A blog idea about how classroom guidance can be used to help adolescents and pre-adolescents deal with peer pressure.
We’ve all been affected by negative peer pressure at some point. And anyone who works with teens or pre-teens knows just how rife (and cruel) it can be at a young age. The pressure to look a certain way, to have the latest clothes, games, the pressure to drink, and, perhaps most importantly, the need to adapt and be included―these are just a few.
Three Common Social Pressures among teens
Peer pressure is rife in the years of adolescence. It can grow exponentially as teens go older and advance through secondary school. It’s a time when their sense of identity starts to form; they fit in, to belong. Indeed, such is the importance placed on ‘fitting in’ that peer pressure can become an overwhelming source of anxiety for many teens. Let’s look at some of the more common forms that peer pressure can take:
Teen drug and alcohol abuse
While 18 is the legal drinking age in Ireland, it’s a fact of life that many people are introduced to alcohol earlier in their teenage years. Sometimes this occurs after they complete the Junior Cert—in some cases, it’s even earlier than this. Peer pressure can be a significant factor in this. Teens may see their friends drinking, and feel pressure to join in, for fear that they are perceived as ‘uncool’ by their peers. Such is the pressure to ‘fit in’, they may choose to drink even if they don’t feel comfortable doing so (or even like the taste of it!). A further danger is they may not know their limits or truly understand alcohol’s effects on their bodies, leading to potentially dangerous consequences. Without proper information, there’s also the risk of them forming a dependency on alcohol at an earlier stage; this can be compounded if they’re using it as an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with other pressures. And, unfortunately, for some, adolescence is also a time when they are pressured into trying cigarettes or drugs, without fully appreciating the consequences and risks involved.
Teenage stealing and theft
It’s not unknown for teenagers to commit theft due to peer pressure, even when they’re otherwise law-abiding. They may not ‘want to’, or feel right about it, but sometimes the desire to fit in overwhelms rational thought. Perhaps their friends are daring them to steal chocolate from a local shop, or clothes from a high street store. This can lead to all sorts of anxiety, from both the fear of getting caught and the gradual feeling of remorse that can bubble up inside.
Adolescence is a time of increased sexual awareness as our sexual identities start to form and develop. Some teenagers start being sexually active earlier than others, and this can lead to further feelings of peer pressure. For example, a teen might learn (or be led to believe) that many of their friends are now sexually active. They may feel pressure to become sexually active themselves, to lose their virginity, etc. ‘Everyone else is doing it. They feel ostracised or different if they feel they’re the only one not. Girls may feel pressured to perform sex acts on their boyfriends even if they’re not comfortable doing so. This can lead teens into making rash and ill-thought-out decisions without considering the consequences, which can lead to STDs, unwanted pregnancies, or indeed, abuse.
As with any issue, it’s always good to talk. Now, while teens and pre-teens may not be willing to come forward to you individually with issues, particularly those around peer pressure, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation about it. If you’re a teacher, or perhaps, a youth coordinator, you could have a class or group debate about it. Run through the concept with them, and then invite them to give examples of how someone might feel peer pressure. List them on your whiteboard. Leave them up! You could also get them to write them down on big pieces of paper and hang them up ― make it an art project!
You could also have a discussion with your group which encourages them to ‘be prepared and come up with ways to get out of peer pressure when it arises. For example, you could ask the group to come up with clever and innovative ways and excuses to get out of a situation. For example, what might they say if they are being pressured to drink? ‘No, I have a delicate stomach, I’ll throw up immediately’, ‘No, I have a family event to get to at 7’, etc. Make it fun, even embrace bizarre and humorous responses if it gets them talking.
Now, apart from getting teens to think about how peer pressure affects them, it’s equally important to make them aware of how they may be inflicting it on others, even unwittingly. Again, conversation is key here and a good class discussion should help create awareness across the class. Here’s an example of an exercise that you can carry out.
Awareness and information are critical to any learning experience. You could display posters around your school or outreach center. Better still, why not encourage your students to be part of this too? You could run an Art Competition with prizes for the top three posters designed to create awareness about peer pressure. You could also work with your English classes to run a short story competition. Here the idea is to encourage students to craft a story about someone affected by peer pressure and its effects on them. By engaging in a creative process, you’re encouraging the teens to think about the issue of peer pressure, its effects and hopefully create a sense of empathy towards those who suffer from it.
Of course, when talking about the issue of peer pressure with teens or pre-teens, we also need to tie it with the concept of self-worth itself. Discuss how we should not be valued on our clothes, our wealth, whether we drink or not, etc. Talk about the importance of kindness and empathy. Please encourage them to think about positive aspects of their lives, loved ones, talents, and potential.