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Dealing With Peer Pressure  

Dear Gerda:

Hi. I’m a student (I’m 15) and want to ask you a serious question. My question is: How are students my age supposed to deal with what adults call peer pressure and still have a life and do good in school? I don’t think adults really know what it’s like to have other people constantly trying to get you to do drugs, have sex, steal, and do other bad things.  And if you don’t do what they want you to do, they beat you up, slash your car tires, hurt your sister, or something worse. It makes you hate school. What gives?

You are right. Many adults do not understand the perplexities of today’s teen society with the pressures and challenges they bring. Peer pressure does influence teen’s behavior from clothing, music, and social activities to their choices in friends. Peer pressure does not have to be bad, however. Choosing the right peers to associate with is the key. Then peer association has many benefits for the developing teenager. It provides a sense of belonging and acceptance, offers independence from family, and provides worthwhile social support during the period of transition and confusion that can occur during the teen years. The peer group serves a mirror through which appropriate behaviors are tried out and tried on.

Peer association becomes pressure when teens adopt behaviors and act in a certain manner because they believe their friends expect them to and are afraid of rejection from the group if they don’t. A lot of times peer pressure is hard to see as what it is. Young people are sometimes accidentally drawn into doing things in order to satisfy their hunger for belonging. A teen’s reaction to peer pressure is most often determined by their present family situation. Teens tend to choose friends and groups on the outside to replace what is missing at home. It appears that you have solidity at home or through your relationship with someone else whom you respect. As a result, you believe in doing something better for yourself in life. Most likely you know teens who are stealing, drinking, selling drugs, or using drugs due to their peer associations.

Adults have a responsibility to recognize that peer pressure is a part of the teen experience and to help guide them in choosing the right friends and making healthy decisions. There are teens who excel academically, don’t use drugs, steal, have sex, or beat people up. They are well-mannered, kind to others, and have fun without harming themselves or others. Their group may not look exciting if they appear quiet and shy. But behind the scenes, they are often quite interesting.

You know who you are as a person, and obviously have values of right and wrong. Choose friends that honor who you are. Avoid friends who have a need to be in control and disregard your feelings. Keep a good sense of what your goals are and learn to say no to things that are oppositional to your goals. Choose friends from your age group who will not pressure you to do things that are illegal. Sports may be a good avenue through which you can gain a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Also maintain a close relationship with your parents or another significant adult who you respect and who will provide support and guidance.

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