Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is defined as the impact a social group has on an individual. Children and teenagers are under social pressure to be in conformity with the group with which they socialize. Peer pressure often includes words of encouragement, persuasion or criticism. However, it can also be unspoken, for example when members of a group have similar hairstyles or wear similar clothes. As a result of peer pressure, young people can change the way they dress, the music they listen to, the types of behavior they engage in.

Peer groups are usually groups of close friends who are about the same age. Peer pressure can be observed among groups of children at the age of two. At this early age children can do things only because they see other kids doing it or they tell them to. This can have an impact on the child's behavior, eating habits, play time, sleeping patterns, social and emotional development. Later, at the ages of three and four, children begin to see there are opinions, values and rules different from the ones set by their parents. Preschool children would think or act like their friends although they know this may go against what they have been taught because at this age they normally start challenging their parents.

Up to the age of eight, children try to please their friends, playmates and classmates. By middle school and through to high school, the impact of peer pressure usually can be seen heavily. Turning into adolescents, children get more involved with their peers and peer identification becomes more attractive. For adolescents peer relationships play a central role in their lives and peers often replace parents and family as teens' main source of advice, entertainment activities and socializing. Many adults have the perception that peer pressure is just one culture or dangerous influence unified into a single front, but this is inaccurate, because teenagers' peer relationships are multiple and adolescents confront various peer cultures with different norms and value systems.

Peer pressure can be both negative and positive, depending on the group trying to influence an individual. Peer pressure is negative when friends or acquaintances of a child or a teen try to make them do something harmful to their body or against the law. Examples of behavior under negative peer pressure include drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, taking drugs, cutting classes, stealing and vandalizing. There are children who would ignore their own commonsense or their better judgment because "everyone is doing it."

Teens often choose to do thing they know are bad for them because of their desire to be liked, to be accepted, to fit in, or because of fear of being looked down upon or made fun of. Negative peer pressure cannot be avoided always and it may be a fact of life through childhood, adolescence, even into adulthood.

However, peer pressure can also be positive. Even at preschool age, children can feel the benefits from peer pressure, such as eating vegetables or taking a nap because their friends are doing it. Friends can encourage each other to strive for higher grades in school as well as for better performance in sports and creative activities, which is another example of positive peer pressure. Peers can potentially encourage problem behavior, but negative peer pressure is overemphasized because they usually reinforce family values.

When children suffer peer rejection they often feel lonely and socially dissatisfied. Rejected children also have lower self-esteem and may feel more depressed than others. Peer rejection can also lead to problems later in life, such as juvenile delinquency, mental health problems and dropping out of school, which is a frequent outcome.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Peer Power: Preadolescent Culture and Identity
Patricia A. Adler; Peter Adler.
Rutgers University Press, 1998
Family and Peers: Linking Two Social Worlds
Kathryn A. Kerns; Josefina M. Contreras; Angela M. Neal-Barnett.
Praeger, 2000
Handbook of Pediatric Psychology in School Settings
Ronald T. Brown.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 34 "Peer Relations"
Analyzing Peer Pressure and Self-Efficacy Expectations among Adolescents
Kiran-Esen, Binnaz.
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 40, No. 8, September 2012
Resisting Peer Pressure: Characteristics Associated with Other-Self Discrepancies in College Students' Levels of Alcohol Consumption
Crawford, Lizabeth A.; Novak, Katherine B.
Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, Vol. 51, No. 1, March 2007
The Influence of Peer Groups on Academic Success
Sallee, Margaret W.; Tierney, William G.
College and University, Vol. 82, No. 2, January 1, 2007
Peer Group Influence on Urban Preadolescents' Attitudes toward Material Possessions: Social Status Benefits of Material Possessions
Shi, Bing; Xie, Hongling.
The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 47, No. 1, Spring 2013
Peer Influence on Adolescent Boys' Appearance Management Behaviors
Yoo, Jeong-Ju.
Adolescence, Vol. 44, No. 176, Winter 2009
The Myth of Peer Pressure
Ungar, Michael T.
Adolescence, Vol. 35, No. 137, Spring 2000
Children's Evaluations of Peer Influence: The Role of Relationship Type and Social Situation
Burton, Brea A.; Ray, Glen E.; Mehta, Sheila.
Child Study Journal, Vol. 33, No. 4, December 2003
Transitions through Adolescence: Interpersonal Domains and Context
Julia A. Graber; Jeanne Brooks-Gunn; Anne C. Petersen.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Part II "Transitions in the Peer System and Social Behaviors"
Building Self-Esteem in At-Risk Youth: Peer Group Programs and Individual Success Stories
Ivan C. Frank.
Praeger, 1996
Social and Emotional Adjustment and Family Relations in Ethnic Minority Families
Ronald D. Taylor; Margaret C. Wang.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "Peer Influences" begins on p. 149
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