Peer pressure: The good, the bad, and the ugly

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Peer pressure: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Sam Mwakasisi

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Peer pressure is often seen as one of the most undesirable effects of people’s influences on others. It forces people into brash decisions supported only by external influences, and it’s an issue made even more dangerous due to its alluring nature that anyone who wants to be liked would fall victim to. They have momentary effects in the heat of the moment but can have much more dire effects down the road. They can lead people into making the wrong choices, some of which can open doors to nasty, rocky downward spirals. It’s something experienced by students and teachers alike. Only the most negative connotations of this phrase are burned into people’s minds when the phrase is brought up. Perhaps peer pressure can be used for good–or maybe what you think is peer pressure is not peer pressure at all.

The idea of peer pressure is often used interchangeably with the idea of conformity. Peer pressure is often on a smaller scale in comparison, particularly of individuals to mold them into following others based on doing a certain thing that will make them “cooler” or more acceptable in their eyes. Conformity exists on a grander scale and is a much broader umbrella term that peer pressure exists underneath. On one particular note, it influences you every day through the systems that humans live by. With this thinking, the law can be seen as a means of conformity, as well as the norms laid down by society.

These standards are often centered around what is considered to be “normal”; people are conditioned by the social environments they’re in to follow a conventional path that doesn’t disturb the peace. “Weird” has started to grow negative connotations, although singularity is something that should be celebrated and honored, not snuffed out and swept under the rug. “In the classroom, I have seen examples of students indirectly pressuring their peers not to strive academically — for example, […] students rolling their eyes at peers who participate enthusiastically in class,” Mrs. Hoff, teacher, said. “Even if it is not done very seriously…I am bothered by even subtle attempts of peers to bring each other down this way.”

However, there is such a thing as positive peer pressure. Instead of causing problems, the people around you could divert you from a path with those problems that you’ll regret taking later. “I do think positive peer pressure exists,” Hoff said. “If it becomes the ‘norm’ to achieve and strive in a particular classroom culture, it can be contagious in a good way, I think.”

To add onto this, even people from the student body of Niles North is finding examples of this in their academic lives. “If I’m working in study hall, and all my friends around me are doing their homework…then they could tell me to get on task and do my homework,” Itamar Steiner, junior, said. “That’ll help me because it’ll make me feel empowered to do the right thing.”

This leads to us to a very important question: How does this apply to us at Niles North?

Many teachers at this school see the environment it has built as an inviting one. “While there are pressures to behave negatively, there are so many wonderful students who do wonderful things that many of these good choices become what is ‘cool’, which influences other students to follow in their footsteps,” Hoff said.

In the end, peer pressure can be used for various different reasons and purposes. Although it’s often perceived as a solely negative concept, it is merely a turbulent cloud with a silver lining that isn’t viewed or noticed when it appears. The effect and power it has depend entirely on whether it’s being used for good or bad, and perhaps a number of doors to great things can be opened when it is used properly.