Could you meet me after school? I have something I need to talk to you about. My mom is driving me nuts. She's been giving me a really hard time about wearing too much makeup. What a pain! I mean, we all use it. She doesn't understand anything. She just want to control me. HELP! I'll meet you at your locker at 3:30.
Peer groups (friends, classmates) give you a testing ground for all kinds of behavior. Parents and other adults offer advice and act out of concern for young people. Still, it is most often your peer group that offers you the information you want. Your peer group is like you in a number of ways. And that makes it easier to look to it for advice. That can help you decide how to run your life. Sometime's it's very confusing. You want the support and approval of your parents, but you still want to make your own decisions. You may not realize how much your peer group is influencing you. You may be expressing its feelings and opinions, not your own.
Peer groups define what is "normal." If you share the group's attitudes, ideas, and behaviors, you are accepted. That may make you feel good. After all, everyone wants to belong. There may also be times when it's easier to go along with what everyone else is doing, even if you don't agree. That is called conformity. When you conform, you are not making decisions alone. It takes real courage, however, to stand up for something that might make you unpopular.
It is hard during the teenage years to figure out who you are. It is a time of transitions, questions, and choices. It is a time when you discover how to deal with many confusing emotions.Your body is changing, too. You begin to see yourself differently. You are faced with so many new decisions that it can be overwhelming.
Peer groups allow you to share your feelings. You can tell your friends your deepest thoughts and fears. They will understand because they too are facing many of the same things. It helps to know that you are not alone. Peer groups also give you an identity. It may make you feel proud to say, "I am a member of 'This Group'."
Maybe all your friends think a certain band is the best. Everyone you hang around with may have the same hairstyle, or like to smoke. You may think that following them is the right decision. That's normal. But remember, you always have a choice. Because other people behave in certain ways doesn't mean you have to follow them.
Cliques and Crowds
Have you ever heard someone say, "Oh, that group is so 'cliquey'?" It means that the members of the group have a habit of sticking close together. They form a kind of bond with each other. Friendships get stronger. That may seem like a lot of fun. You always have your best friends nearby. You do the same things, have the same ideas, and wear the same styles. But is that the best way to develop your own personality?
Many cliques avoid people outside of the group. Being part of a clique can limit your view of the world around you. Don't forget that people have different ideas and beliefs, different values and styles. And that's good. Knowing a variety of people can enrich your life. You can learn from each other.
A crowd, which is a larger group with certain things in common, can be a fun alternative to a small clique. Your closest friends can be a part of your crowd, but you also have the chance to spend time with a variety of people. That gives you the opportunity to discuss new ideas and to observe different behavior. Then you have more information to help you make your own decisions.
Adolescents often feel unsure of themselves. During this difficult time, it's important to know that you're not the only one who is feeling confused. Peer groups offer some guidelines. The group may answer your questions about how you should behave. Through your friendships, you can figure out who you are and who you want to be. At this time in your life, you need to separate from your parents. By giving you an identity apart from your parents, the peer group helps you to build self-esteem. Self-esteem is your feeling of personal worth. Your peer group gives you support and a feeling of confidence. It helps you know what to do and how to do it. You find acceptance in the group and a better self-image.
Negative Peer Pressure
Sam was always a good student and very popular. When we moved to a new school, however, he was afraid that nobody would like him. He met Kris and Dennis at lunch one day, and they started hanging out together after school. Sam really wanted his new friends to accept him, so when they offered him a cigarette, he didn't know what to say. Sam knew he didn't want to smoke. His father smoked and the smell always made him sick. "No, thanks," Sam said quietly. Kris and Dennis looked at each other and rolled their eyes. "We thought you were cool," said Dennis, "but obviously you're not."
Everyone wants to fit in. But sometimes there is a price to pay. What is accepted by your group may not be right for you. It can even be dangerous. Smoking or experimenting with drugs and alcohol are two examples.
At times, even your best friends may pressure you to do things that are not in your best interest. The pressure can be strong. You may hear things like, "Everybody's doing it," or "Do you think you're too good for us?" Or, "Just once can't hurt." Sometimes the pressure is only a feeling you have. You just know what your group expects even if nothing is said. You are sure they will like you better if you do what they do.
Sometimes your friends pressure you to do things you don't want to do. You know that if you don't go along, you risk their disapproval. The members of your peer group are the people you need most to like and accept you. The thought of being left out can be very frightening. But you must take responsibility for your actions. You are the only one who really knows what is right for you. You must have the courage to do what you believe is best. Talking to an adult whom you trust can help to give you that courage.