For me, peer pressure comes in two forms.
The first is the one we generally think of as peer pressure. Children who are not in compliance with the current standard of ‘cool’ are excluded, teased or harassed. This could be pressure to have sex, to take drugs or other anti-social behaviors. Or it could be as simple as pressure to dress a certain way, look a certain way or like certain songs of celebrities.
The other form of peer pressure is the pressure children feel from inside themselves to be accepted. I see it even in my 1st grade daughter. Children are constantly scanning their environment to find what’s ‘cool’, how they should act and dress. Coincidentally enough, I was showing my wife a Facebook picture of my very first major crush. The caption to the picture of her and two other girls from 1972 said, “Believe it or not this was who we scoped for what to wear the next day.” Many adolescents feel insecure and ‘not enough’ and they look to others they see as being ‘enough.’ By emulating their behavior, dress and even language, they hope to become ‘enough’ themselves. Ironically, even the ‘popular’ children generally feel exactly as confused, they just happen to be confused and popular.
The first kind of pressure is comparatively easy to combat. In my classroom there would be a crystal clear rule about respect for others. Anything designed to diminish a classmate would not be allowed within range of my sense (or my disciplinary reach, to the extent it is brought to my attention). The second is harder to combat. The message must be communicated that all adolescents struggle with identity, feelings of inadequacy, and not fitting in. Accepting those feelings as normal, developmental, and hormonal (as opposed to ‘real’) would be a small step towards reducing their power. A second step would be passing the message that each person is enough in themselves. The trick for each individual is to find and accept who they are and why they are here. Accepting “Who I am and who I’m not” is a huge step towards silencing internal and external peer group pressure.