by Savannah Ames
“Everyone else is doing it!” “All of my friends are going!” “She has one! So why can’t I?!”
We’ve all said something along these lines when arguing with a parent or authority figure in an effort to get something we want. Often, our grand attempts at convincing our guardians to give in to our desires results in their use of another well-known argumentative phrase:
“If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”
Disgusted with such a ridiculous rebuttal, we argue that we most certainly would not follow our friend’s drastic actions, and that is likely true. But is this popular counterargument really as ridiculous as we think it is? Peer pressure is an ever-present challenge in teen life, even if it isn’t always as extensive as jumping off a cliff.
“I think, just as humans, we’re constantly seeking approval,” junior Mahayla Anderson said, “and so, anything that we can do, like the way we dress and the way we act, is mostly peer pressure.”
Peer pressure, or the influence to conform to what others are doing, is common among teens because of their need for approval from others that Anderson mentioned. It is in the early years of our development as humans that we are the most receptive to the influence of our peers.
According to research by the US National Library of Health, susceptibility to peer pressure in adolescence peaks around age 14. Middle adolescence (ages 15-17) is the period in which teens begin to develop independence and learn to stand for their own beliefs and resist peer pressure.
A recent NS Times survey found that 55 percent of students have experienced pressure to do something negative that they did not want to do. Rebecca (anonymous source) is one of those students who has been affected by negative peer pressure.
Last year, Rebecca developed some bad habits that she believes were easier to develop because of those she had begun spending time with. Rebecca said that having friends that accept certain behaviors creates an environment in which those behaviors become okay. Behaviors that you might not have considered to be okay before.
“People share values,” Rebecca said, “And so if your friends or someone you care about has these values, I feel like, over time, you either compromise or you raise or lower your values.”
Rebecca, like many teenagers, found herself adjusting her values to those around her. She and her friends went to social gatherings where alcohol, tobacco, and other harmful substances were present. At first, Rebecca was able to refrain from joining her friends who were drinking, smoking and vaping, but eventually, her curiosity got the best of her.
Rebecca didn’t feel that she had been pressured into participating in drinking or smoking because she had allowed herself to be in that situation. And ultimately, we make the final decision on what we do, but those we affiliate ourselves with can influence those choices whether we realize it or not.
“We all grow up thinking, ‘Don’t do drugs,’ or whatever, so in my head I was always like, ‘I’ll never smoke a cigarette,” Rebecca said, “but then I started vaping, and because my friends were, it became more okay to maybe try a cigarette.”
Rebecca grew apart from people she had once had strong relationships with as she spent more time with new friends that she felt didn’t judge her for making decisions that her previous friends might have judged her for. It wasn’t until those friends that she had been close to before confronted her about her decisions that she realized what she had lost.
“People that I cared about, who were better people, who were doing better things, talked to me, and then I realized that even though it was easier to be different [with the new people] and I felt like I fit in there, it wasn’t really the people who genuinely cared about me,” Rebecca said.
Those peers encouraged her to make better decisions, and she accepted their advice and began making changes to her life. Rebecca recognizes this as a form of positive peer pressure that led her to make positive life decisions.
Rebecca had experiences with both positive and negative peer pressure. Though 55 percent of students have experienced negative peer pressure, our survey also found that 68 percent of students have also experienced peer pressure to do something positive that they did not want to do.
Anderson was pressured by her friend to join the basketball team last year. Anderson had not played basketball before and was worried about joining the team with no experience. It was hard for her at first, but now she sees that it turned out to be a positive experience.
“I gained so many new friends and so many positive experiences from [basketball], and I’m glad that I did it,” Anderson said.
It isn’t always easy to try something new, and Anderson admitted that it wasn’t easy for her at first.
“It definitely put me out of my comfort zone,” Anderson said, “It just opened me up to new experiences.”
Anderson’s involvement in basketball led her to try out for track the following spring which provided her with more positive experiences.
“Just looking back, like, my attitude was better and I was healthier, and because one person said, ‘You have to do basketball with me,’ it just made me a happier person,” Anderson said, “I’m very grateful, even though in the moment I hated it. I hated running, it was awful. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Honestly.”