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Peer Pressure: How It Affects You

By Rachael Mason
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD

teen girls looking doubtful

Have you ever done something just because your friends were around? Maybe you laughed at a joke you didn’t think was funny or ate a super spicy food on a dare. That’s a classic case of peer pressure. And most teens just have a natural sense for it, even when it’s not totally obvious that your friends are trying to influence you.

“All of us want to please our friends, so we're inclined to act in ways they approve,” says Laurence Steinberg, PhD, professor of psychology at Temple University. “It is hard to resist because we all like being accepted.”

It makes sense that your friends now have a bigger effect on how you act. You’re spending more time with them and less time with your parents than you ever have before, says Anthony Burrow, PhD, an assistant professor of human development at Cornell University.

The way your brain works also makes it very easy to give in to the suggestions of your friends. The parts that are sensitive to what others think are very easy to trigger at your age.

Peer Pressure and Your Health

You hear about peer pressure most often when it comes to really bad stuff, like cigarettes and alcohol, but your friends also can affect your attitude and even everyday decisions you make about food and exercise.

Though your friends can talk you into bad ideas, they can also help you improve your habits. “There are two good strategies,” Steinberg said. “First, pick friends who also care about being healthy. That way, the pressure you will feel will be to act in healthy ways. Second, be aware that just being around your friends can influence you, even when you're not aware of it.”

Try these tips to take on peer pressure so you won’t flake on your healthy goals.

Friends and Food. You know that moment: You’re trying to eat healthy, but your friend orders a huge plate of fries. Or someone comments when you order water instead of soda or get a fruit cup instead of chips. Don’t give into the pressure of feeling a little different. Be confident in your choices and stick to them. If you act like it’s no big deal, your friends will probably drop it.

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