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     Volume 7 Issue 3 | January 18, 2008 |

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The Power of Peer Pressure

Tulip Chowdhury

Peer pressure can have positive results such as long-lasting friendship.

Peer pressure on our children is immense these days and presents a challenge for both parents and children. Society is at a crossroad and the influence of the western world makes it difficult for our children to choose their lifestyles. On top of it all peer pressure poses a threat when it comes to making adjustments between society and family values. Responding to peer pressure is human nature, some give in more easily while others hold their ground. It can have either a negative or positive effect on children. However, because of the changes that society is undergoing these days, the impact of the negative peer pressure seems to be much stronger than the positive.

Children respond to their peers because they want to fit in. They want to be like their peers whom they admire, do what others are doing, or have what others have. The powerful media sometimes influences children through their portrayal of what is going on in the outside world, and sometimes, children who are influenced by these alien cultures portrayed by the media often influence their peers. These changes are welcome when the influence of the media is positive. However, the real problems arise when children are negatively influenced by the media, thereby picking up the negative features. For children, the march to adulthood is not smooth and emotional and physical growth does not take place at an equal pace. When we add peer pressure, which sometimes dictates these children's lives, they become confused. As they grow older, they may be faced with some challenging decisions. Some don't have a clear idea of what is right and what is wrong. Other decisions involve serious moral questions, like whether to cut class, try cigarettes or lie to your parents.

Peer pressure makes it difficult for the children to draw the line between society, friends, family and peers. If children want to belong to a group or some particular friends, sometimes, in trying to belong, they may go out of their way to do things such as buying the new MP3 player, cutting classes and going to a movie or going to a mixed party without the parents' permission. Not being able to do such things with their friends may result in them feeling left out. They will not fit in, and end up feeling like square pegs in round holes. It is only natural that they want to belong to their friends' circle. These growing years are marked with ups and downs. Children can better identify themselves with their peers because they are in the same age group.

The formative years are when children undergo radical changes and form their personal outlook on life. Very often these changes are strongly influenced by their surroundings -- friends, society and family. Because they find that they can relate better to people their own age, their opinions are often most strongly influenced by their peers. And although the family usually provides a base or foundation of values and continues to guide the child, children are often more vulnerable to their peers. “Why should I not follow what so many of my own age group are following” is the usual trend of thought. Children do not usually sit back and judge an action. Rather they are more interested in getting their peers' attention and being accepted. To a teenager, his or her society revolves around friends. The support of peers is very important to a teenager. Sticking to them may mean doing things that the family does not approve of. Doing things such as going to stay over parties, being a punk, following a mode of dressing or becoming a TV addict may be a result of the influence that the peers have on the child in question. It may even come to drinking or taking to drugs. Most children who are smokers, or are regular users of drugs and/or alcohol, claim that they started because they wanted to belong.

Rizvi, a teenager started smoking when his peers chided him calling him a “Mama's boy who was still being bottle fed.” He was laughed at when he mentioned hurting his parents. His friends called him “a real man” they day he started smoking with them.

Rezwana took to taking yaba when her peers introduced it to her in a party. The peers taking the drug called themselves “Angels' Pride,” and Rezwana wanted to be identified as one of them. She became a user of yaba, initially feeling content with the sense of belonging.

These influences may lead to experiments with early sex, which in turn leads to many unwed teenagers going for abortions of unwanted pregnancies. The health hazards of such practices are no secrets.

Peer pressure these days calls for perilous manipulations in the world of the Internet. There is an obsession to be on the Internet for several hours of the day just because the peers are there doing it. The world is within the fingertips of the children. A mere click brings them to a world that can be dangerous when one gets trapped in its menacing dark secrets, a world where even pedophiles are lurking out for their victims on the Internet.

Dealing with peer pressure is not easy, neither on the part of the children themselves nor the parents. The children are often caught on the buffer zone. They feel that accepting the negative attitudes of peers may mean betraying the parents or vice versa. As it is human nature to find the forbidden fruits sweeter, most of the time, the child turns to his/her peers. Perhaps it is more so because they know that parents are not going to abandon them. This secret trust in the parents' love opens a passage for them to venture into the unknown. There are some who take the risk knowing that the consequences may be very bleak indeed because the pressure of the peers is colossal.

Peer pressure is not always bad news. There are positive sides to it too. Peers doing well in school or participating in healthy extra-curricular activities can influence and make others more goal-oriented. The friendships built around the peers have long and lasting effects. Friends listen and give advice as one tries new ideas, explores beliefs and discuses problems. There is always feedback from the peers. Peers also help when it comes to socialising. They provide children with the opportunity to meet different kinds of people. In addition, sometimes, they also offer moral support when one needs it.

As it is said “ All is well that ends well.” If the influences of one's peers comes with good results we welcome it. However parents these days seem to come across peer pressure that is often doing more harm than good. Working parents find it difficult to give time to their children and children have been known to say that they cannot find their parents when they need to talk out their problems. On the other hand, their peers are there whenever they want them and so they usually turn to their peers for help and advice which sometimes can have undesirable results.

Parents and children need to sit together with love and trust between them. Timely intervention by the parents can save children from negative effects of peer pressure. Children can be made aware that they can have better end results with fruitful peers. Never tell them to abandon their peers, you will lose their trust that way. Just show them the way to the brighter side of the path on which they are marching. Guide them to have peers with whom they can build up a life that is meaningful.

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