Fitting In: Peer Pressure in High School

For most people, teenage years throughout middle and high school were marked by trying to “fit in” and find themselves among a slew of new pressures, friends, responsibilities and privileges. An individual enters high school as a child, but undergoes significant personal change in the four years that they spend learning about history, English, and biology. Although fitting in and finding oneself is certainly not a bad thing, it often involves peer pressure which can significantly influence a teen’s decisions and impact the choices that he or she makes.

Why do teens feel such a strong need to conform to the peer pressure of their friends? The Teen Rehab Center recognizes the fear of rejection as the most prominent reason to give in to the pressures of friends in the event of negative peer pressure. So, when faced with the decision of whether or not to drink at a party with her friends, a teen might chose to drink rather than face the “consequences” of what her friends might think of her after the fact.

According to the Teen Rehab Center, the most significant indicator of drug and alcohol use in teens is the behavior of their friends. This relates to the issue of self esteem in teens, where teens with a lower opinion of themselves are much more likely to engage in risky behavior like drinking or drug use. For some teens, the yearning for affirmation from friends is so strong that if a group of friends are engaging in dangerous behavior, it is easy to fall in line with their actions. If feelings of self-worth do not come from inside or from a positive source, teens will seek it from this type of behavior.

A recent survey of high school aged teens around the country found that 68% of high school seniors had tried alcohol at least once, and 35% of seniors had smoked marijuana in the past year. 82% said that they knew who sold drugs at their high school, and 30% had been directly offered drugs. These are pretty high stakes for teens to face, especially those with low self esteem who are more likely to succumb to peer pressure.

The pressure to engage in sexual relationships while in high schools is another significant problem that teens face. Among high school students questioned about the pressure for sex in high school, 50% said that they’d been pressured into a sexual situation in which they were uncomfortable, and boys were 10% more likely to be pressured by their friends to share sexual experiences.

Although there is a a well deserved negative connotation associated with peer pressure, there are situations where peer pressure can have a positive influence on teens. For example, the opposite can happen when a teen has friends who do not drink alcohol or engage in drug use on a regular basis. For these teens, there may be pressure not to drink or do drugs, which gives teens the same affirmation that giving in to the pressure to drink does. Also, positive peer pressure can be associated with things other than alcohol and drug use like increased exercise and competition among peers to preform better in school.

But regardless of the positive or negative effect of peer pressure, teens who give into it are conforming to those around them instead of making sound decisions for themselves. Campaigns like Just Say No To Drugs were created in an attempt to steer teens away from drug use, but is that enough? Instead of telling teens what and what not to do, perhaps a better approach would be to teach teens the value of self esteem and risk assessment in their decision making so that they are equipped to deal with other issues they face later in their lives, in college and later in the workplace and with their future families.

Peer Pressure

2 Responses

  1. tfc5137 says:

    I like this approach at decreasing teen drinking, substance abuse, and sex. I think sex in high school isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I do think that pressured sex before someone is ready is a bad thing. It is important that we teach children self esteem and respect for themselves so that we can limit the complications of peer pressure.

  2. Maria says:

    I thought this was an interesting discussion of peer pressure in high school, and I would argue the very same issues apply to middle school kids as well. I certainly remember the pressure I felt to find a friend group in my middle school, and I know many others who had a similar experience. From what I have learned in psychology classes, this is actually a very common and normal occurrence. Basically, as we hit puberty, our hormones tell us to separate from our parents and to seek out new social groups/mates. So I think a pressure to fit in with your peers is always gonna be a part of this phase of “growing up.” And, like you mentioned, we should work towards instilling healthier mindsets/behaviors that high-schoolers can peer-pressure each other into!

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