Teens and Peer Pressure

Medically Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 19, 2024
4 min read

"C’mon. Everyone’s doing it." So why shouldn’t you?

It’s almost expected that you will experience peer pressure frequently throughout your teen years.

Say you're invited to a party where you know there will be alcohol or drugs. A friend decides to cut class. Someone offers you a cigarette. Or friends talk about having sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends. How do you respond? Are you tempted to follow their examples? Or can you stand strong in your own belief system?

At some point, everyone has the desire to fit into a group. If you're interested in sports, you might hang out with the "jocks." If you're interested in music, you spend time with others who enjoy music. You belong to that group and feel secure when you are part of it. The group identifies who you are and what you’re about.

But what if people in "your group" start doing things that are wrong, hurtful, or even illegal? And what if these same people are your friends?

This is what we refer to as peer pressure -- the pressure to conform to the behaviors, attitudes, and personal habits of "the group." In many cases, there are serious risks involved. Let’s look at some common situations. Think about what you would do in each:

  1. "My friends told me about this party at this abandoned warehouse on Friday night. I know there’s going to be alcohol involved, and someone there is supposed to bring some marijuana. I don’t drink or do drugs, but I don’t want them to think I’m a loser."
  2. "This older guy at church that I really like smokes cigarettes. He keeps offering them to me and my friends. Last week my best friend Stacy smoked one with him."
  3. "My girlfriend keeps pleading with me to go all the way with her. She says 'everybody’s having sex' these days, but I want to save myself for marriage. All of my friends have had sex, and I really like my girlfriend. I don’t want her to think I’m some kind of prude."

In all of these cases, your decision about how to handle the peer pressure can have great consequences:

  1. What if the cops bust the party at the warehouse and you are arrested? How would your parents react when the police call them? How would an arrest affect your college admissions or your reputation?
  2. As for the second example, it goes without saying how bad smoking is for your health, including the risks of lung disease, heart disease, and cancer. It's all too easy to get hooked on cigarettes.
  3. Speaking of long-term effects, you really have to think through what you’d do in the third example. Having sex even one time could leave your girlfriend pregnant. You’d have to change your life from student ... to father. And what if you got a sexually transmitted disease? How would you cope if you found out you had gonorrhea or HIV?

As you see, there can be serious risks involved with peer pressure. Unfortunately, most teenagers are not applauded for their logical thought processes. Most feel invulnerable, like "nothing bad can ever happen to me." But you need to assess the risks -- well in advance. Consider these questions before you're tempted to follow the crowd:

  • Could this harm me physically?
  • Does this make me feel uncomfortable?
  • Could this harm someone else?
  • Is this against the law?
  • Could I go to jail?
  • What are the long-term effects of my actions on my health? My education? My family relationships?

Now, let’s lighten up. You can also use peer pressure to your advantage. Think of it as "competitive" peer pressure.

For example, if you’re active in sports, your teammates probably pressure you to be the best you can be. If you’re on the track team, you pace yourself with the fastest runner, because you know it will make you better. If you’re striving for good grades, you compare your scores to those at the top of the list. If you’re in the band, and there are musicians better than you, you are pressured into striving to be the best musician you can be.

At some point, every person must stand alone, even when tempted by friends and other peers. You know what is right. You know what is wrong. And only you can decide which path to take.

Ask almost anyone who has "been there, done that" about peer pressure. Most people have gone with the crowd at some point in their teenage lives, and they’ve had to live with the consequences. You'll likely hear that bowing to peer pressure wasn't worth it.

Now is your chance to believe in yourself and to stand alone at times, if you need to. When faced with group demands, assess the risks ahead of time. If you are uncomfortable doing something, don't be afraid to decline the invitation with a ''no, thanks.''

Learning to stand up for yourself and your beliefs and to look ahead to consequences of your actions are important steps in becoming a responsible adult.