By Madeline Hammett
How “fitting in” can lead to poor decision making for teenagers
For generations teenagers have felt the need to conform to their surroundings in hopes of “fitting in,” and with the rapid rise of social media usage, this desire has only grown to be more volatile.
Teenagers give in to peer pressure and coercion from friends in hopes of achieving some sort of social prize. The truth of the matter, however, is that for many teenagers these poor decisions made while attempting to fit in can leave them worse off than when they started.
Peer pressure and the harmful impacts
“One reason for the difference in teen decision making involves a chemical called dopamine in the brain’s reward center,” finds the Scholastic Press. “Dopamine helps transmit signals in the brain that make people feel happy. The number of brain receptors interacting with dopamine is higher in adolescence than at any other time of life. This means that when a teen is exposed to a reward—such as a compliment—the reward center reacts more strongly than it would for an adult or a child.”
Many teenagers are willing to put their health and safety at risk to receive this gratification from peers.
The pressures experienced during adolescence from peers might include shoplifting, trying drugs, or drinking alcohol, or simply making a decision that the teenager isn’t ready for.
Teenagers who are especially susceptible to peer pressure are more commonly insecure or less confident in some aspect of their social life. Giving in to peer pressure for many teens provides more control over their social life and a feeling of “fitting in.”
Social media and its role in peer pressure
Social media has resulted in many teenagers feeling more pressure from their peers. While being hyper-connected, fear of missing out and social insecurity only begin to rise.
“Teen peer pressure is an issue notwithstanding social media use; however, when combined, social media and peer pressure can be particularly harmful,” finds an article by Youth Training Solutions. “Peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol was once thought to only occur at high school social gatherings, but social media has created a new system that encourages teen substance abuse. Studies have found that as many as 75% of teens felt pressured to drink alcohol and use drugs after seeing their friends post about these activities online.
Social media for many teenagers can incite feelings of social anxiety. When gone unchecked, these feelings can lead to poor decision-making for adolescents to gain more control over their social status and the acceptance of their peers.
Positive peer pressure
There are some positives to peer pressure and with the right crowd of teenagers, good behavior and habits are encouraged. Some peers can provide exposure to healthy lifestyles and role models to the adolescent.
Positive effects of peer pressure include a sense of belonging and support, increased self-confidence, an introduction to positive hobbies and interests, and an enhanced sense of self.
The key to finding positive peer relationships is for teenagers to focus on finding peers who will care about them and their well-being. Once the adolescent can find this group of people, the group will encourage good habits for the sake of the child.
What can parents do?
The hardest part of growing up for many teens is the task of trying to find a good group of peers who will encourage them to make sound decisions and form healthy habits.
Parents may find it useful when discussing the need to fit in to remind the child that their behavior is often influencing others. By setting an example of good decision making, the adolescents’ peers may follow their example.
“Encourage them to understand their friends are aware of what other people are doing, just like they are,” suggests an article by Reach Out Parents. “Acting with confidence and sound judgment means others will be more inclined to respect them and follow their lead.”
Parents need to discuss peer pressure and help the teen differentiate between positive peer pressure and negative peer pressure.
“Talk with your child about what their values are,” says Reach Out Parents. “Ask how your child demonstrates those values. Encourage your child to seek out friends with similar values.”
It’s also important for parents to emphasize that the adolescent should find healthy forms of self-expression instead of worrying about “fitting in.”
Having these honest discussions with children will help them a tremendous amount in the long term and will prevent them from making poor decisions to pacify demands from peers.
Editor’s Note: Madeline Hammett is a sophomore at the Episcopal School of Dallas, where she is a staff writer for the school newspaper, The Eagle Edition. In her free time, she loves to read, write, and listen to music.