You’ve just started at a new school. You’re in a new place with new people and you’re going to experience lots of new and exciting things! But sometimes these new things can be scary and give you that weird, unsettled gurgling in your stomach. This could be butterflies or a digesting peanut butter sandwich. But sometimes it can be a warning to yourself that whatever situation you’re in is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Pressure within a peer group could be a cause of this.
What is that gut feeling?
It’s important not to ignore this feeling. Listening to your gut can often be the best way to navigate difficult situations. There are a lot of sciency reasons to listen to your gut. These biological warnings are nothing new. Ever wondered why so many people are afraid of spiders and creepy crawlies and mice? It’s because back when we were cave dwellers, we were programmed to be afraid of small things that scuttle because these were the things that could BITE AND KILL us. Those that weren’t afraid were more likely to be BITTEN AND KILLED.
And so the survivors passed this fear onto their offspring until finally it was passed on to us. And while we thankfully have less reason to fear death by spider, these intuitions remain. Proof that we shouldn’t ignore our instincts!
Once you feel this and decide you don’t want to be involved, you may face another obstacle.
What is Peer Pressure?
Peer pressure is something that can affect us all and it can come from anywhere. It’s not uncommon to be in situations where you feel a little uncomfortable but feel some pressure to take part anyway. This is peer pressure. Sometimes we may even be guilty of peer pressuring others without realising. Even when it’s not meant in a horrible way, pressure within your peer group can put individuals in difficult situations in an attempt to be included.
What are some peer pressure examples?
Peer pressure often arises when a group of friends are all doing something together. It may be a new activity that makes one person feel nervous or scared. For example, if five friends want to go swimming and the sixth cannot swim, they may feel pressure to join in so that they’re not left out. Even if they’re scared or nervous or embarrassed.
Peer pressure can also happen with people you may not know so well. Maybe you’ve just met a new group and want to get to know them better but by doing this you put yourself in a situation you don’t want to be in. Maybe you’re feeling pressured to stay out later than you’re allowed. Or being encouraged to misbehave in a lesson to look cool and be liked. This pressure to impress is common and can be difficult to navigate.
How to deal with pressure from your peer group
Most people will understand and respect your feelings. You should never feel like you can’t speak up. If you feel those tummy wobbles, you’re perfectly within your right to say “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this, I don’t think I’d like to take part” (it can be less formal than that, I’m sure you’re cooler than I am).
You don’t have to give any reason other than that you simply don’t want to. And it doesn’t mean you’ll be excluded from the fun. I didn’t drink until I was twenty years old. I just wasn’t interested. Drinking for many of my friends started earlier. And yet I was always invited to the (legendary) house parties and you best believe was the first and last person on the dance floor (I was joking about not being cool). You do you, always.
Peer pressure isn’t always sinister either. It can be something as seemingly small as a friend trying to persuade you to come out when you want to stay home. This doesn’t make them a bad person and it's lovely that you’re the one they want to hang out with. But sometimes you just want to chill at home and prioritising self-care is more important than giving in to peer pressure.
Sometimes the peer pressure feels like it’s coming from within you
The first thing to ask yourself is “Why do I feel pressure to do this? What’s making me feel like I need to ignore my own discomfort?”
If the answer is to fit in, see above. The type of people you want to keep in your life will understand and totally support your nope-ing out. A peer group that don’t understand aren’t people you want to fit in with anyway. They’re not people you want to keep in your life.
If the people are nice but you’re still feeling the pressure, why not take the reins? Organise something yourself. Get people together doing something you know you enjoy where the pressures of discomfort don’t exist. For example, if your peer group are trying to make you play with fire, take them to the seaside. Fire is rare in water. All the fun, none of the fire hazards.
How to know whether someone else in your peer group is feeling pressured
Whether the pressure is coming from you or from someone else in your group, you need to know what to look out for. The uncomfortable individual saying “No” is one fool-proof sign. But sometimes people don’t feel brave enough to say No.
In this case, watch for body language. Do they look upset or uncomfortable? Are they shying away or going quiet or looking for a way out? If any of this seems to be the case, stop what you’re doing immediately and make it clear to them that there is no pressure for them to do anything they don’t want to do. Sometimes people need a gentle reminder that No means No, no matter how seemingly small the matter is. They’ll be grateful that you stepped in and supported them, and you’ll feel like the wonderful person you are: win-win!
Go forth and peer, pressure-free!
The more you navigate these situations, the easier you will find it to listen to your gut and speak up when you’re uncomfortable. It can feel tricky and intimidating at first, but soon you’ll realise that people admire and respect your honesty. The sooner you can start owning your gut feelings, the sooner you’ll realise that your enjoyment in every activity increases because you’re totally in charge of you. And that’s just how it should be!
For more advice on navigating life and becoming the best you, you can be, check out the Fledglink App!