Peer pressure: Understanding causes, effects

by Tech. Sgt. Craig Guthridge
86th Communications Squadron
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

Peer pressure is a part of everyday life, and we don’t often think about it while it’s happening to us. Although we like to believe it is just limited to certain categories of youth groups, it is a common part of adulthood, especially young adults.

A simple definition of peer pressure is the encouragement or distress placed on one individual from another of the same social group with the expected result of conformity. Peer pressure can be positive or negative; however, it is most often regarded in a negative way.

The argument can be made that incidents related to peer pressure are caused by a lack of belonging or low self-esteem. One’s need for acceptance by another individual or social group can cause a change in their state of harmony resulting in conformity.

Sadly, the need for acceptance can arguably overpower one’s own morality or confidence, creating a shift in identity to match that required by his or her peers.

Individuals often picture themselves in certain social groups; it is possible they believe they should be a member of certain peer groups based on attractive features such as beauty, intelligence, coolness or strength.

Individuals who suffer internal conflicts between meeting social needs and maintaining a sense of self may not recognize the impacts of social conformity.  For example, “I want to be a part of that group, so I’ll change my behavior or appearance to fit in.”  Because social media is accessible almost anywhere at any time, it can intensify the effects of peer pressure and cyber-bullying with the endgame of conformity or isolation.

The military is not immune to this psychosocial phenomenon.  Although military members are well trained, the bulk of the force is made up of impressionable, young adults who are still discovering who they are, even when they have convinced themselves they already know. Our leaders also experience positive and negative forms of peer pressure. However, individuals in these positions are often better conditioned to cope with the increased stress.

The culture of reckless and abusive behavior can be a reaction to peer pressure from immature individuals. Inebriation and over-intoxication are not parallels to fun; they are signs of dangerous social conduct encouraged by toxic relationships. We may make inaccurate assumptions regarding the reasons for the changes our subordinates display, which is why we are required and trained, as wingmen and leaders, to ask the questions that lead to the cause.

As members of the military, the education and training to which we are subjected is never-ending. Education is an effective tool in the battle against issues such as sexual assault, substance abuse, violence, bullying, etc. However, peer pressure is not something we often discuss. No matter how much education and training is developed, we cannot control the human condition; we can only inform our Airmen to make the best choice possible. Individuals must monitor and adjust their own behavior as adults are expected to do. This infers one’s ability to recognize peer pressure, deal with it professionally, seek help if needed, and identify when he or she may be unconsciously applying peer pressure toward others.
If you find the people you surround yourself with are constantly encouraging behaviors that go against your own morale barriers, it might be a good time to reassess these relationships and make a change.

Peer pressure is not a subject of everyday conversation in the workplace; however, as friends, co-workers and leaders, we should make an effort to recognize the causes and effects in order to maintain a strong military force.