Peers are the people you identify with. As a child or teenager our peers are typically very close in age to us. As we get older, our peers are often the people we spend our time with—in our workplace, neighborhood, social groups, faith communities, or families—regardless of age.
Peer pressure occurs when you’re influenced to adopt views, beliefs, goals or behaviors of those in your peer group.
We often think of teenagers when we hear the words “peer pressure”. That’s appropriate because those developmental years lend themselves to trying to “fit in” and “belong”.
I remember, painfully, an incident that happened in high school. There was an elderly nun who taught calculus. Most of the students knew her as Tobor which was robot spelled backwards. I still don’t get the robot reference; to me she didn’t seem robotic at all—she simply seemed frail and aged. One day she left the classroom, and some students decided it would be fun to leave the room and “hide” somewhere in the building until the next period-change bell rang. I remember, as if it happened just yesterday, feeling really uncomfortable about this; feeling like this was really wrong, unkind and mean-spirited. I remember the internal conflict about whether to stay in the room and, in essence, “rat out” my fellow classmates—some of whom were friends—or succumb to the mindset of the majority (I’m guessing now, in hindsight, that there were a lot of kids who were afraid to say “no”).
I left the classroom just like everyone else. I chose the path of fitting in. In the 1970’s, on that spring afternoon, I yielded to peer pressure. I don’t remember if we were ever “found out”, or if this woman ever even realized what happened, but more than forty years later, it’s still part of my story.
Even as adults we often succumb to a group mentality; we’re still susceptible to peer pressure. It doesn’t go away, it simply “grows up”. We may reframe it as social pressure, but in the end, it’s the same issue wearing a different coat. We get sucked into the notion that in order to be in “good company” (or at least what we view as “good company”), we have to think, speak and behave like others in that group. The more likely our peers are to do something, the more likely we are to do the same thing, especially if we’re trying to “fit in”. There’s this tug-of-war between being a unique, valuable individual and “belonging to the group” where you feel accepted and respected.
As adults, influence by our peers can play out in the way we dress, the vacations we take, the cars we drive, where we stand politically, the religion we subscribe to and the way we view and treat people who are “different from us”. We watch the same shows as our peers. We stay in cliques with people who are ”just like us”. We paint our self-portrait with a palette of other people’s ideas rather than being “who we are”.
Just like the 10-year-old girl who comes home from school saying, “Mom I can never wear this shirt again; the other girls say it’s babyish” or the seven-year-old boy who insists he needs that newest electronic game because “all the other boys in second grade have it”, we sometimes lose sight of what we really want or need or desire to be, just so we continue to fit in.
I don’t watch anything with violence in it. As you can imagine, that eliminates almost everything that’s popular on television or in the movies. It’s who I am. I don’t “process” violence the way most people must. It rattles me to the core so I just don’t subject my spirit to it. People can tell me that it’s “historical” or “to see the good guys triumph over evil” or “part of the world we live in”. It doesn’t matter, I just say “no”, instead of folding under the pressure of “you’re missing out on some really great shows.” It’s one small way I honor who I am, in a way most people simply don’t get.
Don’t let anyone dictate how you live.
Don’t feel like you have to explain your choices. If people truly care about you, they won’t need you to “defend” yourself. Listen to your inner voice and follow that guidance.
Don’t feel you need to “conform” to be a vital member of your neighborhood, faith community, workplace or family.
Don’t give up thinking independently.
Don’t do what others think you should do. Do what you think you should do.
Don’t give up your identity; that’s what makes you unique.
Don’t ever believe that “where you came from” determines where you can go!
Don’t forget that, just like in high school, adults can be bullies too. Don’t be one and don’t be intimidated by one.
Don’t let other people influence you to lower your standards and bring you to their level.
Don’t feel like you have to stay where you are in your relationships.
If you spend time copying others’ behaviors just to fit in, or making excuses for why you do (or don’t do) something, perhaps it’s time to think about choosing relationships with people who lift you up and value you for who you are.
Don’t be afraid to be different, that’s part of your beauty,