Negative Peer Pressure Preteen

Peer pressure is most often experienced by young people. It is the compulsion to conformity with a peer group that causes young people to adopt values, opinions, beliefs, behaviours and so on that are shared by the group. Peer pressure affects many aspects of life from dress code, to moral behaviour; from taking drugs, to work ethic.

Some aspects of peer pressure are regarded as “positive” and others as “negative” although the distinction is very questionable because any undue influence on a young person that prevents them being themselves is developmentally harmful. For example, a young person who is bound to act or dress in a certain way to gain acceptance from peers is hampered from discovering their own true adult identity. Even if the pressure to conformity does not involve a directly “negative” activity it is still a problem.

Spotting when a child is experiencing undue peer pressure is not hard but it does manifest in many different ways. The preteen who is dominated by the peer, and who is vulnerable to peer pressure, essentially seeks to withdraw among peers, away from a balanced mix of relationships. Doing so creates an impoverished relational environment that can stunt development.

Growing up too fast

The most obvious sign that the preteen is suffering peer pressure is that they grow up too fast. Studies show that diet plays an important role in the physical changes of puberty – and is reducing the age of sexual maturity across the developed world – but peers are often responsible for the preteen who gets the social and emotional problems of teenagers at a stage when they are still a child. Instead of playing, enjoying childhood and their pre-adolescent years the preteen is bombarded by pressures to dress and behave in adult ways. Watch for the preteen who is “growing up” too fast because negative peer pressure is likely to be at play.

Spending too much time with peers

The preteen who is vulnerable to peer pressure will often want to spend time with peers beyond the already peer rich time of school and other age-specific groups. Look out for the preteen who shuns time with the immediate family, extended family or wider circle of adults known to the family and instead wants to retreat among their peers. Gently try and introduce greater balance to their social experience and ideally never let their social environment become so impoverished that they are not comfortable with a healthy social mix.Remember they are preteens and still highly vulnerable to imbalanced or impoverished social environments.

Emotional Difficulty

The preteen who is vulnerable to peer pressure will often experience emotional difficulty – being moody, withdrawn, uncooperative and so on – as just like the teenager they seek to meet needs for acceptance, belonging and love among their peers. Instead of enjoying the “unconditional” acceptance and belonging of family or extended family the preteen vulnerable to peer pressure will turn to peers. Unfortunately immature peers are known for being fickle, cruel and often non-accepting. Any rejection complicates the emotional state of the preteen who can go into a downward spiral unless adults step in and restore a healthy social balance.

Failure of individual identity

The preteen who is vulnerable to pressure of their peers will not be able to think for themselves, have their own tastes, preferences, beliefs and opinions but rather will echo the values of the group. Watch for signs that the preteen’s development is becoming “stuck” by monitoring any sudden changes in hobbies, interests, dress and so on where the preteen pursues activities because of peers rather than because they want to. Provide the preteen freedom to “be themselves” in an accepting environment. Ask them what they like, help them think for themselves and get behind any healthy activity that they do because they want to rather than because a peer is doing it.

Lack of Confidence

The preteen who is experiencing negative peer pressure will often lack confidence and have low self-esteem. Related to the emotional difficulties that arise from unmet needs this lack of confidence may show in many behavioural ways from being passive and withdrawn (especially when it comes to integrating with family or other adults) to being overtly aggressive and hostile to peers or wider community. The preteen may shun new activities because they are afraid of failure and ridicule of peers, or be unwilling to face challenges because of similar confidence issues.

Remember that many of the issues of the preteen experiencing peer pressure will be similar to the teenager, but the preteen is even less cognitively and emotionally developed to psychologically manage the issues. While the onset of puberty is falling the preteen is psychologically still a child with many aspects of cognition and brain not developed. Thus identifying and protecting the preteen from peer pressures is even more vital.