The Dangers of Negative Peer Pressure in Teens

Negative peer pressure in teens is a challenge that has been well known and persistent. However, the dangers of negative peer pressure in teens is becoming more pervasive and harder to combat given the rise of social networking and mobile devices. As a result, peer pressure can follow teenagers wherever they go.

Such constant peer pressure can lead to self-harm, substance abuse, and even suicide. Given the extremity of the danger, parents and family members need to learn about the risks of negative peer pressure in teens. Building such awareness is the first step in lowering the danger level and ensuring your child’s mental health and safety.

Understanding the Different Types of Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a natural part of human social interaction. However, as a teenager, peer pressure can feel much more intense and overwhelming given the fact that teenagers are still developing, both emotionally and physically. “Emerging research indicates that social acceptance by peers triggers stronger positive emotions during adolescence than it does in adulthood, which may be one reason youth are so keen to fit in. Additionally, teens, unlike adults, are more likely to ignore risks in favor of rewards when making a decision” according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

The tendency to ignore risks in favor of rewards is where danger can be. It’s important to distinguish between negative peer pressure and positive peer pressure in teens from the outset. In other words, not all forms of peer pressure are necessarily wrong. Positive peer pressure can lead to academic achievement, greater engagement in school activities, and the development of strong social bonds.

However, positive peer pressure tends to be the exception to the rule. When it comes to teenagers, negative pressure is the typical name of the game. It can encourage young people to take unnecessary risks, including the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.  Moreover, HHS research shows that peer pressure is not subject only to outsiders or the “unpopular” kids on the outside looking in.

Instead, in surprising findings, “recent research indicates that popular adolescents may be under higher pressure than other youth to conform to peer behaviors. While popular adolescents often possess a wider range of social skills… popularity can be associated with higher rates of alcohol and substance use, vandalism, and shoplifting.”

Teen Peer Pressure and the Development of the Brain

When teenagers consider the risks and rewards of dangerous options fueled by teen peer pressure, their decision-making is affected dramatically by the teen brain’s ongoing development. Since the teen brain is not fully formed, it is more susceptible to external influences like peer pressure. Thus, most teenagers do not know how to deal with peer pressure and they can quickly become overwhelmed and give in to their fears of alienation and rejection.

For example, in a recent study on teen driving funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), if a teenager knows that two or more of their friends are observing them, they are more likely to speed through a yellow light. Compared to adults placed in the same environment, the effects of teen peer pressure became more evident. With adults, being observed by peers rarely increased negative tendencies to take greater risks.

Indeed, the NIDA study links teen peer pressure directly to neural development. According to the scientific results after researchers monitored the teen brains in this context, “Results showed that just knowing friends were watching activated brain regions linked with reward, especially when the teen drivers made risky decisions.”

In other words, giving in to teen peer pressure is not just about fear or rejection. It’s about a desire for an intoxicating reward of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. By taking risks, the teen brain is flooded with exciting stimulation.

Understanding the Psychological Effects of Peer Pressure

If parents are going to help teens manage the psychological effects of peer pressure, they need to understand what’s going on in the mind’s eye of their child.

First and foremost, teenagers are vulnerable to peer pressure because they are teenagers. Nothing can be done to change this challenging part of growing up. At the same time, specific fears fuel teen worry and anxiety. By understanding these fears, a parent can address them with their teenager and work through such difficulties.

Beyond being a teenager, here are five psychological signs of peer pressure that increase adolescent vulnerability to teen peer pressure. These five factors include:

  1. The fear of being rejected or made fun of by their peer group
  2. The desire to fit in and mirror the teens they admire
  3. The fear of being left out and not missing out
  4. The inability to get out of a pressure cooker; feeling trapped
  5. Giving in because they don’t know what they really want

How Parents Can Help Teenagers

Parents can help their teenagers manage negative peer pressure in kids by talking to them. By starting the conversation, you go a long way toward an understanding what’s happening in your teen’s life.

According to a 2019 University of Michigan research study, “Whether your child is the most popular kid in class or is someone who has few friends, peer pressure can push him or her to do unhealthy things. Adolescents still need a parent’s help to make good decisions—even if they don’t act like it.”

At the same time, taking these five steps can help as well:

  1. Praise your child and recognize their achievements. Such praise leads to the development of positive self-esteem.
  2. Explain to your child the art of using you as an excuse. When peer pressure leads to a bad place, a teen says, “That’s not allowed in my family.”
  3. Develop code words that can be used over the phone. If your child says, “Mom, I got that charley horse again,” then you know they need help, and it’s a priority.
  4. Teach your kids to choose their friends carefully, avoiding the bad apples. If a teen has a reputation as the “bad kid” in school, there’s often a reason.
  5. Audit your kid’s social media use regularly. If they want Instagram and Facebook, then you get to look at their profile and timeline every week.

By taking these simple steps and keeping lines of communication open, you can help mitigate negative peer pressure in teens.