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• Introduction

Peer pressure arises from an individual’s need to have the approval and acceptance of his or her equals. It is a behavioral pattern that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. However, there is probably no one time in an individual’s life when the influence of peer pressure is stronger than in adolescence. At the same time that teenagers are struggling to declare independence from their parents, they are striving to win the acceptance and support of friends and classmates. They are, in fact, struggling to belong—to become part of a group that will help provide security and an emerging sense of identity. This quest for peer approval motivates much of an adolescent’s behavior.

Often, peer pressure can be a positive force in a teenager’s life. The advice of friends can help teens make the right decision in a tough situation. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with trying to conform; belonging to a group can help adolescents begin the complicated process of separating from their parents and developing their own, increasingly independent identities. However, when bowing to peer pressure means betraying personal beliefs and values, peer pressure becomes a negative force.

In this four-part program, Coping with Peer Pressure: Getting Along without Going Along, teenagers are encouraged to examine both positive and negative peer pressure. In Part One, peer pressure is defined and its role in a teenager’s life is explored. Students are left to consider a key question: “Are you doing what you think is right…or are you giving in to peer pressure?” The second part of the program expands on this theme. Dramatic vignettes are used to illustrate many ways in which peer pressure affects teenagers’ lives. Part Three of this program examines how peer pressure can lead to alcohol and drug abuse. The last part of the program discusses positive peer pressure, looking at the organization known as SADD (Students Against Driving Drunk).

Before teenagers can learn when to say “no” to peer pressure, they must learn exactly what they are rejecting, and why. The scripts, discussion questions and activities in this guide are an important first step in initiating this self-awareness.

• Program Objectives

This program is designed to:

• Define peer pressure and demonstrate how teenagers respond to it.

• Discuss the adolescent’s particular vulnerability to peer pressure.

• Examine how teenagers’ decision-making processes are influenced by peer pressure.

• Demonstrate how peer pressure can result in both a lack of independence and irresponsible behavior.

• Summary

Part One

• Defines peer pressure.

• Explains why peer pressure is an especially strong force in the life of a teenager.

• Discusses why teenagers find peer pressure hard to resist.

• Reminds teenagers to consider the reliability of anyone who offers them advice.

Part Two

• Points out that people of all ages are vulnerable to peer pressure.

• Looks at some of the benefits of belonging to a group.

• Emphasizes the importance of using independent judgment when making a decision.

• Illustrates how competing for peer approval can result in irresponsible and thoughtless behavior.

• Discusses times when the need for peer acceptance conflicts with beliefs and values.

Part Three

• Looks at several teenagers who gave in to peer pressure when faced with choices about alcohol and drugs.

• Examines positive peer pressure, demonstrating how the advice of a trusted friend helps one teenager make a difficult decision.

Part Four

• Points out that most teenagers who drink say peer pressure played a major role in their decision to use alcohol.

• Contrasts negative peer pressure with the growing phenomenon of positive peer pressure.

• Stresses the important role played by adult authority figures that demonstrate confidence in teenagers.

• Introduces the organization SADD (Students Against Driving Drunk)—a group based on the concept of positive peer pressure.

• Questions for Discussion and Review

Part One

1. Why did Richie paint the graffiti on the car? What would you have done in his place?

2. What is a peer? What is peer pressure?

3. Why is peer pressure such an important force in a teenager’s life?

4. How does winning the approval of your peers differ from winning the approval of your parents?

5. Have you ever been tempted to do things to impress or please your friends? What happened? Would you act the same today? Why or why not?

6. Why is it so important to feel that you’re a part of a group? What groups do you want to be a part of in school? Why?

7. Do you think that making a decision based on the judgment of others is true independence?

8. Have you ever relied on someone else’s judgment when making an important decision? Was the advice you received good or bad?

9. Can you think of instances when peer pressure can be a good thing? Explain your answers.

Part Two

1. What are some of the ways that adults are subjected to peer pressure?

2. According to this part of the program, “For almost every teenager, there are times when wearing the latest fashions or keeping up with the latest hairstyles can be terribly important.” Do you agree or disagree? Do you think this statement is equally true of teenagers and adults? Explain your answer.

3. What made Peggy decide to take off her makeup and go back to the basketball court? How did she feel afterwards?

4. Has there ever been a time when competing for peer approval made you unintentionally hurt someone? Describe this event, how you felt about it at the time and how you feel about it now.

5. List some of the beliefs most important to you in life. What would you do if someone tried to talk you into acting against these beliefs?

Part Three

1. How can peer pressure affect your decisions about taking drugs or drinking alcohol?

2. Why are alcohol and drugs considered health risks?

3. How did peer pressure contribute to Gary’s drinking problem?

4. Did Laurie consider the legal consequences of smoking marijuana before making her decision to light up?

5. Have you ever been in a situation similar to Gary or Laurie’s? Did the advice or pressure of friends influence you in any way?

6. What is meant by positive peer pressure? Can you think of a time when you found peer pressure helpful?

7. Do you think peer pressure influences a teenager’s decisions about having sex? Explain your answer.

Part Four

1. Why might teenagers be especially likely to succumb to peer pressure in situations involving alcohol or drugs?

2. If you have ever given in to peer pressure in situations involving alcohol or drugs, how did you feel about it afterwards?

3. What shift have youth counselors like Louise Wiley noticed recently in relation to teen peer pressure?

4. Have you noticed any signs of a similar shift in your own school?

5. How can positive feedback from adults build a teenager’s self-esteem? Describe a recent experience in which an adult clearly valued your opinion or assistance.

6. What are the goals of the organization known as SADD?

7. Describe a situation in which you utilized positive peer pressure to help a friend. Describe a situation in which someone tried to help you by applying positive peer pressure.

• Related Activities

1. Organize a class discussion about the effects of peer pressure on student’s lives. Discuss both positive and negative influences.

2. Ask students to keep a daily diary (for one week) in which they record the different forms of peer pressure they experience. Have students share their diary entries with the rest of the class. Discuss (or role-play) different ways your students could have dealt with these situations positively.

3. Peer pressure often results in teenagers conforming to a set of values at odds with their own beliefs. Discuss this concept together, and use your discussion as a springboard for the following activities:

Have students create a collage, “anthology” or shoebox-collection of pictures, poems, snapshots, treasured objects—all helping to convey the things your students value most in themselves and their lives.

Ask students to create posters, collages, mobiles or poems expressing their feelings about conformity and individuality.

On the blackboard, write the names of several revolutionary thinkers that have, in some way, changed society or the course of history. Ask students to help you add names to the list—painters, scientists, statesmen, rock stars, suffragettes, etc. Have each student prepare a brief biography about one of these independent-thinkers, focusing on how these men and women brought about change through independent thinking. Discuss how these people faced different kinds of peer pressure, examining why the world is so often hostile to those who act, live and think “differently.” Discuss how history might have been different if Galileo, Copernicus, civil rights leaders and others gave in to “peer pressure.” Have students write dramatic vignettes illustrating the difficulties these independent-thinkers faced; present your mini-dramas to other classes, adding music and props for a full dramatic presentation.

Using original student artwork and/or pictures from popular magazines and newspapers, create a bulleting board filled with film television and music “heroes” who are admired for independent thinking and “going their own way.” Discuss why your students admire these people; then discuss how your students can incorporate qualities like independent decision-making and a firm sense of personal values into their own lives.

4. Have a school counselor or therapist talk to the class about the ways peer pressure works—and how students can deal with it effectively. Have the class research any facilities in your school and community that provide counseling for teenagers.

5. Create an awareness of the consequences of those illegal activities often related to peer pressure. Ask students to research the national, state and local laws affecting minors convicted of possession or use of drugs; drunk driving; and purchasing alcohol illegally. Organize a debate about the legalization of marijuana; the legal drinking age; the reform of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) laws.

6. Have students role-play scenarios similar to the following:

Kate, 15, is trying to explain to her parents why she must have a sweater like the one everyone in her class is now wearing, even though the sweater costs almost twenty-five percent of her clothing budget for the season.

Jesse has spent the night partying with Michael and Lee. They have all had a lot to drink. Michael wants to drive Jesse and Lee across town to another party. Jesse says he wants to get home—and that since he is in no condition to drive, he wants to call his parents for a lift. (Dramatize Michael and Lee’s reaction to Jesse’s decision; any peer pressure they apply to make Jesse change his mind; and—if Jesse does not change his mind—the phone call he makes to his parents.)

Nicole has been working hard to improve her schoolwork this past semester. She has an important history test tomorrow and intends to spend the evening studying for it. At nine o’clock two of her best friends try to talk her into spending the evening at the video arcade.

It’s Kristy’s first day as a transfer student in high school. Adam offers to show her around the school; trouble arises in the cafeteria when some of Adam’s friends try to convince him to leave Kristy alone, pointing out that she just “doesn’t look like she fits in here.”

After presenting each vignette, have the players discuss how they felt in their roles. Ask the other students to offer suggestions as to how they might have hand each difficult situation.