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Keeping Up With The Joneses

The truth about peer pressure and how it affects decision making

What causes peer pressure?

While many factors contribute, insecurity is well-known to play a prominent role in causing men, women and children to feel pressure from their peers. The fear of being excluded from a crowd often leads to feeling vulnerable, and in a self-doubting mind, like an outsider. The incessant and seemingly inescapable pressure to “fit in” takes over.

In your experience, how can peer pressure negatively impact a person’s life?

Inherently, peer pressure is a form of bullying and can be experienced as a victim or an assailant. Whether it’s an adult coerced into purchasing an expensive item that’s outside his or her budget, or a self-conscious teen joining other insecure friends to poke fun at a classmate, the emotional pain felt and damage created is tremendous. As a psychologist for over 20 years, I have found that bullying is the single most damaging experience for children and will continue to haunt them through their adult years.

Relationships and marriages are strained by the overbearing burden of having to constantly act or look a certain way. To “keep up with the Joneses” – spend beyond our means to impress – creates unnecessary financial challenges. Communities are often forced to uphold a “standard” that influences residents’ daily decisions. I can go on and on. Peer pressure is powerful; however, with the right awareness and fortitude, we can prevent it from negatively affecting our lives.

What advice can you give to help overcome peer pressure?

Create your own support system. Surround yourself with like-minded people that understand your way of life and who you feel comfortable around. Their presence will help build confidence and enable you to make healthier decisions. By no means is this a simple feat, as this may also require distancing yourself from close friends whose conflicting views, higher expectations and greater financial capabilities negatively impact your life.

It is important to express your thoughts and feelings. “I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t agree” are some of the most effective words to tell a friend, neighbor or colleague attempting to influence you. However, backed by an alliance, you will find it significantly easier to overcome these peer pressures and establish a decisive boundary moving forward.

How should parents handle children being influenced by peer pressure at school and how can they create a peer pressure-free home?

Sometimes, it’s our own children that are influenced by peer pressure. You may hear something like, “All my friends have it. They’ll make fun of me and I’ll be a loser if I don’t get it.” For a child, these are valid concerns, as social status is everything. However, we can’t help them by spending money we don’t have. Our duty to provide for them is certain, but it must be done responsibly. We must learn to say “no” when requests seem unfit, yet help them feel grateful, proud and excited for what they have. It’s not the quality of the gift, the name of the brand or the hefty price tag, it’s the love behind it. True happiness comes from living in a responsible household filled with warmth and love.

Dr. Jerry Lob, Psy.D., is a retired licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Chicago, who worked with adults, adolescents, and families for over 20 years. He received the degree of Doctor of Psychology, Clinical Psychology at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago (1987 through 1999) and earned his license in 2008. He lectures and writes extensively on topics relating to psychology, relationships, parenting, education and Jewish thought.

Rabbi Dr. Lob received his smicha ordination from Beth Medrash Govohah, Lakewood, NJ, in 1983