works with, I really didn’t know anyone and being the only sober one was hard enough. I began to intermingle, and I didn’t know if the group knew I wasn’t going to partake in the drinking, however one guy repeatedly asked me to join in on a round of shots. I said no about 5 times before he had the audacity to ask me why, as if my simple no wasn’t enough. I wish I had a picture of his face when I told him I’m an alcoholic and walked away.”
The Counseling and Psychological Services Department at the University of California-Santa Cruz offers some good tips and strategies to employ to help handle teen peer pressure. For instance, they advocate that it is okay to set boundaries as to which situations make you feel uncomfortable and to recognize “unhealthy dynamics.” If someone is not respecting your decisions, then perhaps you should not be spending time with that person. Furthermore, UCSC suggests standing up for others that are being pressured and disrespected; this can be empowering and send a message to others that the situation may be uncomfortable for more than just your friend. Here is another anecdote relating to strength in numbers:
“Back in high school I didn’t start drinking towards the end of my senior year. But I was on the football team and would go to parties still. I remember people especially upperclassmen on the football team giving me a hard time about not drinking. Nothing extreme but they would make little sarcastic comments that would make me feel like I was immature or not cool because I wasn’t drinking. It was nice that I had a friend who was also on the team who didn’t drink, and he would go to the parties too so it’s kind of like having a support and an ally there which was very helpful.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers some startling statistics on substance abuse. By the time adolescents become seniors in high school:
To help offset these statistics, it is important that we continue to support those with substance abuse issues and promote ways to encourage healthy choices. Although peer pressure will always be present, we are here to help. If you or a loved one are looking for treatment, don’t hesitate, pick up the phone and call.