Effects of peer pressure in teenagers and their mental health. Find a child psychiatrist/child therapist near you.

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Peers play a large role in the social and emotional development of children and adolescents. Their influence begins at an early age and increases through the teenage years. It is natural, healthy and important for children to have and rely on friends as they grow and mature (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry).

Some peers are supportive and encouraging. They can have a positive influence on you like motivating you to study, prepare for exams and help you stay away from bad habits.

However, some peer influences can be negative too. These are the so-called friends who pressure you into succumbing to bad habits and encourage risky behaviours. Such peers often tend to threaten, coerce, blackmail, tease or taunt you into doing certain things you know could have drastic consequences.

So why do children give in to peer pressure?

One of the most important developmental milestones for children between the ages of 12-19 years is social acceptance. They want to feel accepted and be a part of the “it” group. They want to be popular or “cool” as these kids are and gain recognition like them.

Another reason could be independence from authoritative figures in their lives. A sense of autonomy and self-identity that does have a cognitive base in this age group. These children want to identify as adults and want to gain a sense of respect and belongingness from their peers.

And lastly, the thrill of engaging in risky behaviours. The human brain does not fully develop until the age of 25 years. This means an adolescent brain cannot logically comprehend the consequences of a particular risky situation like we adults do. They often tend to give in to their impulses because it feels right and gives them pleasure. What they fail to understand is that these impulses and pleasures are short-lived but their consequences survive longer.

Thus, children who fall into negative peer pressure often tend to engage in activities such as drinking alcohol or doing drugs, theft, stealing, driving vehicles at high speeds without safety gears and engaging in unsafe sexual practices.

How does peer pressure impact our mental health?

Positive peer pressure helps us get motivated, perform better and achieve our goals. They also help us become organised and efficient in our responsibilities. Positive peer pressure makes us feel respected, loved and valued, in a healthy way.

Negative peer pressure, however, tends to work in the opposite ways. Negative peer pressure makes you feel forced to do certain things you do not wish to do, they reduce your self-esteem and self of self-righteousness. Getting involved in negative peer pressure for a long time can invite a host of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and trauma.

According to Pew Research Centre survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17, about three-in-ten say they feel a lot of pressure to look good (29%) and to fit in socially (28%), while about half of teens see drug addiction and alcohol consumption as major problems among people their age and a fewer than one-in-ten say they personally feel a lot of pressure to use drugs (4%) or to drink alcohol (6%).

After an extensive research, American Psychology Association (AMA) found out that depression is a leading health issue faced by college-going students and peer pressure is one of its several causes. Research shows that there is a direct, positive correlation between peer pressure and depression in young people. Depression at its worst can lead to suicidal ideation, self-harm and other harmful behaviours (Anna Freud – National Centre for Children and Families).

How to spot suicide warning signs in youth? Make mental health your utmost priority.

Research further states that the presence of peer pressure is a predictor for increase stress levels, anxiety and sleep issues (Anna Freud – National Centre for Children and Families).

Many adolescents often report that they have started developing mental health issues which originated from negative peer influences and then increased due to other factors such as stigma, discriminations, lack of resources and information about mental health services.

Signs to look out for which indicate mental health issues due to peer pressure:

  1. Changes in sleeping patterns- reduced sleeping hours, trouble staying asleep
  2. Changes in appetite- reduced quantity of food, obsession with maintain weight and shape
  3. Excessive use of social media
  4. Crying spells
  5. Decline in academic performance
  6. Fear of a person or group of people
  7. Refusal to engage in family or social activities
  8. Decline is self-confidence
  9. Prefers to stay alone
  10. Self-harm episodes and/or suicidal ideation or acts.

How to prevent peer pressure from affecting your mental health?
  1. Choose your friends wisely. Notice their interactions and plans they have for you and your friendship goals.
  2. Encourage yourself to seek out positive friendships that boost your morale and help engage you in healthy behaviours.
  3. Learn to say NO- It might sound rude at first, but it will save you from a lifetime of regretful situations.
  4. Be firm and assertive while refusing your friends – while it may be easy to give in to temptations, knowing that every temptation has its deadly consequences, so it is better to stay firm and refuse their offer of engaging in risky behaviours.
  5. Involve an adult- adults, especially your parents, can act as a solid buffer for refusing negative pressure. You can always use parents as an excuse to say no and have them back you up in such cases.
  6. Confide in an adult- when the pressure seems too much to handle and you start to face issues, always reach out to a trustworthy adult. Tell them what happened and how it is affecting you. You can also talk to a mental health professional in your area.

If you are a victim of negative peer pressure or you know someone who is going through this, be it a teen, a kid or an adult, encourage them to contact the nearest psychiatrist or psychotherapist or mental health centre. Mpower Centre in Mumbai, Bangalore & Kolkata is one such place wherein you can receive help to improve your self-image and accept yourself and others the way they are.

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