Peer pressure in India is an omnipresent reality throughout schools and colleges, with potentially far-reaching implications on the educational, social, and emotional advancement of students. Peer pressure is widely defined as any external influence on our choices that may have a ripple effect on our physical or mental well-being. A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru reveals that peer pressure was a prominent risk factor for substance abuse among adolescents. The study found that students who were subjected to peer pressure were more likely to practise with substances such as drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
Impact and signs
Based on one study, 85% of high school students have endured peer pressure. This is as an invisible force that has both positive and negative ramifications. The first can manifest as a group of students of the same age pushing one another to study, prepare for examinations, and assist one another avoid bad habits. But, in the latter case, peer pressure invites unhealthy competition when vulnerable students discontinue schooling, feel cognitively inferior, impulsively follow others or lose self-esteem. Competitive parents exacerbate the problem by condemning and comparing their children to others. Defying school or other social settings, becoming very image-conscious, variations in behaviour, feeling like they don’t fit in, feeling depressed, making direct comparisons, having trouble sleeping are all signs that students may be experiencing peer pressure. These can also be indicators of issues such as bullying or mental health issues.
As children grow up, peer opinions become more important. Youngsters want to be valued or be part of a “cool” mainstream group like Rachel in the sitcom Friends. When she starts a new job, she discovers that her supervisor and coworker both smoke and make important decisions during that time. So, she joins them in order not to be left out. Sometimes students may also succumb to peer pressure to be free from authoritative figures in their personal lives. Another reason is FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. Social media has also added a major dimension to peer pressure recently with images of exaggerated lifestyles or body image, risky behaviour, and drink and substance use.
Tips for students
- Avoid friends who pressurise you to do things that seem inappropriate or dangerous
- Practice saying “no” and avoid or exit circumstances that feel unsafe or unsettling.
- Spend time with others who resist peer pressure. It is beneficial to have at least one friend who is ready to say “no.”
- Speak to a trusted adult such as parents, teacher or a counsellor.
Tips for the institution
- Teachers can promote positive peer pressure outcomes in the classroom by being conscious of and openly addressing how peer pressure can have positive and negative effects.
- Develop an Integrated Mental Health programme that involves the teachers, students and counsellors.
- Implement a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying.
The author is a Counselling Psychologist at Lissun