Good Health

Positive Peer Pressure: How Friends Can Boost Happiness

by Sandi Schwartz | Contributor

We often hear about the many negative aspects of peer pressure and worry that our children’s friends could push them down a path of troubling behavior like bullying or drug use. Fortunately, there is a flip side to peer pressure if harnessed in the right way, as friends can play a major role in building our children’s happiness. Positive peer pressure occurs when friends try to influence others to do something positive, proactive, or productive. This encouragement improves the behavior and attitude of the individual, leading to positive change and growth.

Benefits of Positive Peer Pressure

Positive peer pressure can influence both thoughts and actions. When children are inspired to think more positively about themselves, their entire life improves. They can overcome negative self-talk and low self-esteem, allowing them to live happier, more productive lives. Our kids’ friends can be a great support to them as they face challenges, try out new things, and explore new ideas. These friends can provide the kind of relationship and support that only a peer can give them. They accept them for who they are, which can help our kids feel more confident and comfortable in their own skin. These friends can also serve as a positive role model to push our child to gain new experiences, and ultimately be a better person.  

Tackling new tasks can be hard for kids since it takes courage and confidence. For some, it is easier if they have a buddy who serves as a mentor to help them along the way.

Having this type of peer support can also help kids overcome their fears, whether it is trying out for a sports team or giving a presentation in front of the class. We cannot always be there to support our children, so it is wonderful when they have a group of friends who can fill that role throughout their day. 

A friend who provides positive peer pressure also helps direct our kids on a path that leads to better choices. For example, if a child is bullied at school, he may want to retaliate and start a fight. A friend with positive peer characteristics would encourage the boy to take a few deep breaths, walk away, and tell a trusted adult about the incident. This is the type of friend parents dream of, because the situation could easily go in another direction where a peer pushes our child to fight and then he ultimately ends up being suspended from school, or even worse, seriously injured. 

Our kids will surely face difficult situations, so having friends who provide moral support and encouragement can truly make a positive impact on their lives. 

Examples of Positive Peer Pressure 

Friends who make healthy choices for themselves may encourage our kids to do the same. Whether it is studying for a test, joining a club after school, or choosing not to smoke or drink, certain friends can provide this much needed positive peer pressure. Here are some additional examples of how positive friends can be a good influence on our kids.

  • Fitness habits. Staying active is important to our children’s physical health and emotional well-being. When kids sit around all day inactive, they can struggle in a variety of ways from health issues like elevated sugar levels to depression. A friend who prioritizes fitness can be a positive influence on our kids, inviting them to go for a bike ride, take a fitness class together, or play a game of ball. Friends who encourage others to join or try out for a team sport can be valuable. Not only do team sports help our kids stay fit, but they also help build camaraderie and a healthy social outlet.
  • Community Service. When we serve others in the community, it can improve our own happiness. Many schools now encourage or require students to commit to a certain number of community service hours, which has spurred many creative kindness projects. Some kids have started their own charities and engaged friends and family in helping others. This type of friend can be a huge influence on our kids to get more involved in volunteering. If they see others taking part in a volunteer project, it may inspire them to join in and give back, too.
  • Ending gossip. Gossip can get out of hand, especially as kids get older in middle school and high school. Spreading hurtful information about others can make their lives miserable and cause a great deal of pain. It is extremely easy for our kids to spread gossip without stopping to think about the consequences for the person being bad-mouthed. If our kids spend time with friends who focus on more important and interesting topics other than gossip, that is a huge win for everyone. That type of friend is the perfect example of someone exemplifying positive peer pressure. 
Scientific research from the world of positive psychology indicates that one of the most critical components of happiness is the relationships we have with others.

Why Positive Friends Are Good for Our Children’s Well-Being

Scientific research from the world of positive psychology indicates that one of the most critical components of happiness is the relationships we have with others. Happiness experts Ed Diener and Martin Seligman compared the happiest to the least happy people. Their research found that the happiest individuals were highly social and had the strongest relationships. Actually, good social relationships were necessary for people to feel happy. Additionally, research led by Robert Waldinger at Harvard University that followed the lives of people for more than 75 years concluded that relationships are the key to a happier life. The happiest and healthiest participants in the study maintained close, intimate relationships. According to Waldinger, the people who tend to be more isolated than they want to be from others are less happy, their health declines earlier, and they live shorter lives than people who are connected to others. It is not about how many friends we have, but the quality and stability of those relationships throughout our lives that really matters.

On the other hand, depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, two out of 100 young children and eight out of 100 teens may have serious depression, causing them to feel discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life. 

One of the best ways for our children to overcome feeling blue is to spend time with their friends.

Because of positive peer pressure, a caring, upbeat friend can help improve their mood. In a recent study, scientists found that happy friends can help teenagers beat depression. Feedback from 2,000 American high school students was analyzed to investigate whether the moods of students influenced one another and if this could impact levels of depression among teens. They found that depression does not spread among peers, but a healthy mood (not feeling depressed) actually does. 

By surrounding themselves with friends—especially happy ones—teens can significantly reduce their risk of developing depression and improve their ability to recover from it.

What This Means for Parents

Children look to imitate their peers from an early age. Studies show that happiness is contagious, so we can hope that our children surround themselves with cheerful friends. A Harvard Medical School study found that one person’s happiness spreads through their social group even up to three degrees of separation, and that this effect can last as long as a year. They actually determined that having a happy friend can improve our likelihood of being happy by 15%.

It is critical that we pay attention to the type of friends our children are attracted to. If there are any red flags, we can redirect them to more positive choices—friends they can look up to and who inspire them to become the best person they can be. We can also instill the importance of building positive relationships by doing the same in our own lives. Our children are watching how we interact with our spouse, friends, neighbors, and colleagues and will mimic our behavior. If they see us arguing all the time with others, this could impact how they interact with their own friends. Finally, we can build a positive community for our children from a young age by participating in group activities such as playdates, team sports, community service projects, neighborhood gatherings, and other relationship-building events.

“Good relationships are significant enough that if we had to take all eighty-four years of the Harvard Study and boil it down to a single principle for living, one life investment that is supported by similar findings across a wide variety of other studies, it would be this: Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.”
Simon and Schuster explaining Harvard’s longest running study on happiness

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