“After all, it was the pressure of our peers that gave us the support to try something we wouldn’t otherwise have.” — Unknown
Peer groups play a much more crucial role in a maturing adolescent’s life. As a teenager, school and other activities may take you away from home, making you more independent yet more reliant on your peers. When you spend more time with your friends, you’ll probably have a closer relationship with them than with your parents and siblings.
We often assume that peer pressure is harmful or something that leads to risky behaviors or rule-breaking. But it’s not always the case. Contrary to general belief, teenagers can also benefit from their peer group’s influences. In fact, peer pressure can positively impact a child’s growth and development, leading them to make the right choices in life.
In this article, we’ll outline the four surprising benefits of peer groups among adolescents and tips on how to help them deal with negative peer pressure effectively.
Table of Contents
What is peer pressure?
Peer pressure is when you feel pressured to act in a certain way, whether directly or indirectly because you want to be accepted or valued by your friends. This pressure or influence comes from the desire to be like the peers you admire, have what others have, or do what others are doing in order to “fit in.”
Teenagers are especially vulnerable to peer pressure. Statistics reveal that 85% of high schoolers have felt the pressure to do something or behave in a certain way just to feel a sense of belonging to a particular group.
Belongingness is human nature, and many of us have that emotional need to be accepted members of a group — whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, or something else. It’s natural to identify with your peers and compare yourself to them, mainly in how you dress, talk, or behave.
The longer you spend time with your peers, the more you influence each other’s choices and behaviors. The influence could be positive or negative, depending on the peer group to which you belong.
Who are your peers?
Your peers are usually people your age or close to it. They’re your friends with whom you share similar experiences and interests. When you’re a little kid, you don’t really have a choice about who your friends are. Most parents tend to choose their kids’ friends for them, especially during the kindergarten years. By arranging play dates for you or putting you in playgroups, you can only interact with children your parents know and like.
However, as you get older, you can choose the friends and peer groups you want to hang out with. Your classmates are often the first peers you’ll have, as they are the ones with whom you spend most of your time in school. Sometimes, they could be kids you know from your church or community.
4 Benefits of Having Positive Peer Groups
A lot of young people may struggle to be teenagers. They may encounter several problems, including identity crises, hormonal and physical changes, bullying, social media pressure, and the stress of responsibilities for the first time in their lives. Decisions about career, sex, drugs, and alcohol also make growing up as an adolescent tougher.
Since peer groups are common among teens, your parents or teachers will probably warn you about peer pressure and the dangers of associating yourself with the wrong crowd — and they should. But what better way to face those challenges than with friends who are into the same things as you?
Peers may increase your tendency to engage in risky behaviors, such as stealing, getting intoxicated, or engaging in unprotected sex. But they can also have a positive influence and play a significant role in your life:
1. Providing social belonging
You may already know how tough the teenage years can be, but going through them alone can make them even more challenging. Being an adolescent without friends is a tall order, especially in a social setting like school. Studies suggest that loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of several mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and low self-esteem.
Not only are healthy social relationships vital to adolescent development, but they also play a crucial role in maintaining overall health. One of the benefits of having a peer group is that it can help you find friendship and acceptance. It provides social inclusion by making you feel safe and giving you a sense of belonging. It also allows you to share experiences that can build lasting bonds that make your life more meaningful.
2. Inspiring positive choices
Peers can reinforce healthy habits and attitudes and promote socioemotional competence, depending on the “friendship quality.” Research shows that relationships with high levels of support tend to encourage positive choices and behaviors.
While parents are usually the best role models, peers can set plenty of good examples for each other. For example, having friends committed to doing well in school or excelling in sports may inspire you to study hard and go after your dreams, which you may not have realized by yourself.
Similarly, friends who are honest, generous, responsible, or supportive can influence others to be the same. In situations where drugs and alcohol are present, good friends can make it easier for you to say no. They may even convince you to give up established bad habits and begin new, healthier ones. Belonging to a positive peer group is crucial for teenagers to stay out of trouble and grow into mature and dependable adults.
3. Offering moral support and encouragement
Adolescence is the phase of life when youths attempt to form their identity and establish autonomy from their parents. Virtually all teenagers go through “pre-life crises,” trying to figure out who they are, what they are good at, and where they fit in the world.
Good friends listen and support each other when they’re upset or troubled. They encourage each other to work hard to achieve their dreams and learn to solve conflicts together. Moreover, peers can empathize with each other when they’ve experienced similar difficulties, just as they celebrate successes after struggling through hardships together.
According to a 2021 study published in Frontiers of Psychology, teenagers who receive more peer support often report fewer problems, excel more in school, and experience more life satisfaction. Through the strength of their relationships, they can support one another through ups and downs while also developing their own inner resolve and resilience.
4. Sharing new experiences
Apart from healthy exploration and learning independence, adolescence is a unique stage for creating significant life events that could be self-defining later into adulthood. And peer groups play a crucial role in making those childhood experiences memorable.
One study in 2019 found that recalling happy memories during adolescence can reduce young people’s vulnerability to depression in later life. That said, your life would be far less exciting without peers to invite you for sleepovers, encourage you to try out for football or cheerleading, join school clubs, or convince you to go on dates for the first time. Sharing these new things with others can help you overcome your fears and make the experience more comfortable.
Trying new things alone is not easy; it takes courage and confidence. However, doing it with friends can be inspirational and fun. Ultimately, peer groups are essential for vulnerable teens to enjoy their adolescent years and transition better into their adult roles.
How can we help adolescents manage peer pressure?
While peer pressure is necessary for young people’s character development, sometimes it causes stress and confusion as they struggle with outside influences. Here are some tips to help your child make informed decisions and cope better with negative peer influence:
- Build their confidence and self-esteem.
Confident teenagers can resist negative peer pressure better. That’s because they don’t possess a strong need to receive validation from external sources, unlike kids with low self-esteem.
Build your child’s confidence by helping them learn to do things and praising them for trying hard. Or, you can be a good role model and show your child how to be confident. You can also give them support and a sense of belonging to help nurture a healthy self-image.
- Encourage open communication.
Make your child feel like they can open up to you about their lives. If your child feels pressured to do something uncomfortable, encourage them to talk to you about it. Most importantly, learn to be understanding rather than judgmental and authoritarian.
- Get to know your child’s friends.
Apart from helping your kids grow into confident and well-adjusted adults, make sure their friends are positive influences by getting to know them. For example, you can invite them to hang out at your place and observe how they act around each other.
- Instill values and morals in them.
Simply teaching your child to say no to negative pressure is not enough. You want them to understand why something is wrong and how it can negatively affect them. Instilling values and morals in your child will help them navigate through challenging situations and reject negative influences without compromising their relationships with other people.
When should we be concerned about peer group influences?
Many teens join gangs for the same reason as peer pressure — to look for a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and instant sources of gratification. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, about 400,000 adolescents join gangs annually in the United States. Surprisingly, female gang members are also rising, making up as much as one-quarter to one-third of all urban groups.
While being in a gang does not always involve criminal activities, it does make it easier for someone to lose their moral foundation and adapt to the group’s standards. At some point, your child may feel pressured to do something uncomfortable, which could alter their mood, behavior, and eating or sleeping patterns.
When that happens, watch out for these warning signs:
- Aggression or anti-social behavior that’s unusual for your child
- Reluctance to go to school
- Loss of appetite or over-eating
- Low moods or feelings of hopelessness
- Withdrawal from their usual activities
- Trouble falling asleep
Conclusion: Choose Your Friends Wisely
Adolescence is a time of exploration, such as trying new things and building new relationships. Teenagers are rarely at home and spend most of their time at school and with friends. With minimal parental supervision, they may experience peer pressure more often than they can handle. But having the right peer groups can help kids overcome negative influences and turn them into something beneficial for their development.
Depending on who your child’s friends are, peer pressure can easily be bad or good. If teens join gangs or associate themselves with kids who are troublemakers, peer influences can lead them in the wrong direction. Some may learn to skip classes or disobey adults, while others may develop substance abuse. In worse cases, they may end up committing violent crimes.
As a parent, you want to stay connected with your kid and at least know their hobbies and interests. You also want to teach them to choose their friends wisely without being judgmental. Be a good example to your child and instill moral principles so that, no matter what obstacles they may encounter, you can be confident they will make the right choices.