Peer pressure has gotten a pretty bad rep. When I was in high school, I remember my teachers warning me about “the dangers of peer pressure”, and how it’ll take me from a life of straight A’s and Honor Roll, and force me into a life of underage drinking, smoking, and all sorts of mischief. Peer pressure was as subtle as a serpent, as clever as a fox, and must be avoided at all costs. Fortunately for us, that logic just doesn’t hold up. In fact, if peer pressure, if used appropriately, can be extremely beneficial.
Peer Pressure Starts Early
Back when I was in high school, a close friend of mine and I were both competitive athletes. We use to run track and no matter how tough the other team was, our biggest competition was always each other. Through our freshman and sophomore year, our coach could always count on us finishing at the top of any race. Sometimes I would beat him, other times he would beat me, but we were always seconds apart. This friendly competition extended beyond the track, and even went into our academics. We would compete in everything, who got better grades? Who was smarter? Who looked better? Etc. Eventually, though, my friend started to hang out with the wrong crowd. At first it didn’t really show, but it would eventually catch up with him. By the time we were seniors, I went on to compete at a national level, and he was nowhere to be seen.
Peer Pressure to be Better
A lot of people will use this story as justification to say that peer pressure is bad. That’s simply not true, because in the beginning of my story, my friend and I both were pressuring each other in positive ways, and thus we were constantly improving. I see peer pressure neither as inherently good nor bad; it’s just the desire to fit in with others. The goal should not be to avoid peer pressure entirely, but to use it to become a better version of yourself. I’ve noticed that just as I’ve been pressured to start bad habits, I’ve also been pressured to work harder and be better. It’s all about the people you choose to spend most of your time.
Pressure to Pick Up Poor Habits
It is human instinct to want to fit in with the people you spend time with. The pressure to fit in is present at every stage of life, whether you are in grade school or working a fulltime job and supporting a family. So if you spend most of your time with teens who smoke, then you’re more likely to smoke; by contrast, if you spend most of your time with teens who are disciplined, hardworking, and driven towards success, you will naturally begin to take on their characteristics.
The statistics that surround peer pressure look pretty bad. For instance, in the USA almost 20% of teens said that they would use their phone while driving if their friends did the same. Likewise, 55% of teens tried drugs for the first time because of their friends, and 70% of teens that smoke also started smoking because their friends smoked. We know that teens feel incredible pressure to do what their friends do, even if it isn’t in their best interest.
Pressure from the Right Crowd
The underlying assumption here is that peer pressure leads us to do bad things, which is probably why teachers often feel the need to warn us about its dangers. But the reality is that these teens were just hanging out with the wrong crowd, and the lesson is that we just need to be with the right people. This does not necessarily mean that you need to leave your old friends, but that you might have to limit your time with them. Instead, try and join clubs with people who have similar interests and ambitions as you. The common ground you share will allow for new friendships to form naturally. I once heard a great quote that captures this thought, “if you want to know where you’re going to end up in life, look at the five people you spend most of your time with”. You have the power to choose your friends, so choose the people who will have the best influence on you.
By Jaffar Mahmoud | @jaffarmahmoud