You may think ‘peer pressure’ is an adversity of your past, your childhood. Granted, it may be less likely for you to find yourself being dared to walk around school wearing a silly costume in your twenties or being forced to chug a lethal concoction of three different alcohols in your graduate job. But that doesn’t make you immune to the effects of peer pressure. 2022 is a time when our society is obsessed with extravagance, particularly on social media. Peer pressure is omnipresent. We are swayed in one way or another by those with an influence on us every day. We just don’t realise it.
Let’s consider the classic peer pressure we face at school or university which many of us know so well. ‘Fitting in’, making friends, and coming across well in social interactions are all moments when the very last word we want to utter is “no”. Through fear of missing out, falling behind, or being the odd one out, we often find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do. This principle extends into our adult lives. Humans are pack animals, we want to follow our peers, to be ordinary. But do we ever stop to think about the extent to which we neglect our own desires to do so? Realising the power in our autonomy, and the strength in not bowing to peer pressure, enables us to live life on our terms. Why would we want to live it on anybody else’s?
Naturally, peer pressure encompasses, but is not limited to, pressure to consume drugs and alcohol. This is an example of spoken peer pressure - one individual, or a group of individuals, asking another individual to participate in a specific type of behaviour. (1) The drive people feel from others to consume dangerous substances may at first seem harmless, a bit of fun. But not only can these substances render behaviour unpredictable, and likely to cause accident, and can soon become addictive. Addiction to a harmful substance has a knock-on impact to many aspects of life. Addicts may find themselves struggling to afford necessities such as food, due to their addiction, and many end up neglecting previously precious parts of their life: work, studies, family. If we can find it within ourselves to refuse these substances before they have begun to have this kind of impact on us, we need never be slave to them.
But peer pressure is often discreet, subtle. If you have ever felt a push from others to drink alcohol unwillingly, you are not alone. It is not only young people who feel pressure to drink to fit in. Research conducted by Drinkaware, independent alcohol education charity, found some fascinating figures regarding the topic of peer pressure in drinking. (2) They established that over sixty percent of drinkers aged 18–34 said that pressure to drink was common among their peers and that twenty percent of over 55s felt pressure to drink more alcohol than they wanted to. However, the latter considered this pressure merely to be ‘friendly banter’, while younger people were more likely to identify peer pressure as being aggressive — making them more likely to regard such influence as being negative. Drinkaware Evidence and Research Associate Emma Catterall spoke of how drinking culture could become dangerous if people view pressure or encouragement to drink as acceptable, and “part and parcel” of the banter between friends. The research found that many people used different techniques to be able to avoid drinking alcohol: driving to social events, lying about what they had in their glass, and spending time with people who did not drink. (2) Can’t we all just let people be?
Peer pressure does not only regard the push to engage in drug and alcohol consumption. Peer pressure to wear the latest fashion trends can result in an unsustainable lifestyle. In a desperate attempt to copy the style of friends, or even influencers online, there is the danger of becoming addicted to online shopping, for example. This is a type of unspoken peer pressure, in which an individual is exposed to the behaviours and trends of others and feels a pressure to conform. (1) While the internal desire to conform may guide us towards success, as it motivates us to strive to perform as effectively as those with whom we associate, this feeling can lead us to create unrealistic expectations for ourselves. While society increasingly seems to focus on glamour, and luxury, the peer pressure of keeping up has people failing to remember to live within their means. Ask yourself this: Was there a time you bought something you didn’t want, because society made you feel you had to? Did you really need that Apple iPhone, or did society tell you to buy it? Apple has even pinpointed that many customers go on to make a repeat purchase at Apple and have labelled this as ‘brand loyalty’. (3) Are customers loyal, or are they just hooked and pressurised?
So, what can we do about it? If we consider spoken peer pressure, we are likely to remember a time when the person who tried to pressure us was forceful, assertive and intimidating. So, let’s ensure we can match that energy in our response, even if we have to fake it. While it might feel wrong to lie, politely excusing ourselves with a reason as to why we cannot partake is often our best bet. A better option, however, is to avoid the pressuring people entirely. Where possible, let’s not put ourselves in uncomfortable situations. Unspoken peer pressure is ubiquitous; we are surrounded by pressure to conform. But how about we just don’t?
Generally speaking, we are all affected by the sway of others. Peer pressure exists for younger and older people in many parts of life, both spoken, and unspoken. The key is to tap into our true wishes, our inner desires. Ask yourself: Does the person influencing me have my best interests at heart? Do they know what my true aspirations are? Does this action actively support my current goals? The chances are the answer will be “no.” Just as yours should be.
1. S, Saxena., 2020. Peer Pressure: Types, Examples, & How to Respond [online]. Available at: <www.choosingtherapy.com/peer-pressure/> [Accessed: 23 June 2022].
2. I. Randall., 2020. A fifth of over-55s feel peer pressured to drink MORE alcohol [online]. Daily Mail Online. Available at: <www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-8493919/One-five-people-aged-55-admit-feeling-peer-pressured-drinking-alcohol.html> [Accessed: 23 June 2022].
3. Forbes., 2011. 5 Things People Buy Because Of Peer Pressure [online]. Available at: <www.forbes.com/sites/investopedia/2011/11/16/5-things-people-buy-because-of-peer-pressure/> [Accessed: 23 June 2022].