We are all influenced by our surroundings. Most of us share many political and religious beliefs with our families, for example. This is because we learn to see the world from those close to us as we grow up. It is also because our desire to be close to and approved of by others sometimes leads us to want to make them happy. And one way we can do that is by sharing their beliefs and values. As we grow up we hopefully learn to balance our own goals, values and beliefs with the desire to please family and friends by sharing their values. That feeling of wanting to satisfy others by doing what they want or expect of us is called peer pressure.
When people are in new situations or social groups – like what happens when you start a new school or go away to college – sometimes we very much want to feel connected and accepted by others. Sometimes we feel we can join the group by adopting their values or doing things we think will make us more acceptable to the group. This can make us vulnerable to peer pressure – doing things that we think will please other people so we will be accepted.
Giving in to peer pressure may not always be bad. If the other people or group want you to believe or do something that seems sensible, safe and enjoyable to you – no problem. Joining a jogging club so that you’ll exercise more regularly with the others than you might on your own is great. But if you are doing things that feel wrong or dangerous because it will make others like or accept you, this is not so good. If you think about it, the difference between an initiation into a sorority or fraternity and “hazing” is that the hazing is usually extreme or dangerous – things you would not want to do under usual circumstances.
How do you resist peer pressure?
- Realize that it takes some time for everyone to make new friends in new situations. When you enter college, everyone who is also starting is in the same boat. If you give yourself a chance, you will make new friends.
- Know your values and limits. If you have a clear idea what is important to you and what you care about, you will have a clearer idea when someone is trying to get you to go beyond your comfort zone.
- Realize that someone who really cares about you – a true friend – would not want to get you to do something dangerous or unpleasant for yourself as a price for being accepted. Would you want to be friends with someone who did not care about you or was cruel to you?
It is great to have friends or be a part of a group (or even several groups) but real friends should act in ways that make you feel good and positive.