What Is Peer Pressure?

Female teens on a soccer field hugging

Blend Images - Moxie Productions / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

What Is Peer Pressure?

Peer pressure is the influence wielded by people within the same social group. It is also the term used to describe the effect this influence has on a person to conform in order to be accepted by the group. Often, peers are thought of as friends, but peers can be anyone of a similar status such as people who are the same age, who have the same abilities, and who share a social status. 

Peer pressure is commonly thought of in a negative light, but in reality, it's not always a bad thing. Sometimes peer pressure is used to positively influence people. Learning about acceptable group norms can be a positive part of learning how to live with and socialize with other people. 

The way your child (or you, for that matter) responds to peer pressure can indicate who they are as an individual. Natural leaders tend to be less susceptible to bad forms of peer pressure, while followers may be more inclined to go along with it.

Signs

Peer pressure can range from subtle to overt, which means that some forms of peer pressure can be easier to spot than others. Being able to identify signs that your child is dealing with peer pressure may help you initiate a supportive conversation.

Some signs that your child may be experiencing peer pressure include:

  • Avoiding school or other social situations
  • Being very image-conscious
  • Changes in behavior
  • Expressing feeling like they don't fit in
  • Low moods
  • Making social comparisons
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trying out new hair or clothing styles

Many of the signs of peer pressure can also be signs of other things, like bullying or mental health concerns. Any changes in behavior or mood are worth investigating. 

Types of Peer Pressure

Most kids have a strong desire to fit in and are especially sensitive to being picked on, made fun of, or ostracized. Consequently, they're often eager to do the things their peers tell them to do.

Research has drawn attention to the significant role of peers in influencing prosocial behaviors. When peers endorse positive and altruistic behavior, young people are more likely to engage in those behaviors, even when their peers are not watching.

Positive Peer Pressure

Positive peer pressure is when someone's peers encourage them to do something positive or push them to grow in a beneficial way. 

Here are a few examples of positive peer pressure:

  • Pushing a friend to study harder so they can get better grades
  • Getting an after-school job and convincing friends to get a job too
  • Saving money for a big purchase like a car and encouraging friends to do the same
  • Disapproving of bigoted jokes or gossiping
  • Looking down on illegal or risky behavior, like under-age drinking or smoking

Negative Peer Pressure

Negative peer pressure, on the other hand, involves pressure to do something dangerous or damaging to themselves or others. 

Here some examples of negative peer pressure:

Impact of Peer Pressure

As your child grows older, their peers will play a bigger role in their life. Friends can influence everything from what kind of music they listen to, to what they wear, to how they talk.

Gender socialization may influence how receptive a young person is to peer pressure. Research indicates that adolescent boys are more susceptible to pressure for risk-taking behaviors.

Peer pressure isn't always deviant, though. Peer pressure can have both negative and positive impacts.

Benefits

  • Advice: Friends can be a great support as kids try out new things, explore new ideas, or need someone to help them work through a challenging problem.
  • Encouragement: Peers can push each other to do new things, like trying out for the soccer team or the school play. 
  • Friendship and support: Feeling supported by someone who accepts you for who you are can boost self-esteem.
  • Gaining new experiences: Sometimes we need a little shove to do something we really want to do but don't quite have the courage.
  • Modeling good examples: Friends help each other be better people when they frown upon negative behaviors like gossiping or insensitive jokes and instead encourage positive behaviors.  
  • Practicing socialization: Learning about different social norms helps us know how to adapt to different situations and decide which groups we want to spend time with and which ones we don't.

Drawbacks

  • Anxiety and depression: Being around people who pressure us to do things we aren't comfortable with can make us feel anxious and depressed.
  • Arguments or distance from family and friends: Negative peer pressure tends to make us feel bad about ourselves, and this can cause us to withdraw from people we care about.
  • Distractions from academics: Peer pressure can sometimes cause us to move our focus from our priorities because we're engaged in things we wouldn't normally do or distracted by thoughts about peer pressure.
  • Pressure to engage in risky behavior: Friends may pressure each other to do things like drink, try drugs, engage in sexual activity, or drive recklessly.  
  • Problems with self-esteem and self-confidence: Constantly feeling pressure to do things that go against your values can make you feel bad about yourself.
  • Sudden changes in behavior: Trying to conform to a peer's norms might mean that you start acting and looking like someone other than yourself. 
  • Unhappiness with appearance: If peers are fixating on appearance, you may feel inadequate and want to change how you look in order to fit in.

Tips for Coping With Peer Pressure

It's important to prepare for dealing with peer pressure. Being able to spot signs of peer pressure will allow you to intervene when you recognize that your child or someone you care about is headed down an unhealthy road. 

Some strategies that may be useful for helping someone cope with peer pressure might include:

  • Plan ahead: Have them think about the things they might be pressured to do that they don't want to. Plan ahead for ways to deal with the pressure. Ask them to think of how they might leave a situation if it becomes uncomfortable. Identify a support person that they could call.
  • Give an excuse: Have them develop a canned excuse for why they can't participate in something they don't want to do. For example, some families have an arrangement where if kids text their parents a certain pre-planned word or phrase, the parent will call to say something has come up and they need to come home. 
  • Build friendships with the right people: People who share your values are less likely to be the people who will bully you into doing things you don't want to do. 
  • Rely on trusted adults: Help your child identify which adults in their life are safe and accessible for when they need to talk or when they need help getting out of a tricky situation. 

Talk to your kids about peer pressure. Teach your child how to say no, help them develop the skills to think independently, and encourage self-confidence. If you suspect that your child or another person that you love is being affected negatively by peer pressure, let them know you are someone they can trust and offer to make a plan for getting out of a bad situation. 

A Word From Verywell

While peer pressure can be difficult, it isn't always a bad thing. Positive peer pressure can be a valuable part of learning how to socialize and even growing as a person.

But if you suspect that your kids are struggling with negative peer pressure, encourage them to talk to you. Sometimes kids don't want to talk to their parents about peer pressure. If that's the case, don't take it personally. Encourage them to talk about it with another trusted adult, like a teacher, a school counselor, a doctor, or a therapist. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Han SY, Kim YH. Interpersonal rejection experiences and shame as predictors of susceptibility to peer pressure among Korean children. Soc Behav Pers. 2012;40(7):1213-1231. doi:10.2224/sbp.2012.40.7.1213

  2. Choukas-Bradley S, Giletta M, Cohen G, Prinstein M. Peer influence, peer status, and prosocial behavior: An experimental investigation of peer socialization of adolescents’ intentions to volunteer. J Youth Adolesc. 2015;44(12):2197-2210. doi:10.1007/s10964-015-0373-2

  3. McCoy S, Dimler L, Samuels D, Natsuaki M. Adolescent susceptibility to deviant peer pressure: Does gender matter?. Adolesc Res Rev. 2017;4(1):59-71. doi:10.1007/s40894-017-0071-2