Can you handle the pressure?
Anyone who’s ever been a teenager knows how strong the desire to “fit in” is. As kids, we’re so vulnerable to peer pressure, and it’s at a time when we don’t know enough about the world to comprehend the long-term of our actions.
Having sex and using drugs are the “bad” behaviors that cause the most problems and moral dilemmas for teenagers who are feeling pressured to partake. It’s estimated that 71 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol before they graduate. Studies over the years have shown, however, that in general drug use among teenagers has declined overall in the past 10 years.
But that doesn’t mean that the pressure has decreased. In fact, kids nowadays may be feeling even more pressure than ever due to how prevalent drugs are in entertainment and the media. It may seem like everyone is drinking or using drugs. Prescription drug abuse, for example, has in recent years become a hot topic.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia) performs an annual survey of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. The 2012 surveys shows how “digital peer pressure” is having more of an effect on kids than ever before. Forty-five percent of respondents said they’ve seen pictures on Facebook or other sites of their peers drinking or using drugs.
The images teens see on social networking sites online can significantly impact their views of what is “normal” teenage behavior. Of the adolescents who have seen images of substance use among their peers, 75 percent say it makes them feel encouraged to do the same, and 47 percent said the people pictured look like they’re having fun. Teens who had seen images like those were 3-4 times more likely to have tried drugs or alcohol already.
While overall drug use may be declining, the drugs that kids do use are becoming harder. Use of drugs like meth, cocaine, heroin, prescription pills, acid, and ecstasy has increased, with 52 percent of teens saying they know at least one person who has used them.
As kids grow up, most eventually become more adept at handling the peer pressure they feel and weighing the risks versus the rewards of drug use and other behaviors. As teens enter college, however, the pressure to drink is often much stronger, especially when they attend parties and approach classic milestones like their 21st birthday.
Most people will get through these times in their life just fine, but others aren’t so lucky. Peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol can lead to serious injury or death, especially with impaired teen drivers at the wheel. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that kids who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to abuse alcohol as adults.
Perhaps the most positive outcome of peer pressure is that one day those teens will be able to understand the challenges faced by their own children, especially the relatively new phenomena of digital peer pressure, and that as parents they can encourage and support their children to make healthy decisions.