Thinking. Peer pressure part 2

In the first part of this series, I said that sorting out where you belong in the world happens through  'peer influence' in your teens and early twenties, and is a normal part of growth and development.

That’s fine, you might be saying. But I think you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be a teenager. How does that help me when my peers want me to join in the smoking behind the toilets, or offer me drugs at parties, or laugh at me because I won’t have sex with my boyfriend? How does that solve the sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach when I turn up somewhere wearing the wrong outfit? How does that help me get rid of the fear I have of being weird, being crazy and being the misfit in the group?

Don’t worry. I know the feelings all too well. I remember the ever-present fear of falling on my face, literally and metaphorically, that stayed with me all through high school. I can still feel the terror of being different, being weird, and being laughed at. It felt like bubbles in my stomach, weights in my feet and a red burn across my face. I was desperately afraid of slipping up and embarrassing myself.

The fact is that peer pressure and fear usually go together.

Teenagers are always conscious of the fear of not fitting in. When it flares up, they feel it right through their bodies. They would rather endure the disapproval and dismay of their parents and teachers, and do dangerous and unpleasant and unattractive things than suffer the bad feelings that go with the rejection that they are so frightened of.

Frankly, parents and adults are terrified of peer pressure too. They too remember the fear of adolescence, and they desperately don’t want their child to experience it. They also don’t want their child to make choices that they know will affect their lives negatively. They would rather endure living with an unhappy, grounded, restricted teenager than see them get into bigger trouble out there in the world.

I said at the beginning of this chapter that lots of the things people think about peer pressure are not true.  Here are some of the myths.

  • All teenagers are so susceptible to peer pressure that they will do anything to fit in.
  • It’s impossible to stand up to peer pressure.
  • Doing things like drinking and drugs are a normal part of being a teenager.
  • Getting through peer pressure depends a lot on luck.

There is a way to be a teenager who is happy, smart and normal without following the party, drugs and sex route. There is a way to be different yet to fit in. There is a way to have a lot of fun and yet not be considered a freak by your friends or send your parents into a spin so that they ground you for the rest of your existence.

It is possible to stand up to pressure. You are not so weak that you can’t possibly do it, and it’s got almost nothing to do with luck. 

To read the next part of this series, click here.