Written By Aakanksha Yelishala
Class XI student at Manthan School, Hyderabad, India
In today’s world, social media has become an integral part of adolescents’ lives. Statistical reports confirm that in the USA, adolescents have the highest level of internet/social media usage amongst all age groups. 92% of adolescents are active on the internet daily, and on average, they are active on at least four different social media platforms. 95% of American teenagers have access to smartphones, and 45% of adolescents report being online frequently, according to a 2018 study by the PEW Research Center. It is worth noting that while 31% of the teenagers felt that social media mostly has a positive impact on their age group and 24% of them felt that social media’s impact is negative, the majority (45%) of adolescents felt that it was irrelevant because it has had neither positive nor negative effects.
However, given the rising trends in the use of social media, I felt intrigued to dig deeper. This article summarizes my observations along with literature reviews on how social media platforms impact today’s youth. Dealing with peer pressure is among the most prominent issues that adolescents face. Peer pressure can be defined as feeling the need to act, look, think or behave in a certain way to receive appreciation, validation and a sense of being accepted by friends, family and peers.
How does social media aggravate peer pressure?
In a survey conducted by the PEW Research Center (USA), some teenagers expressed that social media most likely harms their age group owing to an unrealistic view of others’ lives. In modern times, social media offers a platform where people might make irrational assessments of others’ lives based on a few snapshots and reels, leading to unmindful comparisons and unrealistic expectations, creating insecurities and increased mental health issues. The mental health of teenagers is the worst affected, with symptoms of social anxiety, depression, loneliness, and a sense of inadequacy.
Social networks could make young people vulnerable to making risky decisions or choices, which include but are not limited to drugs, alcohol, risky sexual behaviour, and violence. Studies by Brown et al. (2008) explained this process in two steps – the first comprises a phenomenon known as “behavioural display”, which suggests that individuals mimic their peers’ behaviours to be socially desirable. The study identified this as a social-desirability bias, wherein respondents to the survey tend to provide socially acceptable answers. This bias can be extended to social media as well. In the study by Sherman et al., (2016), the number of “likes” received on posts was used as a “Quantifiable Social Endorsement”. Essentially for users, “likes” are a numerically measurable indicator of how their peers are receiving various posts, and therefore, “likes” can also be seen as their indicator of socially desirable behaviours.
The second step described in the study by Brown et al. (2008) is “behavioural reinforcement”. Social media is a platform where adolescents can immediately receive feedback on their activities and posts. As a result, socially desirable behaviour, regardless of the level of risk, is likely to be adopted and continued by teenagers through a chain of positive feedback on their posts and social media presence.
Both of these phenomena significantly pressurize adolescents to conform to their peers’ behaviours in an attempt to be accepted and appreciated.
How does social media influence teenagers’ brains and behaviour?
Sherman’s study (2016) reported that the chances of adolescents “liking” a certain post was much higher if it had a greater number of likes by peers, regardless of how risky the behaviour in the post was. Neuroimaging studies detected heightened brain activity when viewing more “liked” photographs, an indicator that the participants viewed popular posts with greater attentiveness than less popular posts. Significantly heightened activation of the brain areas was also observed when viewing their own images/posts with more “likes”, relative to when viewing posts from other people, a depiction of behavioural reinforcement. Sherman’s study also demonstrated that the adolescents’ brains showed dulled activity when they saw social media images/posts which depicted risky behaviours and were popular (received a lot of “likes”). This suggests that teenagers are more likely to view such risky behaviours as pleasure-deriving activities, and thereby themselves partake in those activities.
A recent study (Arain et al., 2013) also reported that in teenagers, certain critical regions in the prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in decision-making processes, are not yet fully developed, thus increasing their likelihood of participating in pleasure-seeking, risky behaviours relative to adults.
Do we fear FOMO on social media?
Peer pressure has always been a common stressor for adolescents, but has been exacerbated by the emergence of social media. Some experts say that one of the key factors differentiating peer pressure on social media from peer pressure in real life is “permanence” (“Role of Social Media in Peer Pressure among Teens.” Secureteen.com). Since every action on social media leaves a strong digital footprint, any hate or rejection received by adolescents from their peers on social media is permanent. It’s difficult for teenagers to leave their past behind for the fear that they will be judged throughout their lives. This in turn can pressurize them to conform to their peer group. Beyond this, social media also normalizes risky behaviour. Through social media platforms, adolescents are exposed to behaviours like drug usage on a much more regular basis than in the past. Consistently interacting with disturbing and provocative posts can normalize such behaviours among teenagers, and they may stop realizing the potential risks involved.
Additionally, a study by Eggermont and Frison (2016) reported that social media has been observed to create anxiety in the form of the “fear of missing out”, commonly known as FOMO. FOMO can encourage teens to constantly use these platforms in the fear that they will miss out on key updates and the latest posts, or will be left behind in terms of the latest trend, yet again catering to their constant need of peer validation.
How do social media influencers worsen peer pressure?
In the past few years, we have witnessed the emergence of social media “influencers”. A study by Ellison and Fudenberg (1995) found that almost every time, users’ decisions tend to be influenced by the decisions of their peers, even when choosing between identical products. Marketing firms use the concept of peer influence and social media platforms as an advertisement strategy, and consumers’ decisions are hence largely affected by social media influencers. Because consumers associate with trust, using social media influencers, who share their personal experiences, turns out to be an effective advertising technique.
According to a 2018 literature review (by Kaijanto), influencers can impact adolescents’ decisions in terms of making certain choices by encouraging decisions that are peer approved. This in turn has a multiplier effect where the larger the peer group of an influencer is, the more consistent the opinions/decisions of the group become.
The problem emerges when adolescents are unable to differentiate between the influencer’s commercial opinions (paid reviews, political views, etc) and personal opinions. Additionally, sometimes followers may feel pressured to purchase products endorsed by the influencers. However, unable to have financial means to afford them, the teenagers may resort to theft or other deceitful activity to obtain those products.
Writing hateful comments, trolling or cyberbullying has also become a prevalent issue among social media users. An inability to live up to the society’s expectations or inability to accept rejections, can get teenagers involved in self-destructive activities or targeted hate crimes, which unfortunately only magnify their feelings of hopelessness and vulnerability. Cyberbullying has been found to have a profound impact on victims who, as a result, suffer from depression, anxiety, isolation, and even suicide. Social media platforms have also increased access to self-harming activities like suicide pacts and forums that encourage suicidal tendencies in teenagers. The PEW survey also found that bullying and spreading rumours were major concerns cited by adolescents who felt social media had a negative impact on their age group.
How can we use social media to deal with peer pressure?
Social media has created positive peer-to-peer influence as well, including the encouragement of healthy lifestyles, and encouraging teenagers to pick up new hobbies by observing their friends and family. Social media can also act as a getaway from certain stressors that adolescents are facing in their personal lives, though again, there are healthy limits to this, and once those are surpassed, social media may become an escape from reality, discouraging adolescents from addressing their problems in real life.
Adolescents get opportunities to meet like-minded individuals through social media platforms and also find mental support that allows them to deal better with peer pressure or any stress in general. It was found that of the teenagers who felt that social media had a mostly positive impact on their age group, 15% attributed it to meeting others with the same interests and 9% attributed it to social media being a good source of entertainment, which kept them upbeat. 7% attributed it to self-expression and 5% to getting support from others. Interestingly, the two most popular reasons were connecting with friends and family (40%) and increased ease in finding information (16%), both of which don’t directly address or alleviate peer pressure.
Social media can have many positive effects on adolescents, however, it’s important to ensure that teens are aware of how to maintain their privacy and remain safe online, to ensure that no harm comes to them through interacting with strangers on social media.
In summary, social media is a key part of teens’ lives today, and its impact on adolescents in terms of peer pressure is worth studying and addressing. Social media has been shown to induce peer pressure through behavioural display, reinforcement, and the amplification of the social desirability bias. As their brains are still developing, teens are more likely to partake in risky behaviours, making them the most obvious victims of peer pressure. Social media also introduces an aspect of permanence, pushing teens to conform with societal norms to avoid rejection. It normalizes risky behaviour, and also creates FOMO, reinforcing the pressure to recreate socially desirable behaviour. Social media can drastically increase unrealistic expectations, which causes the deterioration of mental health in teenagers, and also pushes them towards addiction and self-destructive behaviours.
On the other hand, it has enabled many adolescents to meet like-minded people or groups for mental support and it has also encouraged healthy lifestyles through peer influence, as well as acting as a source of stress relief and entertainment. Social media has certainly proven to be a double-edged sword, especially in terms of peer pressure amongst adolescents – it is important to acknowledge the benefits of social media, but the dangers cannot be ignored. On the way forward, it is important for us to ensure that we are educating adolescent users about these risks and empowering them to make informed decisions without succumbing to peer pressure.
I would like to thank Kiran Pandey, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University, for her thoughtful comments and suggestions while writing this article.
- Sherman, L. E., Payton, A. A., Hernandez, L. M., Greenfield, P. M., & Dapretto, M. (2016). The Power of the Like in Adolescence: Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media. Psychological science, 27(7), 1027–1035. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797616645673
- Nesi, J., Choukas-Bradley, S., & Prinstein, M. J. (2018). Transformation of Adolescent Peer Relations in the Social Media Context: Part 2-Application to Peer Group Processes and Future Directions for Research. Clinical child and family psychology review, 21(3), 295–319. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-018-0262-9
- Bilby, E., & Buijzen, M. (2017, June 30). Social media peer pressure used to help adolescents live healthier lives. Horizon Magazine. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/social-media-peer-pressure-used-help-adolescents-live-healthier-lives
- Role of Social Media in Peer Pressure among Teens. (2016, January 19). Secureteen.Com. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://www.secureteen.com/peer-pressure/peer-pressure-and-teens-social-media-is-the-culprit/
- How Social Media Influences Teens. Youthtrainingsolutions.com. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2021, from https://youthtrainingsolutions.com/news/how-social-media-influences-teens/
- Johnson, K. (2015, December 29). Peer pressure multiplied through social media. The Oxford Eagle. https://www.oxfordeagle.com/2015/12/29/peer-pressure-multiplied-through-social-media/
- Kaijanto, Risto. “Peer Influence in Social Media.” Aaltodoc, 2018, https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/35794.
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How does social media affect peer pressure? ›
Although at first little was known about how social media impacts teens, the effects of social media on teens has become apparent. Research on social media and teens has revealed that technology may increase peer pressure and bullying while also resulting in increased substance use and mental health concerns.How does social media affect teenagers peer pressure? ›
However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure. The risks might be related to how much social media teens use.What are 5 negative effects of social media? ›
- Inadequacy about your life or appearance. ...
- Fear of missing out (FOMO). ...
- Isolation. ...
- Depression and anxiety. ...
- Cyberbullying. ...
- Self-absorption. ...
- A fear of missing out (FOMO) can keep you returning to social media over and over again.
Negative peer pressure can lead teens in bad directions. It could lead them to try alcohol or drugs, skip school or engage in other poor behaviors that could put their health at risk. “A teenager's brain is only about 80 percent developed,” says Gurinder Dabhia, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo.What is peer pressure and examples? ›
Peer pressure is when you are influenced by other people (your peers) to act in a certain way. If you're with friends who are doing something that you typically would not do and they convince you to do what they are doing, that is an example of peer pressure.What are the main causes of peer pressure? ›
Some kids give in to peer pressure because they want to be liked or they think it helps them fit in. Some worry that other kids might tease them if they don't go along with the group. Others go along because they are curious. Maybe they want to try something that others are doing.How social media affects students? ›
It is easy to become addicted, and research shows that students who spend too much time on social media can suffer from poor sleep, eye fatigue, negative body image, depression, anxiety, cyberbullying, and more.How can we prevent peer pressure? ›
- Pay attention to how you feel. ...
- Plan ahead. ...
- Talk to the person who is pressuring, let him or her know how it makes you feel and tell the person stop.
- Have a secret code to communicate with parents. ...
- Give an excuse. ...
- Have friends with similar values and beliefs.
Many teens in relationships view social media as a place where they can feel more connected with the daily contours of their significant other's life, share emotional connections and let their significant other know they care – although these sites can also lead to feelings of jealousy or uncertainty about the ...What are the advantages and disadvantages of social media? ›
|Pros of Social Media||Cons of Social Media|
|People Can Connect Through Social Media||Reduces Face-to-face Communication Skills|
|Good Source of Up-to-Date Information||Fake News|
|Social Media Is Beneficial to Education||People's Addiction to Social Media|
How can we solve the negative impact of social media? ›
- Spend less time on social platforms. ...
- Don't scroll first thing in the morning or before bed. ...
- Turn off notifications and only check social media at certain times. ...
- Use social media on a device that's not your phone. ...
- Create a feel-good follow list.
The more time spent on social media can lead to cyberbullying, social anxiety, depression, and exposure to content that is not age appropriate. Social Media is addicting. When you're playing a game or accomplishing a task, you seek to do it as well as you can.What are some effects of peer pressure? ›
Negative peer pressure can also affect mental health. It can decrease self-confidence and lead to poor academic performance, distancing from family members and friends, or an increase in depression and anxiety. Left untreated, this could eventually lead teens to engage in self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.How peer pressure affects student? ›
Peer pressure convinces them to take certain actions, and when they do, they suffer the natural consequences – which they are not mature enough to handle. Peer pressure can lead students to alcohol, drugs, unsafe sex practices, blatant disrespect for authority, and aggression toward family members.How does peer pressure affect learning? ›
Peer pressure can cause students to do or say things they wouldn't normally do or say. It isn't always a bad thing: pressure from a student's peers to study harder or to stand up to bullying can have positive results.What are the positive and negative sides of peer pressure? ›
You may associate peer pressure with negative outcomes such as your child trying alcohol, smoking or drugs. However, peer pressure can also allow certain groups to have positive influences on your child. There's no way of knowing exactly how your child will be affected.What are the 2 types of peer pressure? ›
Direct Peer Pressure — being put in a position to make on-the-spot decisions. Direct peer pressure is normally behavior-centric, like having alcohol forced on you when you're known not to drink. Indirect Peer Pressure —indirect peer pressure is subtle but can still be toxic.Which is the best definition of peer pressure? ›
Definition of peer pressure
: a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one's age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them She started drinking in high school because of peer pressure.
1 Aside from cyberbullying, oversharing and sexting issues, social media also can put negative pressure on friendships, especially when one friend is very active about posting pictures, status updates and opinions that hurt others.How does social media affect self esteem? ›
Numerous studies continue to indicate that social media use correlates to increased risks of depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, and anxiety. According to some studies, social media use does appear to cause a decrease in self-esteem, with the age group most affected being girls between the ages of 10 and 14.
How does social media influence? ›
Social media influence is a marketing term that describes an individual's ability to affect other people's thinking in a social online community. The more influence a person has, the more appeal that individual has to companies or other individuals who want to promote an idea or sell a product.