​Peer Pressure - The Need to Feel Accepted!

Posted by Kip Jones, Boys Town Press Author and School Counselor on Aug 18th 2020

Our ability to socialize and work with others in a group to accomplish common goals and succeed together is one of the best abilities we have as a community. But at times, our social nature works against us, and we confuse the suggestions of others for things we need to do to fit in or feel accepted.

Peer pressure seems to plague every generation. Why do kids try to influence each other to do things that might negatively impact them? Why do kids listen to their peers instead of their own moral compass?

The truth is, pressure still happens with ADULTS and that can ultimately affect our kids in damaging ways. In my book The Power of a Positive No, Derf’s stepdad is influenced by two of his co-workers to do some things that end up hurting him and his family. I’ve seen this situation with students, who suffer terribly and feel rejected by the parent who cannot beat his addiction. Addictions often start at a young age, and may be influenced by people and places. When addictions start with choices made at a young age, the child often knows it’s not a positive choice but succumbs to the pressure and now has found a new way to cope with life’s problems. In groups, kids might feel sheltered when they do crazy things, but once separated from the group, they are unable to explain the WHY to their behavior.

For students, schools are a hotbed for group conformity because of the close proximity to peers in a confined space, the multiple age-related stressors, and the social media rabbit hole. But the good news is that students are also spending their days in the school of the educational environment. Within the in-person or remote classroom, educators can help students build skills for facing peer pressure.

“BEAST” Mode

There will always be times, places, groups, and situations in which children will find themselves that might lead them down misguided or dangerous paths. And when life is tumultuous and uncertain (like we find ourselves now), children struggle with how to cope. This can lead to finding coping mechanisms that may be unsafe yet available, such as a questionable group of friends, turning to substances, or developing a sense of hopelessness that can lead to depression or worse.

So how do we teach students to resist peer pressure and act autonomously and thoughtfully? We teach them with the same academic tool they use every day: evidence-based reasoning. In my book, NFL star Kendal Cobb used this reasoning skill in what he calls BEAST Mode to sharpen the thinking skills students can use when facing peer pressure, which in return sharpens their social skills. These tools enable confidence children can take far into adulthood. Let’s break down BEAST Mode and how it helps students in recognize and evaluate peer pressure.

By reading cues. What are people saying to me, and how do I know they are expecting me to follow them? Be courageous when they tempt you and say “NO!” in a strong voice.

Earn respect! How does the pressured behavior fit how I typically behave, and how does it compare to the norm I see around me? Stand your ground and make a different choice.

Assess sources. What qualifications do the influencing people possess, and would I trust them based on their past history? Be confident and let them know you will not change your mind.

Strength in numbers. Is there an overarching suggestion that goes beyond the immediate action, and will I be associated with a larger group if I conform? Surround yourself with like-minded friends.

Try to anticipate consequences. Are there consequences to this action, and who will be responsible for bearing the expense? If you stand your ground, your confidence will grow. Be who you are and don’t alter your behavior just to fit in.

Adults and children are likely to face peer pressure in their lives. Our best option is to help build the skills of children to objectively evaluate a situation before making a dangerous choice, and develop their confidence to assertively say NO when necessary. These are lifelong skills that we can all use right now.

For more resources on peer pressure, check out The Power of a Positive No, its activity guide, and the rest of the Urban Character Education Series.