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, work places 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, particularly Facebook.
Facebook is a world in where people can meet, chat and interact without ever leaving the comfort of their own home. 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 computers and can feel relentless.
Let’s put this in the context. Imagine a man at work where his colleagues are talking about their amazing summer holidays. They discuss the beautiful places they have been, their happy families or friends they been with and all the great things they did. This man may feel that his family holiday did not compare to others, and that he has failed in some way. If this man has good self-esteem, he will be able to reason that these people were most likely competing with each other and therefore exaggerating the excitement of their own trip, he can doubt the reality of their stories and he can feel ok about himself.
If this man engages with Facebook he will see the pictures of these holidays, smiling happy folk in pretty locations and his own sense of disappointment will be harder to shift. Although he may be able to push these feelings aside once more, this becomes more difficult as he scrolls down through the news feed and sees continuous pictures of his colleagues on holidays, his friends getting married, others with their new babies, the parties that he wasn’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 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 Facebook 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 to inspire a person to be the best person 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 Facebook peer pressure? Firstly it is vital to remember that everyone on Facebook 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 5 pounds 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.
So next time you log on to Facebook, 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 success in my life?
- Ask yourself: Is it reasonable to compare myself to this person? What are our differences?
Facebook 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 facebook page… scroll down on your own “wall” and imagine you are an acquaintance looking at this information for the first time. I bet 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, these 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 Facebook is telling you that you have to! Do it for you.
If you feel that this is not possible for you, that you are struggling with peer pressure, or you can recognise yourself in the man 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 are often able to offer reduced rates for people who are financially challenged. 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 in September 2013.
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