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It’s normal for young people to worry about fitting in. Peer groups play an important role in young people’s lives, particularly during adolescence. ‘Peer pressure’ refers to the influence that these groups can have on how an individual thinks and acts. You can often find out who your child’s peers are by paying attention to who they socialise with and speak about. Supporting your child to recognise peer pressure, when it helps and hinders them, and how they can develop their own individuality, is an important role for parents.

This can help if:

  • your child is acting out of character
  • your child is constantly worried about ‘missing out’ or not fitting in
  • you’re concerned about the influence of your child’s friends
  • your child tends to always copy others and be a bit of a follower or easily influenced.

How peer pressure works

A young person can experience peer pressure in varying degrees. Sometimes their peers may proactively influence them to behave in certain ways and at other times they may be just following along. Both of these situations are based on seeking approval, but it is also possible for peer pressure to be a result of bullying. This is when your child fears being teased or physically hurt for not conforming.

Who are my child’s peers?

Your child’s peers are those they admire and consider to play an important role in their life. Depending on your child’s lifestyle, they may have several different peer groups. They generally come from places where your child spends their time – at school, in sport or hobby groups and in the local neighbourhood. If your child uses the internet, their peers can also include people they meet online through forums and social media platforms.

The effects of peer pressure

You may associate peer pressure with negative outcomes such as your child trying alcohol, smoking or drugs. However, peer pressure can also allow certain groups to have positive influences on your child. There’s no way of knowing exactly how your child will be affected. Peer pressure can influence any area of your child’s life, from their taste in music to their choice of school subjects.

Positive effects of peer pressure include:

  • a sense of belonging and support
  • increased self-confidence
  • introduction to positive hobbies and interests
  • reinforcement of positive habits and attitudes.

Negative effects of peer pressure include:

  • pressure to use alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
  • pressure to engage in risk taking behaviours
  • distraction from schoolwork
  • distance between family and existing friends
  • drastic changes in behaviour and attitudes.

Self-esteem and mental health issues

It’s important to remember that peer influence and pressure is a normal part of adolescence. As your child starts moving away from the parent-child relationship and seeking their own independence and identity, their peers will become more important to them. However, if you’re concerned about the effects of peer pressure on your child and think that it’s negatively impacting on their life, there are things that you can try to support them.