Peer Pressure and Bullying Behaviour
Childline defines peer pressure as:
‘feeling like you have to do something just because all of your friends are doing it.’
Some examples of peer pressure can be more obvious than others, such as being pressured to engage in a certain activity, such as drinking, or to go to a certain party. It is important to recognise that other types of peer pressure can be less direct, such as pressure to dress in a particular way or to go along with the crowd to gain approval.
Most people will have to deal with peer pressure at some point in their life. Peer pressure can sometimes have a positive influence, for example you could be encouraged by your peers to be an Upstander against bullying behaviour. However, sometimes it can also have a negative impact. For instance, you might feel pressured into doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe or to engage in negative behaviour such as bullying behaviour.
Links between bullying behaviour and peer pressure
It can be easy to give in to peer pressure for several reasons. For instance, you might feel you need to do what others are doing because you ‘want to be liked’ or ‘to fit in’ (KidsHealth, 2015). You might also give into peer pressure because you ‘fear being teased or physically hurt for not conforming’ (Reach Out).
At The Diana Award, we define bullying behaviour as:
‘repeated, negative behaviour that is intended to make someone feel upset, uncomfortable and unsafe.’
Often, we assume that we can only experience bullying behaviour from people we do not know well. However, if you are feeling pressured by your friends to do something you do not want to do and this is making you feel upset or uncomfortable, this is still not okay.
It is important to remember that you and your friends will not necessarily like the same things, and if they are a true friend, they will respect your decision to not join in. You should never have to experience bullying behaviour or teasing for saying no to something you do not want to do.
Here at The Diana Award, we have come up with some advice and thinking points to help you when experiencing peer pressure:
- Establish boundaries
Standing up to your friends and going against the crowd can be intimidating but it is so important to establish clear boundaries with your friends. Honesty and communication are important in any friendship; once you have let your friends know how you feel, they should respect your point of view.
You can do this by saying: ‘I don’t feel comfortable doing this and would appreciate if you stopped asking me to.’
It can be challenging but it’s important to try to be as clear as you can, so your friend can fully understand your point of view. For example, if you are being pressured to go to a party which you do not want to go to, try saying: ‘Thank you for inviting me but I think I'll skip this one out, I don’t feel very comfortable going. I hope you all have fun and let’s make sure to do something else next week!’ Real friends will respect your decision.
- Surround yourself with good friends
If your friends do not respect your boundaries and continue to put pressure on you, then it might be worth reflecting on who you surround yourself with. If you have a passion or a hobby, why not try joining a new extra-curricular club? By extending your friendship circle and surrounding yourself with people who share similar interests to you, this can help relieve some of the pressure to join in with activities you don’t want to do.
- Try not to judge
Although you may have different opinions, it is important to still try to not judge your peers who may be pressurising you. Childline emphasises the importance of respect and notes that ‘by respecting their choices, they should respect yours.’
- Speak up
Speak with a friend or trusted adult (like a parent/carer or teacher) about what is happening. They will be able to listen and offer support. You could also contact a support service like The Diana Award or Childline; (you can find details at the bottom of this article). If you are ever in immediate danger, call the emergency services (999 in the UK and Ireland).
What to do if you are being peer pressured into bullying someone
The Anti-Bullying Alliance notes that bullying behaviour is a ‘group phenomenon’ and many children feel pressure to ‘impress other children’ in order to fit in. Partaking in or being a bystander to bullying behaviour is never ok but you can change your behaviour if you have been a bystander or displayed bullying behaviour in the past; at The Diana Award, we encourage and train young people to be ‘Upstanders’, which is someone who speaks out against harmful behaviour and offers their support to anyone going through it. Anyone can become an Upstander. You can be an Upstander by:
- Speaking out
If you feel safe to do so, stand up to the person who is encouraging you to engage in bullying behaviour and tell them that you are not comfortable doing this and that their behaviour is wrong. If one person stands up to the perpetrator, this can shift the group’s mentality and give others who are also being pressured the confidence to be an Upstander.
- Checking in
If you have witnessed someone experience bullying behaviour, make sure to check in on the person and ask if they are okay. This shows that you care and are there to listen if they want to talk. This is a small question but it can make a big difference.
- Telling an adult
If you do not feel comfortable speaking out at the time, you can still be an Upstander by telling a trusted adult or teacher at your school. They will be able to support you and address the bullying behaviour which may be taking place. Sometimes, young people tell us they are worried about being called a ‘snitch’ or a ‘snake’; it’s important to consider how you would feel if you were the one experiencing bullying behaviour – you'd probably want someone to help you and, by telling a trusted adult, they will be able to support the person experiencing bullying behaviour. You can think of it like this: ‘snitching’ gets someone into trouble. ‘Reporting’ gets someone out of trouble. So it’s important to report any bullying behaviour you see or hear about.
- Reaching out to your Anti-Bullying Ambassadors
Get in touch with your Anti-Bullying Ambassador team at your school and offer to help run campaigns that seek to educate students and staff on peer pressure.
The Diana Award Crisis Messenger – Provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you are a young person in crisis, you can text DA to 85258. Trained volunteers will listen to how you’re feeling and help you think through the next step towards feeling better.
Childline – offers help to anyone under the age of 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through.