Handling Peer Pressure in College

You might think that once you’re in college, your days of peer pressure are in the past. But the truth is that college students continue to be at risk from negative peer pressure, especially since they’re now likely to be away from positive influences at home. Learn about the potential dangers of peer pressure and how to stand up to it.

What Is Peer Pressure?

Peer pressure is pressure exerted by others to make certain decisions. Some peer pressure is positive because it can encourage students to work harder to perform better in school. Other types of peer pressure are negative, encouraging behaviors or actions that are wrong or harmful. The type of peer pressure experienced by college students is often different than what younger students experience. As many college students battle feelings of loneliness and insecurity, they can be especially prone to giving in to peer pressure as they try to fit in. Students might feel pressured to continue unhealthy relationships or engage in destructive behaviors, and often, one bad decision begins a cascade of unhealthy events that can have devastating effects.

Types of Peer Pressure in College

Peer pressure can take many different forms. Pressure to dress in certain ways to fit in can be a strong influence. Students who feel like they need specific types or brands of clothing might be tempted to overspend, or they could even begin stealing. Pressure to conform to body image ideals can also be strong. It’s common for people to begin dieting or exercising to try to be a part of a social group, which can lead to an eating disorder. Excessive peer pressure to achieve good grades might lead to students cheating. Peer pressure to engage in dangerous activities such as drinking alcohol and drug use is also far too common. Students who are feeling stressed or lonely may be more likely to give in to pressure to use alcohol or drugs. Using drugs and alcohol can lead to many health problems, including addiction.

How to Deal With Peer Pressure

College students can use several strategies to counteract peer pressure. First, it’s important to choose friends wisely. Friends should be supportive and uplifting, not negative and controlling. Avoid friendships that feel negative or uncomfortable. An over-dependence on one friend group can also lead to problems. Instead, students should try to form a wide range of friendships so they have a large network of friends and acquaintances who can counteract bad influences. College often involves a variety of new activities, and students who engage in lots of different activities are more likely to learn more and feel more confident, too. It’s also important to realize that some degree of loneliness is expected in college, especially at first. It’s OK to feel lonely, but students shouldn’t allow this feeling to lead them to do things that they don’t want to do. Anytime something doesn’t feel right, students should be ready to refuse. Practicing different ways to say “no” can also be helpful. If pressure becomes too much, students should reach out to speak with someone about it.

How Parents and Colleges Can Help

Parents can help students navigate peer pressure successfully in college by keeping lines of communication open so that students feel comfortable coming to them if issues arise. Parents may also help them brainstorm exit options to get out of uncomfortable situations. Parents should extend a safety net for college kids so they always feel like they have someone to call for help. When parents show confidence in their kids’ decisions and abilities, the students are more likely to feel confidence as well. College administrators can also have an impact on negative peer pressure by instituting firm policies about substance use and bullying and offering counseling services.