Teens and peer pressure are a common combination, with peer pressure statistics showing that when teens’ friends ask them to smoke or drink, they are more likely to do so. One peer pressure definition describes it as occurring when a teen does something he or she normally wouldn’t do to fit in with friends.

While peer pressure can be negative and influence a teen to abuse drugs or alcohol, it can also be positive. Different forms of peer pressure can affect teens in varying ways.

Types of Peer Pressure

There are different types of peer pressure with teens, ranging from positive to negative, and including both spoken and silent peer pressure. These various forms of peer pressure can have a noticeable impact on teens’ choices and behaviors.

Sometimes, peer pressure can result in unhealthy or dangerous behaviors, but it can also influence teens in positive ways, such as by encouraging them to put forth their best effort in school.

Negative vs. Positive Peer Pressure

Negative peer pressure and positive peer pressure can both influence the choices a teen makes. Negative peer pressure can persuade teens to engage in risky behaviors or break rules, whereas positive peer pressure results in teens making healthy, beneficial choices, according to the experts.

Examples of negative peer pressure include:

  • Being asked to try alcohol or smoke cigarettes
  • Encouraging a friend to engage in unprotected sex
  • Asking a friend to participate in shoplifting from a store
  • Convincing a peer to skip school

Positive peer pressure, on the other hand, could involve any of the following:

  • Encouraging a friend to try a new club at school
  • Supporting a friend in studying harder and improving his or her grades
  • Peers asking a friend to join a sports team
  • Inviting a friend to volunteer at a charity event

Spoken vs. Silent Peer Pressure

Peer influence can be spoken, but it can also include non-verbal peer pressure. For example, silent peer pressure involves peers modeling certain behaviors. Teens who are considered to be part of the popular crowd may be seen smoking cigarettes, leading other peers to believe that smoking is a desirable thing to do.

Silent peer pressure can also involve witnessing peers dressing a certain way or listening to a specific type of music, as seeing these behaviors can pressure others to make the same music or clothing choices.

Spoken peer pressure is verbal and can involve:

  • Encouragement to participate in certain activities
  • Teasing for not engaging in “cool” behaviors like drinking
  • Offering alcohol or cigarettes
  • Asking a peer if they want to participate in an activity, like attending a party

Effects of Peer Pressure

The effects of peer pressure can be beneficial or negative. One area in which peer pressure can have a negative influence is drinking and drug use.

A review of the research shows that peers have a greater influence on adolescent substance abuse than do parents. Peers can encourage friends to use drugs and alcohol or tease them for being afraid to try them, which can lead to the initiation of drinking and drug use.

The effects of peer pressure can also influence sexual behavior in teens. One study found that peers’ views about sex have a significant effect on the sexual behavior of adolescents. In addition, having peers who are sexually active is linked to engagement in risky sexual activities.

It is important to note that despite the negative effects of peer pressure, there are some benefits associated with peer influence. The previous study did find that peers’ beliefs could positively influence attitudes regarding contraception and safe sex. An additional study found that peers can have a positive influence on prosocial, or helping, behaviors.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health reports that the effects of peer pressure can influence multiple aspects of a teen’s life, including the following:

  • Health-related choices, such as eating and exercise habits
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs
  • Academic performance and feelings about school
  • Clothing and entertainment choices
  • Choices about sexual identity and romantic partners

How to Handle Peer Pressure

While peer pressure can be positive, many teens may be wondering how to resist peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors. Learning how to handle peer pressure as a teenager involves planning ahead, choosing the right friends, and keeping open communication with trusted adults.

The following strategies are important for handling peer pressure effectively:

  • Learn to say no: Declining to participate in activities that you are not comfortable with is a way to resist peer pressure. Plan ahead and practice what you will say if you’re pressured to do something you don’t want to do. For example, before going out with friends, you may practice what you might say if offered a cigarette. You could decline with a simple “no, thanks,” or say that you don’t want it to interfere with your soccer training, or you could state that it makes your allergies worse. Sometimes saying no may involve leaving an unsafe situation. In these cases, it can be helpful to communicate with a parent or trusted adult who can remove you from an unsafe situation.
  • Know yourself: When faced with peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors, such as using drugs or having unprotected sex, it is important to remember your values. For example, maybe earning high grades and acceptance into a prestigious college is important to you. Or, perhaps you value setting a good example for younger siblings. Remembering these values will increase your confidence to say no to a choice that doesn’t align with what is important to you.
  • Choose the right friends: Peer influence during adolescence is strong, so it is important to choose friends wisely. As noted previously, peer pressure can be positive, so having the right group of friends can help you make good choices. For example, choosing friends who value school and participate in positive activities such as sports and church groups can limit your exposure to negative peer pressure. In addition, friends who support your values can stand up for you if you find yourself in a situation where you need to say no to peer pressure.

Does My Teen Need Help?

Teen substance abuse can be a consequence of peer pressure, and some teens may need help if they develop problems with drugs or alcohol.

There are some warning signs of teen drug abuse that can suggest your child may have a substance use disorder that requires professional intervention.

Behavioral Changes:

  • Making excuses
  • Strange or violent behavior
  • Creating stories to hide drug and alcohol abuse
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Spending more time alone
  • Making frequent phone calls, often in secrecy

Emotional Changes:

  • Anger and defiance when confronted about behavior
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Decrease in motivation

Physical Changes:

  • Scratching or picking at the skin
  • Needle marks on arms
  • Wearing long sleeves to cover skin issues or needle marks, even during the warmer months
  • Slurred or incoherent speech when under the influence
  • Changes in weight or sleep habits
  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Having strange items, such as scales, lighters, needles, balloons, tin foil, mirrors, pipes, vials, ziplock bags, bindles, and butane torches

Social changes: 

  • Changes in friend groups, avoiding parents and siblings
  • Worsening school performance or skipping classes
  • Selling personal items or stealing to obtain money for drugs
  • Extreme talkativeness

If your child is demonstrating some of these signs and you suspect drug or alcohol abuse, he or she may be in need of teen drug rehab. The Recovery Village staffs addiction specialists who can discuss your concerns and answer any questions you may have about rehab for your teen. Reach out to an admissions specialist today to discuss treatment options.

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