To always look at peer pressure from a negative point of view isn’t always sensible because it can also play a big role in the social and emotional development of children
“Come on Samir!” whispered his 16-year-old friend Rakesh. “Just one glass. Nothing is going to happen, and I am not going to tell anyone!” Confused and afraid, Samir, who was just 13, takes hold of the glass and gulps it down while Rakesh smirks. Samir feels guilty about what he just did.
Time with peers or friends makes up a significant part of life. Compared to the relationship with immediate family members and relatives, friends stand at the very bottom of the relationship, still children gradually grow up being influenced by their peers in their decisions and behaviour. This process also has an effect on their physical and psychological well-being. In childhood, parents have the upper hand in deciding with whom their child can play. However, as children grow up, they are independent to choose their company.
Much time is spent with friends in school and afterwards in one’s locality, which is why peers play an important role in their daily life. It is not only children but people from all walks of life are influenced by peers because of the need to ‘fit in’. Peer pressure is when a person does something that he or she normally wouldn’t do, but does it anyway to feel accepted and valued by their friends’ circle. In terms of children, it might not just be their close friends that they are influenced by, but also their classmates and children around them in the society.
Parents are always concerned about the company their children keep. No one wants their children to be under a bad influence. Despite this fact, it is important for children to have friends and faith in them as they grow up. This pressure might lead them to be like their friends and engage in similar topics of discussion or performance in school. They could also pick up bad habits, such as smoking, drinking, drugs, and use of inappropriate language and slang.
Likewise, quite different from the common perception held by the people, peers help develop new skills and make them inclined towards hobbies like playing instruments, reading books and engaging in extracurricular activities. In conversation with a student of grade 9, he told me how he developed his interest in music from friends who were already playing the guitar. To only look at peer pressure from a negative point of view isn’t always sensible because it can also play a role in the social and emotional development of children.
Pariksha Onta, a psychologist, believes that peer pressure can lead a child to adopt good habits as peers may encourage them to do good things. “They are exposed to a wide variety of human behaviours and could even learn empathy, patience, sincerity and integrity,” she says. They cheer up their friends when they are emotionally down or upset and provide opportunities to build constructive relationships. They also contribute in developing new habits, such as listening to good music, watching movies, and going trekking and camping.
On the other hand, we cannot deny the fact that children might be affected through undesired stress that comes from their peers. They may feel compelled to do something they are unwilling to do like stealing, drinking alcohol and smoking. Onta says they might get into negative cliques and adopt a harmful lifestyle just because it looks cool and they are accepted by the crowd. “Being surrounded by such people is detrimental to their living and leads to loss of individuality,” she adds.
Even for adults, it is sometimes hard to cope with such pressure from their friends. Children, pre-adolescents and adolescents try out and accept the pressure so that they don’t feel uncomfortable within the group they fraternise with. No matter how wisely we choose friends, we, at some point in life, feel pressured by the company we associate ourselves with. While some children respond to peer pressure for acceptance, many are better able to resist them. Another student currently in tenth grade believes that she is not influenced by her peers and makes her own decision on many aspects of her life though she receives moral support from them when she is in need.
Meanwhile, a boy from the same grade mentioned how he is influenced by his peers to prank and bully others and adopt an attitude towards some teachers. There are no magic spells to prevent peer pressure. To respond to peer pressure is the nature of humans, and it happens even if we don’t want it.
For adults, they can plan for a solution, but young people certainly need proper guidance from their parents, teachers and family members. It is, therefore, important for parents to keep open communication and open relationship with their children. It emboldens them to talk to their parents about any stressful things happening to them or about the negative influences they are receiving.
A sudden change in the behaviour, academic downturn, emotional fluctuations, reluctance to go to school or narrowing the social touch, increase in materialistic demands and withdrawal from activities are some signs to be recognised by the parents and teachers.
Therefore, peer pressure can be both positive and negative, but ability to give a child firsthand guidance and nurturing them in a trustworthy environment can develop self-esteem in children. Positive parenting is always the best technique to ensure the social and emotional state of a child.
Saud is an educator
A version of this article appears in print on November 07, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.