Positive or negative peer pressure? A life changing choice for a teenager

Positive or negative peer pressure? A life changing choice for a teenager

“All successful people have a goal. No-one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.”  (Norman Vincent Peale (1898 – 1993)

Can you remember times as a teenager when you allowed negative peer pressure to influence your choices? Why was that? What impact did those choices have on your teenage years? Lessons learnt?

Over the years I have done a lot of work in High or Secondary Schools, attended by 13 to 19-year old students. One of the greatest issues I confronted was the effect of peer pressure on the lives of these students.

It is seen in the negative attitude to ‘anything’ that is said. It is seen in the way students, who want to ask questions, who want to get involved in an activity or who want to answer questions remain silent for fear of what their peers might say. It is supposedly not ‘cool’ to try too hard. Sometimes there are deeper reasons that complicate things even more, as will be evident in the four stories I’ll share in this Blog.

Rachel’s story – the power of negative peer pressure

I heard the story about Rachel (not her real name), who did really well at Primary School. However, when she moved to High or Senior School she only just passed her exams – 50%, 51%, those types of marks. When challenged, she admitted that she did not want to lose her friends, so she was just doing enough to get through. And, having been an enthusiastic class participant, she also retreated into herself so she did not stand out amongst her peers.

Rachel’s story will be familiar to most readers, I am sure.

Letter 2 a Teen – all the support and encouragement a teenager needs

In Letter 2 a Teen, which I wrote as a genuine letter to any teenager trying to find their way during one of the most confusing times of their lives, I have addressed this issue in so many ways all the way through the user-friendly book filled with heaps of tips and explanatory diagrams.

The bottom line is that, as a teenager, I must choose to strive to become the best person I can be. When I make that decision, I am going to have to make some choices and what will help me is to have a significant, non-judgmental Cheerleader in my life, a mentor or a teacher or a coach. Great, too, if my parents are encouraging and supportive.

What I have seen over the years in young people who make those choices has been quite amazing.

Chris’ story – courage under pressure

I think, for example, of Chris (not his real name). Chris joined a mentoring program I was running, as he started abusing alcohol, getting into trouble with his parents and school authorities and being attracted by negative peer pressure.

During the next nine months his volunteer adult mentor spent time exploring Chris’ interests, looking at what was possible and a whole lot more. This mentor (let’s call him Pete) helped Chris work through all the issues that were leading to his antisocial behavior.

At all times Chris made the final choices about his behavior and sometimes the choices were not great.

However, after a 12 month mentoring relationship Chris acknowledged that he was focused on going to University to obtain an Engineering degree and Pete had helped him realize that he was wasting his talents and potential hanging out with disruptive and negative so-called friends, most of whom were going nowhere fast, were likely to make some costly mistakes and probably not reach their potential.

Chris made some crucial choices at just the right time in his life.

Linda’s story – a transformation

Linda (not her real name) was in a similar situation to Chris, though she was lying and vandalising property and displaying other antisocial behaviour tendencies just to stay ‘cool’ with her friends. Linda went on a similar journey with her mentor, who we shall call Patti, to that experienced by Chris.

Patti asked some tough questions and refused to listen to any lying or excuses Linda might offer. She even helped Linda gain some work experience at a hairdressing salon, as Linda was interested in that type of work.

Linda’s life was transformed during that mentoring journey and she became a happy teenager, doing well and was most definitely on the road to becoming the best she could be when the formal mentoring program ended..

I think Linda was even offered a casual position at the salon because of her positive attitude there.

Both Linda and Chris learned to be goal getters as well and this significantly affected their attitude to school, to family and to life in general.

Barry’s story – overcoming adversity

Then there was Barry (not his real name). How well I remember Barry, aged 15, and a real handful.

Barry gave all his teachers a lot of grief and reached the stage when they no longer wanted him in the classroom.

As I was the School Principal, Barry now became my problem. Ought I to keep him in the school or to ask his parents to remove him?

First I had to speak to Barry myself.

I remember how we sat chatting in my office for about two hours. We talked about all sorts of things, though I kept bringing the conversation back to the fact that, if Barry wanted to remain at the school, he would need to understand the importance of becoming a positive member of the community.

I always ask this question when I talk about discipline issues with uncooperative students: Imagine what would happen if cars arrived at a 4-way intersection, all the traffic lights were broken and the drivers decided to keep on driving. What would the result be?

Well, of course, the answer is likely to be that there would be road carnage. So, I explain to the student, in the same way as the roads have rules, so do schools and communities. It’s in the best interests of the community if students cooperate and support the rules that were, in fact, agreed on by the students at the beginning of each school year. That was the case in that particular school ie, at the beginning of each year students were divided into groups of between 10 and 15 and they would spend a few hours with a teacher discussing the school’s Code of Conduct. I would collate all the results of the discussions and then our Parent, Teacher, Student Committee would have some input before the Code of Conduct was finalized and sent to all parents.

Barry understood all this and we parted on positive terms, though I did tell him that I would have to call his parents in to discuss his behavior. If his negative, insolent behavior continued, I would suspend him from school and his parents would need to understand this.

It took a few days to contact his parents and arrange a chat. They were very polite, supportive and understanding.

Only after I had met the parents did I hear that Barry’s father had an alcohol problem and, whenever he started drinking, Barry would flee the house in terror, sometimes not even sleeping at home on a particular evening. Yet he would be at school on the next day.

Had I known that I would have called Barry in again and told him that I admired his courage and perseverance in coming to school on time in such difficult circumstances.

But I did not know what I discovered later, so never had that opportunity. Certainly Barry’s home difficulties explained some of his antisocial behavior.

Barry’s behavior did improve considerably and, when I left the school some months later and went to fetch my daughter from a party one evening, there was Barry. He came to my window, put his hand through the open window and shook my hand warmly, thanking me for all I had done for him and genuinely wishing me happiness in the future.

I often think about Barry and wonder what he is doing these days, as he will now be a young man in his mid-thirties.

Why do I share this story with you?


Well, it’s all about resiliency, having the ability to bounce back from tough times. What I know now is a great deal about resiliency and I could have contributed a significant amount more to Barry’s life had I been able to name and identify at least one of his resilient qualities.

Why? Because I could have shared with him a quality he has that he will always know he has, so when the going is tough, he will be aware of the fact that he has at least one special quality that will help him to bounce back.

For example, I have a great sense of humor and I know that, when life is tough, my sense of humor will often get me through difficult situations.

What about you? Any particular stand-out strength/s? Love of Learning, relationships, spirituality, perceptiveness, independence, creativity, competence, initiative, perseverance, optimistic, self-worth?

Wondering what happened to Rachel? In her penultimate year at School she took part in a Drama activity and so enjoyed it, gained recognition at the school and, almost overnight, decided that it was time to up her game, which she did and achieved great success in her final year at school.

How important it is for mentors to promote the goal getting, resilient approach within their mentees which so often leads to these young people surrounding themselves with positive peers as they chase their dreams – life-changing times.

About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in New Zealand and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Facebook or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website  Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.