Chapter 2 - Power Subchapter: Peer influence

The potential of peer influence

A peer is someone like you—someone of a similar age, ability, background.

While a person’s ‘peer group’ is usually taken to mean other people of similar age,  your peers can also be people who share the same interests, issues, life experiences or personal attributes as you. For example, if you are in year 8, then other year 8 students are your peers. A student in year 11 is not your peer unless you share similar interests to them.

 

Peers are not the same as friends, although some peers may also be friends.

Peers may not necessarily be people you know personally. A peer could be someone you’ve met online and follow through social media, online gaming or other interests and activities.

Peer influence and personal choice

A group of peers happy together, some are wearing backwards caps, some have phones, some have tennis racquets, and some are wearing stars on their shirts.

 

We are all influenced by our friends and peers. Often in ways that encourage positive behaviour, but also sometimes harmful ways.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is when your peers or friends apply pressure to get you to do something that you wouldn’t normally do, or make you not do something that you’d like to do, in order to be accepted by the group.

Usually when we think about peer pressure, it’s someone experiencing pressure to engage in negative behaviour:

  • We’re all skipping school tomorrow to go into town. If you want to be part of our group, you have to come along.
  • If you think you’re cool enough to hang out with us, we’re going to the club this weekend. I’ll lend you something awesome to wear, so you've got no excuse not to come.

Peer pressure can also have a positive influence:

  •  If you want to be part of our group, you better not smoke around us. Smoking is gross and we don’t want our clothes to stink of cigarettes when we’ve been hanging out with you.
  • We’re all going to Beck’s for a sleepover tomorrow night to work on the group assignment you can only come if you’re going to be serious and get it finished before dinner. Make sure you bring your computer.

Peer influence

Peer influence is when you choose to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do because you want to feel accepted and valued by your peers and or friends. It’s when group members choose to shape their own behaviour to more closely align to others.

 

Split-frame; the left panel shows an illustrated character helping an elderly person walk across the street crossing while another character observes; in the right panel both characters are helping the elderly person.

 

Peer influence can be positive. When your peers engage with each other and the community in a friendly respectful way, they can inspire you to bring about constructive change in your life.

  • Ben’s started going to boot camp, I need to get fit too.
  • All my friends are getting great marks in English, so I should put in more effort.
  • Alex loves volunteering at the community centre. Next time I might tag along.

The support of peers and friends is important for your well-being if you are going through a tough time. Apart from the essential connection of friendship and someone to talk to, they can also influence you to seek help or advice from others if you need it.

When you feel sad, it’s a comfort to know there is music or shared activities where you can find comfort. Often it’s your friends who will know exactly what might help you to improve your mood.

Peer influence can also be negative. Some individuals think they have to choose to do things they normally wouldn’t be interested in just to keep their friends or be part of the group.

  • All my friends are planning not to go to the school swimming carnival – they say it’s boring. I really like swimming and I’m good at it, but I’ll feel like a loser if I’m the only one who goes.
  • I love English but my friends make me feel like a suckup for working hard on assignments.
  • I hate that I can’t listen to the music I like when I’m around my friends. They think it’s lame.

We are all constantly learning more about ourselves and our identities. Being able to try new things is how we grow. Learning what makes us feel good improves our self-esteem.

But if we allow others to influence everything we do and say, the types of clothes we wear, the music we listen to and the activities we participate in them we will lose our individuality. We will just become one of the crowd.