Modern teens live in a fast-paced digital world where peer pressure is a constant influence. While the essence of peer pressure—the social influence of peers on a person’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviour —remains unchanged from previous generations, the peer pressure affecting teens in today’s technology-driven world manifests in a variety of new ways. For teenagers, peer pressure may arise as pressure to:
- Have and use the latest technology such as smartphones and apps
- Follow social media trends
- Look a particular way or appear to have a certain lifestyle on social media
- Participate in social interactions (psychologically triggered by a fear of missing out) .
Adolescence has always been a phase where teens strive to build an identity and seek autonomy as well as establishing an acceptance within their social group. Today, peer pressure emerges from friends in a teen’s social circle and digital influences . Fitting in may mean wanting to do what other teenagers in their life or online are doing, or a desire to acquire popular or fashionable material things. Many simply want to avoid feeling awkward or uncomfortable, are afraid of being rejected or bullied in person or online, or do not know how to handle a pressure situation when their social acceptance is at stake . Parents can play a crucial role in helping their teen learn how to have strong self-worth and think independently to resist negative peer pressure.
Is peer pressure always negative?
Although peer pressure is typically portrayed as negative, it does not always lead to risky behaviour . Positive peer pressure can provide adolescents with emotional benefits and be a foundation for healthy self-esteem through friendship and acceptance, a chance to strengthen their identity through the discovery of new ideas and hobbies, and offer positive models of behaviour . Positive peer pressure can even have a positive influence in helping bullies to act more kindly .
However, peer pressure can also have negative consequences, such as when teenagers influence each other to perform harmful acts . This form of peer pressure can lead to risky behaviour such as the unsafe use of social media and mobile phones through sexting, meeting strangers or cyberbullying .
What are the unique peer pressure challenges faced by the digital generation?
With the rise of social media, peer pressure has crystallised in a new form: virtual peer pressure. Given that most teens today are tethered to a smartphone or digital device with 24/7 access to social media, many teenagers feel constant virtual peer pressure. Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube shape what is considered cool and uncool . Their every move is judged by their peers, whether these peers are real-life friends or their 1,145 followers on Instagram.
This virtual peer pressure can impact teens in subtle ways by influencing their self-esteem, how they desire to appear, their mindset and behaviour . Viewing friends’ posts, images and videos on social media may trigger FOMO (fear of missing out), which encourages conformity to avoid social ostracism .
Virtual peer pressure on social media and other digital platforms has another dark side: cyberbullying . While social media can nurture bonds with friends by encouraging connection and sharing experiences, it can also become a weapon for cyberbullies to debilitate self-esteem and destroy feelings of security about social acceptance .
Steps to help your teen resist negative peer pressure
Parents can play an indispensable role in shaping a teen’s attitudes, helping them handle negative peer pressure, and empowering them with a solid sense of self that guides them to make responsible decisions. Here are four steps to help your teenager resist negative peer pressure in today’s digital world.
#1 Encourage resilience
Support your teen to develop self-confidence and teach them to have the strength to say no if they feel uncomfortable . Remind your teenager about the importance of having the courage to follow one’s own personal convictions, likes and dislikes, even if that means not always following the crowd . Reinforcing that inner strength and self-confidence can help them stand firm and resist doing something they feel is not right for them . Highlight the many upsides of non-conformity and cite role models they may admire that have embraced authenticity and perhaps veered off the beaten path . Reinforce that while it’s important to learn how to cooperate with others, the most important skill is to take pride in and be comfortable as an individual. Adolescents who feel good about themselves are more able to resist negative peer pressure and make healthier choices .
#2 Guide teens to choose their friends wisely
Help your teenager understand the difference between positive and negative peer pressure, and reinforce why it’s important to choose friends with values that are aligned to theirs. Talk with your teen regularly about their friendships and engage with them to understand the social dynamics in their social circle. Discuss with them the importance of reflecting critically about their friends’ behaviour within the context of their interactions personally and the wider social circle. The Family Insights App is useful because it provides a non-invasive way for parents to receive notifications of something shifting in their teen’s life to prompt a discussion .
#3 Promote a well-rounded perspective
Encourage empathy and a well-rounded perspective, and remind your teen that the peers who ‘appear to have it all’ may too feel negative peer pressure . People who feel compelled to pressure others might feel insecure and may have a lack of self-confidence . For example, teenagers who constantly post on social media platforms like Instagram or Snapchat might secretly feel pressured to maintain a certain image and would prefer to quit but persist for fear of no longer being accepted . Helping your teen recognise that how people act on the outside may not necessarily correspond with how they feel internally will help them gain a greater appreciation for the dynamics of peer pressure and their autonomy to resist it.
#4 Maintain an active role in your teen’s life
The most important step is to keep the lines of communication open as your teen’s identity and values develop . Showing an active interest in their social dynamics, likes and dislikes will help you relate to their experiences and build trust so they feel comfortable talking to you if a problem arises. Wherever possible, as a parent already engaged with social media, ask them if they would like to connect with you online, but remember to respect their privacy and autonomy, and avoid intruding on their social circles in a judgmental way. Instead, keep current on the changing digital influences in their life, promote healthy and open dialogue, show concern for their wellbeing, and pay attention to changes in their behaviour due to peer pressure . Observe the way they use their mobile phone, social media and digital technologies . Finally, encourage your teen to seek guidance from you if they feel uncomfortable about any situation they find themselves in both online and offline. .
Digital technology is changing the way teens experience peer pressure. Although peer pressure is a major influence on adolescents’ lives, it is possible to help them cultivate strong internal values that make them resist negative peer pressure that does not support their well-being . Parents and caregivers play a key role in helping a teen rationalise, contextualise and build resilience against negative peer pressure, and supporting them to embrace positive peer pressure that helps them have a balanced view of themselves.