Peer pressure is a term that is thrown around quite a lot these days. It is a concern of most school administrations and a concern of parents whose teens are at an age where they are susceptible to peer influence. Yet it is something that many of us do not fully understand. When it comes to peer pressure we often times just tell our teens to ‘stick to their guns’ or ‘be their own person’ and these flippant responses really do nothing to actually help.
The reason for this is because giving into peer pressure is not just some weakness on the part of teens. It is not just a matter of giving into group mentality and following the dictates of others, it is actually a serious issue and one that is difficult for many teenagers to deal with.
Imagine this for a minute if you will. You are at an age where your entire life is changing. You are no longer a child, but you are not yet an adult. Your hormones are running wild through your body causing you to feel and act in ways that don’t make sense to you. Your parents no longer seem to make sense and they no longer are able to relate to you. You see images on the television and on social media that are telling you that 100% of people are cooler than you and having more fun than you and you are surrounded by people who all feel the same way, but are pretending otherwise. You have the pressure of having to make important life decisions, like where you are going to attend college and what you are going to do for the rest of your life, and in the midst of all of this, you also have to find someway to fit in.
That is the context in which the American teen faces peer pressure. They are beleaguered by pressure on all sides of them, and if this wasn’t enough, we have a culture that not only promotes drug and alcohol usage, but also greatly hinders individual’s ability to move apart from the group. We tell people to be an individual, think for themselves, but then our media, our school system, and our very way of being endorses the exact opposite. For these reasons and so many more, just telling a teen to ‘stick to their guns’ or ‘Just Say No’ isn’t going to cut it. “On top of this we have the epic failure of the ridiculously expensive war on drugs. Which has done nothing but further exacerbate the problem instead of preventing it.
Yet, teens also have another difficulty to face when it comes to peer pressure, because their minds during this time period are hardwired to want to fit in. During adolescence the number of brain receptors that interact with dopamine is higher than at any other time in their life. This means that the brain’s reward center is working tirelessly and anything that the brain perceives as rewarding is given importance over everything else. If we are being honest here, fitting in and being accepted by your peers feels good. It feels good to have the admiration and love of those around you and so when a teen feels accepted, they feel great… they feel really great, because of the physiology of their mind.
They will pursue this desire to fit in above their own health and wellbeing because their mind is telling them do so and because of this combating peer pressure can be tremendously difficult. Not to mention that teenagers can be brutal, so if the choice is between feeling good and fitting in or walking your own path and possibly experiencing ridicule to the 11th degree, most people will choose feel good and fit in.
However, with all that said, being your own person and making the right choices is the way to go. What I am about to say is sad, but it is the truth. I even hesitate to write it because it sounds like an attack and also I know I was told the same thing many times in high school and never believed it, but many of the people who you think are “cool” during high school and that you want to fit in with, will do absolutely nothing with their lives. They will use drugs and drink and this will get in their way of achieving success. If they are lucky they will find their way out of that damaging path at some point and redirect their lives in a meaningful manner, but following them down that road is neither wise, nor ‘cool’. It can cause you years of regret all so that you could fit in for 4 years.
I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh, but it is the truth. High school is a drop in the bucket and I wish that I could have truly understood that when I was in high school. I wish that I could have seen the fact that the choices I was making were going to affect my life and that none of the social decisions I made were as serious as I thought they were. That in the long run it didn’t matter if I fit in with a lot of those people, and while at this point in my life I do not regret anything I have done, but I do wish that I could have seen this back then.
So that is really my only words of wisdom for you. I understand how difficult it can be to try to walk your own path through your teenage years and I know what it is like to try to resist pressure. If I can offer you anything, I just want you to know that there are people out there who understand how difficult it can be and who have already walked the path of addiction for you, so that you do not have to. If you find that you struggle to fit in in your school because most people are making decisions that you do not agree with, then try to find social groups outside of school. Get involved in things you are interested in, with people who interest you, and you will find that your life in infinitely better because of this.
Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.