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When you hear the word “peer pressure,” what do you think about? Drugs, stealing, bullying, maybe? But, what about the positive aspects of peer pressure? The pressure to conform isn't necessarily negative.
Let me give you an example. My friends and I were at the skate park the other day and a couple of them were “dropping in,” or going off a steep ramp. These ramps are usually the biggest attraction at skate parks, but they can also be intimidating. I stood up at the top of the ramp. It looked a lot steeper there than from the ground. I didn't feel confident enough to take the plunge, and was about to call it quits when my friends’ pressure from below convinced me to give it a try. I was still scared, but managed to go through with it. It was a ton of fun. And it was all thanks to my friends’ pressure.
There are many things that, left to our own devices, we wouldn’t try. I know that a lot of my friends have done things they wouldn’t do without peer pressure. Sure, some of that is negative, like bullying, but in my experience the vast majority is positive. If it weren't for peer pressure, lots of my friends would have spent much of last year slumped on the couch. Instead, I joined the track team with some guys and we pressured a bunch of others to join so we'd have more friends on the team. They didn't even like to run, but they succumbed to the pressure. We all ended up having a great time.
Our parents are overly concerned about “peer pressure.” Before we go out, they’ll lecture us about the dangers. I understand their worries: they don’t want us smoking, stealing, having sex or vandalizing buildings. But, it’s unrealistic to tell us not to succumb to peer pressure when the most likely form of peer pressure we’ll experience is “C’mon, dance!”
To keep us safe, just set out some concrete, reasonable rules. For example, if we’re going to the skate park, tell us to wear our helmet. Don’t expect us to bulk up with wrist guards, kneepads and elbow-pads. If you send us out with all those expectations, we’re likely to abandon it all (even the helmet). You also have to trust our common sense: you’ve raised us well, so there’s no need to give us an hour lecture on why drugs are bad. This will leave us with resentment—the last thing you want us to have. Most of all, relax. You've done your job. We know right from wrong and good from bad. As long as we're in a relatively safe environment you don’t need to worry about peer pressure. More often than not, it's a good thing.
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