Negative Peer Pressure and Its Serious Consequences

Negative peer pressure touches almost every teen at some point. Adults also face it at times. Peer pressure lessons learned by giving in can be extremely damaging, or empowering, depending on the outcome.

To avoid emotional upheaval, it is important for parents to give adolescents tools for coping with peer pressure. This helps kids make the right decisions when they are faced with negative peer pressure situations. The need for peer acceptance is extremely strong in the teen years. Standing up for oneself is of extreme importance, and can be very difficult.

What Negative Peer Pressure Is Like
Negative peer pressure occurs when a group coerces someone into doing something inappropriate. The group makes it clear that the person will be kicked out of the group or targeted for revenge if she does not participate. The group also makes it clear that participation leads to acceptance by the group, which is very desirable during the teen years.

The activity may be as simple as drinking alcohol at a party or smoking marijuana. It could extend to committing a crime or engaging in unprotected sex. Whatever the activity, the person being pressured feels torn between his value system and his desire to be accepted or avoid the group's punishment.

Why Giving in Is Bad
If a teen gives in and participates, putting acceptance ahead of her values, the teen loses faith in herself. She stops believing in her ability to stand up for herself, and her ability to live consistently with the values she wants to have. Once she has compromised her values, it becomes easier to do it again the next time. She may let her values go after a while, and go further participate in situations that she otherwise would have resisted.

The damage to the teen's self esteem is lasting. It can lead to depression or other emotional illnesses over time. Participating in illegal or immoral activities can also lead to legal trouble or health problems.

Avoiding Negative Peer Pressure
A teen who has been taught to stand up for his values is more likely to avoid situations in which he is asked to compromise them. If he stands up to the group, refusing to participate in their plans, he will save his self respect. The group may reject him or attempt to humiliate him; if he tells others or gravitates toward people who support him, he will avoid the difficulties of this situation. In some cases, the teen who stands up to peer pressure winds up being the leader of the group, because he's voicing concerns that others are too afraid to share.

In the end, he can find a group of peers who are more in line with his value system. He can feel good about himself and his ability to take a stand. This is the desired outcome because it strengthens the teen as a person.

What Parents Can Do
Parents who openly communicate, who are involved with their kids' lives and who teach their kids tools for coping with negative peer pressure will have the best chance of protecting teens from the negative effects of surrendering. Parents who have firm and clear expectations and have more influence over their children than teen peers. This gives kids the courage to stand up for themselves and protect their personal values.

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