Peer Pressure In The 21st Century
Peer pressure itself hasn’t changed much. There’s both direct pressure, with friends and acquaintances making demands, and indirect pressure, the “everybody is doing it” form of pressure. What’s changed is how it’s communicated.
The direct form has quite a bit of overlap with cyberbullying. Incessant text messages, tagging people in posts, and the classic method of constantly calling and demanding attention are some forms. Social media in particular can make life difficult, as it’s hard to sort your friends from your “friends.”
Indirect takes the form of social media, in particular. A good example is the endless succession of “challenges,” ranging from the goofy to the dangerous, that sweep across social media. The prospect of popularity, paired with the psychological manipulation that are part and parcel of social media design, can push teens into actions and statements they’d normally consider a bad idea.
And, of course, it’s now omnipresent. If you search any of those aforementioned “challenges,” you’ll find a steady stream of thousands or even millions of entries, arriving every minute of every hour for days or even weeks on end. It’s one thing to be told everybody’s doing something, and quite another to have a constant stream of proof in your pocket.
Where does this leave kids? And how can we help?
Fighting Peer Pressure
The most basic method is the way we’ve fought it for years: Education. Teach your children about peer pressure and to get them thinking about why their peers are pushing them to do or say things. Is there an ulterior motive? What will be the effect on them and the people they love? Is this something worth doing, or is it conformity for the sake of conformity?
Next, teach them about how social media works. Some have argued that social media is a “Skinner box,” a machine that feeds us “pellets” of little emotional boosts so we’ll stay on the site, constantly scrolling, staring at “content” and therefore, ads. Show kids how it works, explain the psychology behind it, so they can see it in action, and make sure they keep in mind as they go among their peers. Remind them that their social media feeds are their spaces; they can mute, unfollow, block, or otherwise get rid of people who are making them uncomfortable.
And remember, you can show them how to handle this by example. Peer pressure doesn’t evaporate once you become an adult. Show your family incidents of peer pressure you have to deal with, discuss how you handled them, and why you chose that particular strategy. That’ll help your kids deal with these situations in their own lives.
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