How peers exert influence
It can be tough when you start at a new school and need to make new friends and find ways to fit in to a new group. There are different ways to approach this. Maybe you want to make a strong first impression, or you’d prefer to be more of an observer until you’ve worked out the group dynamics and how the peers influence each other.
First impressions are important, at least until your peers have a chance to get to know you and friendships develop.
Joel is 15 years old and in year 9 at Central Town Secondary College. Joel started at Central in year 7 and has a solid group of about 8 friends, boys and girls. Joel’s best friend is Pat and they’ve known each other since primary school.
It’s the start of term 3 and there’s a new kid, Charlie.
Charlie catches Joel’s bus to school.
A new friend
One morning, Joel notices Charlie playing a game on his phone. Joel has been wanting to buy the game but hasn’t had the money. They start chatting as they get off the bus and Joel suggests Charlie come find them at lunchtime, hoping to have a go at the game.
At lunch Joel gets a turn on Charlie’s game and it’s even better than he thought it would be. He admits to Charlie he really wants it but doesn’t have enough money to buy it from the App Store.
Charlie says he’s got a spare gift card for the App Store at home. Joel can have it if he wants and then he can buy the game. Joel can’t believe his luck. Charlie invites him over after school to collect the gift card.
Charlie has a console and massive TV in his bedroom! He hands Joel the gift card, and Joel immediately adds it to his account. As Joel waits for the game to install, he watches Charlie flick through Instagram. Charlie stops on Vika’s profile. Vika is one of Joel’s friends and she’s just added some new selfies.
What’s her deal? Charlie holds out his phone to show Joel Vika’s pics.
What do you mean? It’s just Vika.
Right, yeh. She’s pretty hot though, don’t you think?
Joel had known Vika for years—they started primary school together. Next to Pat, she was his closest friend. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Charlie talking about Vika like that. Charlie didn’t even know her, not really. It seemed a bit creepy.
Why are you on her Insta page?
No reason. Just looking. Is that a problem?
No … kinda. Why Vika? You don’t even know her.
Joel stared at his phone screen; the game had almost finished installing. Last term there’d been some horrible things posted to some of the girls Insta accounts, like real rubbish stuff. The guys had been caught and then expelled, and Joel and his friends had made a pact to keep a watch on Vika and Rosie’s Insta accounts, but never post. They’d already reported a couple of trolls to their coordinator.
We used Insta all the time at my old school. It’s no big deal.
Joel knew Charlie couldn’t have known about the business last term, and everyone did use Insta, but still, it felt odd he went straight for her profile. Charlie seemed alright, but they’d only just met.
Charlie could tell something was up with Joel. Maybe Joel liked Vika himself and didn’t want Charlie making any moves? Or it could be something else—how was he supposed to know? But Charlie was cool and didn’t want to put him offside.
Hey look, it’s no problem. I’m starving! Let’s go see what’s to eat.
Charlie tosses his phone on the bed and heads towards the bedroom door.
Normative behaviour reinforces the norms and expectations of a group. We conform in order to be liked and accepted by the rest of the group.
Charlie was the new kid and he understood there’d be new group rules. He’d try and find out from Joel what the deal was, but that could wait.
A new group
Charlie has started hanging out more with the group. Joel’s been checking in with Vika’s Insta account to make sure she’s not being trolled. He’s relieved to see there’s been no new usernames posting comments.
Joel can see that Charlie is trying hard to fit in. He’s friendly to Vika, but not too much, and often buys hot chips to share with the group at lunchtime. The others seem to like him—maybe he is ok.
Friday lunchtime, Charlie invites everyone over to his house for pizza and videogames on Saturday night. Benny, Vika, Rosie and Chris are all keen and immediately agree. It does sound like it would be a fun night, but Joel wants some time to think about it. He’s says he’ll check with his mum first. Pat straightaway says he also has to check in with his parents.
Walking to their next class, Joel tells Pat about what happened at Charlie’s with Vika’s Insta account. Pat thinks Charlie seems ok and that it was probably nothing. Pat also points out how hard it must be for Charlie to try and slot into a group where everyone else has known each other since primary school. Not for the first time, Joel thinks how lucky he is to have Pat as his best mate.
Later that afternoon, Joel and Pat message Charlie to let him know they’ll be coming over to his place for pizza.
Peer-modelled behaviour is when peers within a group will model behaviour of others in the group. A person picks up a cue from the way another person is behaving and behaves in a similar way. The original behaviour wasn’t intended to influence the others.
Pat picked up on the way Joel was reluctant to immediately agree to go to Charlie’s on Saturday night and joined with Charlie in saying he had to check with his parents.
Charlie’s house, Saturday night.
Pizzas have been eaten and everyone is chilling in the lounge room. Four are playing Call of Duty, others checking social media. Joel is playing the game he bought with Charlie’s gift card. He does love the game, and it was generous of Charlie to just give him the card.
As soon as Charlie’s parents head upstairs to their room, Benny pulls out two bottles of beer from his backpack.
Woah! How’d you get that?
My brother got it for me. Who’s in?
Joel thinks it should be ok. I’m in.
Pat, Vika and Chris also want in.
Charlie looks anxious and turns his head towards the stairs.
I kinda promised my parents there’d be no alcohol.
They’ve gone to bed, they’ll never know. I even bought a bottle opener and paper cups. One drink, c’mon.
Alright … just one.
Benny hands everyone a cup. Joel takes a sip and is about to take another when they hear footsteps—Charlie’s mum on the stairs. She flicks on the light and everyone freezes.
Peer pressure is when a person or group directly tries to make you do something you wouldn’t normally do. Peer pressure can be difficult to resist, particularly if it means you might be excluded from the group if you don’t comply.
Peer pressure can be a positive influence and also a negative influence.
Virtual peer pressure is when posts on social media from friends and peers can make a person feel they should be behaving a certain way or doing certain things in order to align with what the group likes and is doing.