Can peer pressure be positive?
Peer pressure has many redeeming qualities. It is the pressure of our peers, after all, that gives us the support to try things we otherwise wouldn’t have. ~ Bill Treasurer
Peer pressure is a positive aspect of our lives. Generally peer pressure it is associated with negative outcomes particularly for school age children. In those contexts it is associated with negative influences and bad behaviours that often become habits when reinforced by peer acceptance into a group. However, not all pressure exerted by our peers can lead to poor choices or have harmful long-term consequences.
There are times over the course of my life that I reflect on with huge dollops of thankfulness for the pressure brought to bear on me by my peers. There have been times when they encouraged me to try some new activity of which I was fearful. I’ve been made to look at my poor choices and forced to reflect on my behaviours that have not been appropriate. I think having to live in the consequences of one’s poor behaviours – like being excluded for all the right reasons – is a very positive aspect of peer pressure. It helps modify conduct and perpetuates social norms.
On the other hand peer pressure can also be the element that forces change. When the majority in a group seeks good change everyone benefits. Change in this format can help mould individuals by encouraging a different perspective from which everyone stands to gain. Within a group setting this type of pressure helps get the job done because it addresses the free-loaders slack attitude and poor contribution. As a group we tend to mutually monitor one another’s performance and measure our level of effort against others’. In this setting peer pressure is an excellent advocate of equity.
Like other pack animals we tend to engage in imitative behaviours modeling our actions on those of the majority of the group. In mirroring someone else’s behaviours we align ourselves with them (I’m on your side). While this trying on different behaviours is true for both negative and positive peer pressure it does help us to sort out our identity. When we experiment with different behaviours, ways of dressing, speaking, music choices, and other latest trends and fashions we test our acceptability to others. As we try on different selves and move from one setting or group to the next we sort right from wrong, comfortable from uncomfortable and most importantly me from you.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of peer pressure is that it helps us to understand who we are and reinforces acceptable behaviours. Furthermore, if identity is about belonging, what we have in common with other people and what differentiates us from others, then positive peer pressure is the element of society that helps keep us all safe as we mutually monitor one another’s actions.
We cannot live in society in the complex way the 21st century demands of us without having our identities reflected back to us by our peers. Our identity looks both inwards – to gauge how we are responding/feeling to any given situation – and it looks outwards to gauge the impact of our behaviours on the group. Positive peer pressure provides the boundaries within which to explore our identity of whom we are as individuals and who we are, and how we fit, as part of society.