What is peer pressure? Peer pressure is any influence from a group of people that changes a person’s behaviour or attitude. The term ‘peer pressure’ raises a lot of eyebrows; it is automatically assumed that it is inherently negative. However, this is not always the case.
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Despite the obvious stigma surrounding social influences, it is possible to be pressured in a positive way. There is another side of this phenomenon that most people don’t even consider to be peer pressure. While peer pressure has many negative connotations, it can also be used to help troubled individuals drop bad habits and become better people.
It is commonly acknowledged that peers can have an incredible amount of influence in people’s’ lives; they constantly impact goals and mindsets, changing the way people view the world. There is an obvious social stigma that warns of the dangers of peer pressure, and provides skepticism of the influence of people. Teenagers can and are motivated to accomplish more and improve goals through exchange of information with their peers. Peer pressure can serve as powerful encouragement towards beneficial behavior, and more often influences students positively as opposed to negatively.
Students that get good grades often motivate their friends to study harder and do better in school. Getting acquainted with people that have positive attitudes can open students’ minds to new points of view. Schools and teachers often encourage their students to do their best. Being in a positive, supportive environment allows students to grow and mature. Encouraging peers can exercise leadership skills, as well as provide motivation to work harder. It is up to the person on who they choose to surround themselves with. In the book Psychology Around Us, Ronald Comer and Elizabeth Gould (both having taught psychology at Princeton University for a combined 51 years) state that: “In many instances, our performance is enhanced when we are in the presence of others… This phenomenon was later labeled social facilitation, and its study was expanded to include not just physical tasks but also mental tasks.”(Comer, 546) Being with a group of friends allows teens to participate in positive activities they might not have otherwise. Many teens participate in study groups in order to help them absorb the course material better. Simply studying with friends can help teens study and raise their grade. Peer pressure motivates people to take positive actions, and stay away from negative actions that friends might disapprove of. The right friends can provide consultation, encouragement, information, and help teens establish a willingness to succeed.
One of the most lasting friendships one can form is with their families. Parents are crucial when it comes to the development of their children. Parental figures are the ones that engrain certain behaviours into the next generation. These role models provide the guidance that children need in order to grow into productive members of society. Teaching children to encourage each other and treat fellow humans as their colleagues instead of adversaries lets them form mature bonds with their peers throughout their life. Parental authority and peer pressure are often thought of as different social phenomenons; however, there is very little difference between the two. Parents constantly push their ideals and opinions on their children, yet they shun those who do the same in different environments. It is important to remember that everyone is being influenced by everyone else. Every interaction a person has with another person is an example of peer pressure, including those with parents and their children. Most individuals have at least one sibling, if not more. Younger siblings learn to imitate their older siblings, which forms the basis for how they perceive the world. Everyone who has a sibling knows how difficult it is when they do something disagreeable. Such altercations are normal, and, while they are inconvenient, they teach family members valuable problem solving skills and how to resolve conflicts. This kind of peer pressure is much more constant and regular than that experienced outside of home. First-born siblings often have a lot more life experience than their other siblings – they constantly engage in leadership and helping roles in regards to their younger siblings. This allows younger members of the family to be able to figure out what is and isn’t acceptable in society. There is typically a high amount of trust between siblings; if one is thinking of trying something potentially dangerous, they have their sibling to help figure things out. Having close interpersonal relationships allows individuals to develop a sense of kinsmanship with their fellow humans, which helps people connect and unite. Developing this sense can be extremely beneficial in certain circumstances. After 9/11, for example, people put aside their differences and gave their time, money, and support strangers that were affected by the attack. All of the ideas, beliefs, viewpoints, etc. that people grow up with, they all influence and shape citizens into who they are for better or for worse.
Despite the benefits, peer pressure also can have negative effects on people. In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the society is primarily a collectivistic culture. One of the main characters by the name of Bernard struggles to conform to fit in with his peers. Many times throughout the novel, Bernard succumbs to peer pressure from his love interest Lenina and from society itself. Despite his attempts to conform, he is still ridiculed and publicly humiliated because of his differences: “The security and stability of Society are in danger. Yes, in danger, ladies and gentlemen… he has proven himself an enemy of Society, a subverter, ladies and gentlemen, of all Order and Stability, a conspirator against Civilization itself.”(Huxley, 149) Today, people are still bullied for being different, though not in as severe a way as in Brave New World. Minorities such as Bernard are often targeted because they do not conform to what society thinks is an acceptable way to exist. Teenagers especially are expected and often required to conform to what is deemed acceptable behavior in their respective schools. There is a lot of pressure on young women to be skinny, to look a certain way in order to be perceived as beautiful due to perpetuation in the media. This kind of pressure causes a lot of mental strain on young girls who are looking to be accepted by their peers. People in the LGBTQIA+ community are often severely picked on simply because many people do not like their identities. Bullying and harassment are huge issues in our communities, that cause people all over the country to lose sight of themselves and their aspirations in an attempt to fit in with others. However, positive opinions about a certain issue can allow bullied teens to be able to find the strength to be stand up for themselves, and be themselves. Speaking from experience, the mindset of a bullied teenager can change with support from friends and family. There are a lot of movements that focus on eradicating bullying in the United States, such as The Trevor Project, which is a non-profit organization focused on preventing suicide efforts among members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The Kind Campaign is another nonprofit organization that brings awareness to the lasting effects of interfemale bullying. There are just two of the many campaigns that are dedicated to eradicating bullying. While this is still an issue in society today, these movements draw attention to and gives those struggling to fit in inspiration to stand up for themselves and confidence to be themselves.
Students in school are often required to perform peer edits on their classmates’ work periodically. This is often used as a tool by teachers to improve learning in the classroom, and provide students an opportunity to get different perspectives and feedback on their work. In the study “Utilizing peer interactions to promote learning through a web-based peer assessment system” published in the online journal CJLT, it is found that: “…web-based peer assessment can be effective in… reducing management workload, stimulating student interactions, and enhancing student understanding of marking criteria and critical assessment skills.” (Lan, 01) Editing peers’ essays, assignments, etc. is advantageous in that it allows for students to interact with each other in positive, beneficial ways, whilst still allowing them to provide accurate feedback on the level of work. Information is easily shared between people of the same age; teens speak the same language and can understand each other well. Messages delivered by peers are often more personalized and relatable, which allows teens to be more likely to react positively to constructive criticism.
Changes in perspective due to positive pressure from peers can become an inspiration. Many people believe that peer pressure will cause their children to resort to drugs and/or other unhealthy habits. In some cases, this is true. However, in the right environment, pressure from peers can cause substantial growth in individuals, helping them develop habits that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Humans are naturally social creatures with a desire to fit in and be accepted. This can cause people to make mistakes and fall in with the wrong crowd, but it can also cause them to rectify those mistakes. Everyone has experienced peer pressure in some form or another throughout their lives, whether it be from family members pushing them to be their best, or the childhood bully who could not accept someone different from them. Pressure from society will always be there; it is up to the individual on how to use that in the best way possible.
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