Dr.Richard was living in the suburb in Mumbai. He had come on transfer from Malaysia. He admitted his only child Katty in a local English Medium school. The girl was a bit hesitant in the beginning to make any friend but soon things changed; she started telling stories from school very enthusiastically. Katty had got herself fully enmeshed in the Indian society and fully immersed in the fun in the school. But one day Dr. Richard and his wife Betty were taken aback to find Katty wearing a long, vertical sandalwood mark extending from forehead to down the nose. In a couple of days to their utter surprise, she was reciting Sanskrit ‘Slokas’ taught to her by her friends who were from families of Harekrishana faith. For a couple of years, Dr. Richard family was in India Katty continued to follow the habits of her close friends.
In another case, a bunch of 10-year-old boys was found loitering all day in the city. One of them was a Police Superintendent’s son—Vithal. A constable recognized him and reported the matter to the boss. When finally Vithal was questioned about skipping classes for going to restaurants and to the movies, he callously replied, “you see dad they are my close friends. When they decide to skip classes I will follow suit because their friendship is important to me”.
What my friends think is the utmost influencing factor for not only Vithal but for our kids too. He has a need for inclusion in a group. In fact, all of us humans have this craving for getting included in some group or the other.
The group may decide something and we may follow willy-nilly and hardly there is discretion or choice left. What is significant to Vithal and Kathy was the friends around and the dictates of their opinions.
There’s nothing extraordinary or different about Vithal or Kathy they are true representatives of the millions of students who go to schools and colleges anywhere in the world. They do have ties with their families and probably know well what is good for them.
The kid’s thinking, habits, style of behaviour, taste for food and clothes, choice of fans and music etcetera are greatly influenced by those friends who become their special stars.
Peer influence is a fact of life for all of us, whatever be our age.
Psychologists tell us that we all have a strong urge towards social conformity. When people are confronted with a majority opinion, the tendency for confirmation becomes stronger in the opinion of psychologist Solomon Asch. He says social influences shape man’s beliefs, judgments and practices. Asch wanted to investigate the effects of group pressure on individual decision making and how and to what extent people’s attitudes are influenced by social forces around. Knowingly or unknowingly we get influenced by the thinking, behaviour, philosophy, and lifestyle of our peers. “You want to please society. You want to be happy. You want to be well-liked. You want to be held in high esteem and be respected. These are real things. You want respect from your peers, respect from your loved ones; you want to be praised for your achievements and your accomplishments. All of this requires conformity in some form or another” says Thomas Jane.
Peer influence on kids
When it comes to our younger ones we have to be more careful because they are right now like clay that can be moulded in any manner. It is the most impressionable age and a time when they are on the lookout for role models. Friend’s actions have a demonstrative effect on them. They are rather compelled to follow their ways, habits etcetera due to this peer pressure.
Loss of ability to think on their own
Peer pressure can lead to loss of ability to take individual decisions. You feel more comfortable to follow the Pied Piper. Whatever your peers feel right you swallow as it is. It would result in a sort of a blind following. Like I said earlier you start adopting their inklings for style in clothing, hairstyles, movies, music, and whatnot.
Peer pressure can actually lead you to start losing your own taste and preferences. Peer pressure is the tendency to join the bandwagon; plundering your own uniqueness, individual ideas, precepts, and concepts of life.
It is a reality that students easily get influenced by peers. Their opinions and choices affect, mould and guide them. Despite wanting to be independent and wanting to follow their own heart, they cannot really abandon the group. They cannot free themselves from their peers and the spell cast by them.
The age group which is most vulnerable to the effects of peer pressure is of teenagers. That is the time when changes taking place in the body and at the psychological level. The youngster begins to realize he is no more a kid and he can be free from parental controls. He has his friends to show the way and open up the new world with options hitherto unavailable. To make matters sometimes worse these are also formative years where his actions today have long-lasting impacts and they should lead his life in a proper direction. These are the time when one’s ideals are formed. It is the young age full of vigour, freshness, and enthusiasm, ready to enjoy life and companionship. Their risk taking capacity is now at an all-time peak.
What the teenagers want most are social rewards, especially the respect of their peers, tells Alison Gopnik.
Peer pressure can be either positive or negative. The difference between positive and negative peer pressure is that the Positive influences push youngsters to do something good or restrains them from doing bad and wicked things.
Pushes to wrong areas
Peer pressure forces one to do things they are not actually keen. Something becomes a cool thing to do because the group thinks so. For instance, the teenager may not be in the habit of taking liquor or smoking pot. In the group, he joins first as a spectator sharing just a soda or something. But peer influence slowly begins its impact. The friends could be making jokes calling him a milk baby or something. Suddenly to prove that he is just one among them, he draws his first peg or takes the first puff. We sometimes see a shy, timid, homely girl turning into a party animal overnight like this.
If you examine the country’s crime records you can see many confessions how pressure peer has turned someone into drug addicts. At that vulnerable immature age, teenagers do not fully realize what big damage they are contracting and how they are actually taking root in them ruining their life by giving in to influence.
There are youngsters who succumb to peer influence even in the matter of selecting a career or choosing a life partner. Needless to say, such things land them squarely in the deep ditches of sorrow and ridicule.
Pushes to good things
There are many stories of lethargic and introvert sort of youngsters getting suddenly fully galvanized and energetic to join the powerful force, setting out to make some memorable achievements. I know a group like this who went all the way to spend a month in Bihar to engage in flood rescue. There are youngsters who help in making village roads. Peer pressure can work positively thus to take out the goodness in you. It can help one to bring about a positive change in his way of thinking and outlook towards life and society.
Every time it need not be in big things like flood relief the push can be towards anything positive. It can be a simple reading habit, going to gymnasium or music classes. Peers can sometimes influence more effectively than parents.
In a group one has a number of persons with varied exposures and skills and being with them is a nice experience and gives him a better idea about the world around. Friends can effectively correct the flaws in character and guide.
Depending on the quality of the group one gets the opportunity to improve his personality, creativity, optimism, and self-confidence. He can change his outlook toward life.
Parents to be alert
We have seen that this age is most vulnerable dangerous and susceptible. Anything can influence them being the like the clay as I alluded earlier. You never attempt to isolate them from a company. But can influence them in making right choices through good communication within the family.
Some youngsters suffer from a kind of loneliness and lack of self-esteem. The need for acceptance and belonging is more pronounced in such people. Some of them have a surging need to self-liberate from the shackles of parents whom he may inwardly hate. Here he gets support and stability in his group.
There is a tendency for most of them to own everything friends have. If they all come to college in own cars he also needs one. He needs that mobile, backpack and similar high fashion shoes and glasses.
When your children approach puberty, be alert irrespective being a boy or girl. Look out for warning signals like drastic changes in styles and a disconnect from family. Obsession in music or mobile activity, a forlorn look, crying episodes, lack of concentration in studies, frequent lying, becoming argumentative, getting away from prayer time, strange shift in tones and language, unduly getting emotional etcetera are few such things to watch.
Become their true friend through patience and continued efforts to maintain communication and try to engage them in sports and cultural activities. Slowly persuade without trying to attack the peers. Great tact is called for here. Find time to discuss happenings each day and issues if any at school/college. Be good role models. Arrive at a consensus in the matter of watching TV etc.
Keeping alive communication and giving the strong feeling of support are key elements in keeping the bad peer pressure at bay.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jose Vazhuthanapilly, Bsc., LLB, DBM, CAIIB retired in 2008 as AGM from State Bank of India. He had worked as a visiting faculty in the Bank’s Staff Training Centers for 5 years. He is a writer with 20 books to his credit including books on self-help/ psychology. He resides in Ernakulum, Kochi. He is active also in the social service. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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