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Feeling the pressure?

February 17, 2018


Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

To be influenced by our friends is fine, as long as we are not pressured into doing what we shouldn’t be doing I remember when I was in school, we had a large group of friends. During recess, everyone hurried to finish their lunch so that they could then play and have some fun. It would be the highlight of our school day.

Most of us wanted to play some sort of a game — it would be anything that would catch our fancy that day or which could accommodate most of us in the teams. All this went on well until gradually it just didn’t seem easy to decide what to play. One of the girls, Madeeha, a good student of the class whom most of the teachers liked too, always had her own idea of what should be played every day. And somehow it was always something she was good at and not what the majority wanted to play.

Soon, some girls started staying away, preferring to sit and chat, or enjoy some other game. Madeeha took note of that and made sure those girls weren’t included in any class activity where she was given the chance by a teacher to take the lead, which was often. I, being a meek and blissfully silly girl, happily did as Madeeha wanted because I didn’t want to be banished from the group that was considered smart and popular.

did as Madeeha wanted because I didn’t want to be banished from the group that was considered smart and popular.

Looking back now, I realise this wasn’t simply because Madeeha pressured me into taking her side, I too got some benefits by following her around. Whenever I got stuck in homework or a question, I could turn to Madeeha for help. She was mostly ready to help, and all she wanted in return was others to follow her advice (meaning whims) about almost everything.

By keeping company with her, I too became conscious of my marks and my reputation as a smart student. As time passed, classes and classmates changed, but there were always people like Madeeha who tried to influence others in some way, and there were always people like myself who were ready to follow their friends just to remain friends.

Being a follower seems easy at first rather than putting up resistance and not doing what everyone else, or at least what our friends, are doing. We all want to ‘fit in’ with our peers, least we appear not so cool. It is no wonder that we end up following their style in everything — soon we are all dressing, talking and doing things the same way!

Our friends influence our life, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes forcefully, as was the case with Madeeha. And this influence can be both positive and negative, like I got influenced by Madeeha’s concern for studies and also started to take them seriously. However, now I realise I had to give up my friendship with a few girls that I got along well with because she didn’t like them.

Now that I am older, I can better understand when there is ‘peer pressure’ on me to do something, and I now know better how to handle it, without letting myself get influenced into doing something I don’t want. But before many of us come to this understanding of peer pressure and gain enough confidence to deal with it, we are faced with many situations where our friends urge us to do something and we may willingly or unwillingly obey.

As long as what we are being pressured into doing is something we are comfortable with, we have our parents’ permission to do and which is in line with our social and moral values, we are safe. But when we find others around us indulging in actions that we know we should not be doing, we find it easier to follow the crowd than give reasons and excuses for not being a part of the action.

We tell ourselves that it’s okay to do it once, just for the experience, like bunking a class or taking a puff from a cigarette. We are not going to make it a habit and our parents won’t know, so what’s the harm in it, we reason. Haven’t we all succumbed to this kind of pressure sometime or the other? It’s natural — but not good for us in the long run.

We need to learn how to avoid getting swayed by peer pressure as peer pressure starts from an early age and is there in all stages of life, but most difficult to resist in youth.

Your peers can just as easily make you do things that you would never do normally and it could potentially harm you. And peer pressure can easily turn into bullying if it takes a more serious turn.

We need to learn how to handle peer pressure and decide for ourselves what we should or shouldn’t been doing. And when we have someone — especially or parents and family — telling us that we are getting swayed by peer pressure and we need to stand our ground, listen to them. We are most likely doing what we shouldn’t be doing and its negative effect must be obvious on us.

Be your own person, not one of the crowd. Learn to resist negative peer pressure today to avoid regret tomorrow.

Illustration by Muhammad Faizan
Illustration by Muhammad Faizan

Ways to avoid peer pressure

Peer pressure is not easy to handle, even for adults. But if you learn how to handle it from a young age, you will not have trouble handling it as an adult. Here are a few things you can do to resist the peer pressure of doing what you don’t want to, or shouldn’t, do.

Avoid it altogether: This is the easiest way — if you won’t feel it, you won’t give in to it. Make friends who like doing the kind of things you like to do, who share the same values as you and who don’t force you do what you are not comfortable with.

If you hang around with the wrong crowd, you will face peer pressure constantly. And it will drag you down every time.

You should also avoid places where you feel uncomfortable.

Be assertive: Being assertive doesn’t mean being aggressive. It means doing what you want to do and standing your ground. Say no firmly when you are in a sticky situation — like when your friend wants to cheat your answers in a test and you are not okay with it. Don’t give in to please others or to keep their friendship. Explain your stand and if they are your friends, they will understand and respect your opinion, if not, it’s their loss not yours.

Say ‘no’ firmly: When someone’s trying to get you to do something, like take a puff from a cigarette they are smoking, look them straight in the eye and firmly say ‘no’. Physically back off, put a little distance between you and them, and don’t be apologetic for your actions.

Be clear about your values: It is best to let your friends know what you can and cannot do. Your friend may be arranging a birthday party at a hip new restaurant but you are not allowed by your parents to go to restaurants with friends, tell them so.

Don’t make excuses, always be clear yourself about what you have the permission to do and also make it clear to your friends. This will pave the way for the future too as they will then not ask you to be a part of something you shouldn’t be.

This can even inspire others to follow your example of not being influenced by peers and following the good values that you are following. For instance, if you are regular in saying your prayers and pray even when you are with friends, some of them may also follow you and pray along with you do.

Be a good friend: Don’t ever force your friends to do what they don’t want to do. And help a friend who’s having trouble resisting peer pressure. There is more power in number, so lend some courage to others who resist the peer pressure to do something wrong.

There are so many other ways to get out of a tricky situation where you are likely to face peer pressure to do things you shouldn’t be doing. See what works for you and always stand your ground. Don’t give in! -T.N

Published in Dawn, Young World, February 17th, 2018