Peers play a pivotal role in socioemotional development of children & adolescents as their influence can be very strong during a child’s teenage years. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it is natural, healthy and important for children to have friends as they grow and mature. However, peers can have both positive as well as negative influences on your child. Some peers can be supportive and encouraging and can have positive influence your child (like help to study and prepare for exams and can keep them away from bad habits) whereas, certain kind of peer pressure may make the child succumb to bad habits/ at risk for behaviours that can have drastic consequences on your child’s mental health.
As a parent, you play a huge role in supporting your child’s mental well-being. Building a strong nurturing and loving foundation can help your child in developing the right social and emotional skills which can help them in making the right decisions and lead a happy, healthy and fulfiling life. Hence it is relevant for you to discuss and understand how peer pressure can affect your child’s mental health and how you can best help them to navigate through it.
What is the cause of peer pressure and how can it affect your child’s mental health?
Social acceptance is one of the most important developmental milestones for children in the age group 12-19 years. Children in this age group want to feel accepted, be popular, gain recognition and be a part of the “cool” group. This often gives them the required independence from authoritative figures in their lives and provides them with a sense of autonomy and self-identity.
As the human brain is not essentially fully developed until the age of 18 -25 years, such children often engage in impulsive behaviours such as indulging in alcohol and drugs, skipping classes, and using the internet for inappropriate activities. Since their adolescent brain is unable to logically comprehend the consequences of such situations, they often tend to give in to their impulses without understanding that while these impulses and pleasures are short-lived their judgemental errors(impulses) may affect their entire life.
FOMO also known as Fear of Missing Out is another reason that makes youngsters fall prey to peer pressure. It is defined as increased and pervasive anxiety or apprehension of missing out on experiences or social events that others are perceived to be having.
As humans, we always compare our lives with others and envy those who are more popular or successful than us. We often feel lost out and this leads us to more compulsive decision making and we tend to follow the same path that our peers are following. In the digital era, FOMO has heightened the need to stay connected among teenagers. They are hooked on to social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat and are constantly checking on what their peers are doing and how they are reacting to their posts. This has made social media a powerful tool today where several teenagers are following the same social media “trend” at the same time and instead of experiencing the real world, they prefer strengthening their digital avatars or identities.
However, since social media does not provide a complete and accurate picture of people’s lives, many teenagers as well as adults are often found to be struggling with dissatisfaction caused due to FOMO which has a detrimental effect on their physical or mental health and causes mood swings, loneliness, feelings of inferiority, reduced self-esteem, extreme social anxiety, and increased levels of negativity and depression among them. Several studies have also shown that FOMO is also the leading cause of addiction among children.
How can parents and children tackle peer pressure?
Parents and children can adopt the following tips to tackle peer pressure:
Recognizing the unhealthy dynamics: Parents must monitor their child’s social media engagement and must take steps to build a healthy and meaningful relationship with their child which will help them in becoming friends with their child’s regular and online peers. If your child avoids making eye contact, then it may indicate a lack of confidence or depression. Children who have low self-esteem and confidence are more prone to falling prey to peer pressure, hence, as parents, you must intervene during such moments and should play an active role in boosting your child’s confidence levels and evaluating their friendship.
Parents must also educate their children about self-restraint, self-regulation and should teach them to keep themselves away from dangerous behaviours and resist peer pressure. Teaching your child about avoiding a risky situation can help them in staying away from bad influences and will enable them to find friends who respect each other’s boundaries.
Staying firm – One must know how and when to say ‘No’ when you are feeling uncomfortable or unsafe and may find a certain activity or surrounding inappropriate. At such moments, talking to a grown-up that you can trust – like a parent, teacher or a school counsellor can be helpful as they can share several tips that can help you navigate such situations.
Encourage open communication flow – Encouraging open and honest communication flow at school and at home is imperative as it can help the kids in becoming more comfortable while discussing and sharing their experiences. Developing healthy behaviours like sharing your own experiences of peer pressure when you were at school (as appropriate) and the ways you handled them can make them more comfortable in discussing their pain points.
All of us have faced peer pressure at some point in our lives. It not only affects teenagers and adolescents but also has an impact on adults. Thus, making wise decisions and taking responsibility for our actions is critical to helping us avoid peer pressure and prevent ourselves from getting into unwanted situations. As individuals, we must remain true to ourselves and must be self-aware at all times. Being thankful for the things that matter to our lives like family, friends, security, health or any other thing can help in making our lives more meaningful and we can easily avoid situations like FOMO.
Authored by Dr. Raghavendra Kumar K, Consultant – Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru