Social Media Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is the influence that a peer group has over others that encourages them to change their attitudes or behaviours to conform to group norms. This can be both a positive and negative experience. In the past, peer pressure was associated with schools, workplaces, and other social situations where we interacted at a face-to-face level. In recent years, however, peer pressure has been extended into private homes with the development of social media networks.

Social media is a world in which people can meet, chat, and interact without ever leaving the comfort of their own homes. One fascinating aspect of social networking is the enormity of information that is shared. So how can this be harmful? Because peer pressure now follows people around via their phones and devices, and can feel relentless.

Social Media Peer Pressure Negative Effects

Let’s put this in context. Imagine a person at work where their colleagues are talking about their amazing summer holidays. They discuss the beautiful places they have been, their happy families or friends they have been with, and all the great things they did. This person may feel that their family holiday did not compare to others and that they have failed in some way. If this person has good self-esteem, they will be able to reason that these people were most likely competing with each other and therefore exaggerating the excitement of their trip, they can doubt the reality of their stories and they can feel ok about themselves.

If this person engages with social media, they will see the pictures of these holidays, smiling happy folk in pretty locations and their own sense of disappointment will be harder to shift. Although they may be able to push these feelings aside once more, this becomes more difficult as they scroll down through the news feed and sees continuous pictures of their colleagues on holidays, friends getting married, others with their new babies, the parties that they weren’t invited to and statuses describing the amazing time that everyone seems to be having. It is understandable that anyone could be left feeling inadequate after being presented with such information.

There is also an argument to be made that when we are presented with these pictures and snapshots of other lives, we naturally fill in the blanks ourselves, that they must have been the best holidays ever, or that these people must have better lives than our own. This feeling of peer pressure is much more difficult to overcome as it is self-constructed. When we construct stories in our own minds, we naturally do not doubt their reality. This can be much more harmful, as we are taking this idealised information to be true. In turn we can feel pressure to post the pictures that best present our own lives; an attractive picture of ourselves, or a status about how fantastic an event was, that was in reality mediocre.

Can Social Media ever offer us positive peer pressure?

The answer is yes. Exposure to different cultures and beliefs can help counteract negative peer pressure by encouraging people to be themselves, rather than trying to conform to what everyone else around them might be doing. Social media allows people to make friends with those who share their interests, even if they don’t live in the same area. This can help inspire a person to become the most fulfilled they can possibly be – to reach their full potential.

So what should we be doing to avoid the negative and embrace the positive aspects of social media peer pressure? Firstly it is vital to remember that everyone on social media is subjected to the same peer pressure as we are, to present the best version of themselves in order to compete with others. If you are going to benefit from peer pressure, you need to avoid taking cues from social media posts as to what defines success. Remember, you are only seeing a snapshot of the person, a moment in time. When was the last time you saw an update that said “I have put on 5kg in the last month,” or “I haven’t got as many friends as it appears”? Never. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, just that people don’t want to share those moments with the world. Getting feedback from people sharing the same interests can be valuable. It’s healthy even to have that intrinsic feeling “I want what they’ve got, how do I get it?” It only becomes problematic when it overrides common sense and leaves you feeling like a failure, unable to continue or improve.


How to Combat Social Media Peer Pressure

So next time you log on to social media, where you experience feelings of inadequacy when presented with an envious news feed, remember these tips to keep your self esteem up:

  • Tell yourself: I am only seeing a moment in time of their success and all people portray success over failure.
  • Ask yourself: What do I like about their lives? Can I draw on it to add to my own experiences?
  • Ask yourself: Is it reasonable to compare myself to this person? What are our differences?

Social media can be a positive or negative platform upon which to explore, communicate and learn about others and the world. The fact is that peer pressure will always be a part of everyone’s lives and social media can play a big part in how it affects us, which is why we must learn how to properly deal with it. Social media has the advantage of including a number of privacy options that allows us to limit who can communicate with us, enabling us to reduce the amount of negative peer pressure and to encourage positive peer pressure. If in doubt, go now to your own accounts… scroll down and imagine you are an acquaintance looking at this information for the first time. It’s likely you look pretty happy, your tan comes across nicely, and you look as if you are surrounded by friends all of the time.

Use these facts to remember, other people are the same as you, they have good days and bad, days where they feel loved and days where they feel lonely, exciting holidays and lousy summers. You are no less normal than the rest of them. Yes, if you don’t feel fulfilled, or if you feel you need to spice up your life, then absolutely go for it, that power lies within you, but don’t just do it because you think social media is telling you that you have to! Do it for you.

If you are not coping

If you feel that this is not possible for you, that you are struggling with peer pressure, or you can recognise yourself in the example but don’t know how to overcome the unhappiness you feel, please contact us for support. We offer expert Counselling and Psychotherapy to help you recognise and deal with such problems and empower you to overcome these problems on your own. We also offer Coaching, for those of you who may be happy in yourselves but would like a new direction in life.

Written by Jessica Golden, The Green Rooms Psychology Assistant, in September 2013.