Peer Pressures

By Miller Shannon/Roy
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Saying "no" to something you don't want to do may actually improve your social standing.

There are lots of good things about joining in with a group, but what do you do when you don't want to do what all of your friends are urging you to do?

Adam, 18, appreciates the right kind of peer pressure. "It's nice when people encourage others to try new things and support them," he says. A friend might motivate you to learn to play drums, try out for the basketball team, or ask out that girl you've been crushing on who seems to like you back.

But a friend might also pressure you to break your parents' rules, be mean to somebody, have sex when you're not ready to, or do drugs.

You love hanging with your buds. But what if you don't want to do what everyone else is doing?

How to Deal

Since there's a good chance you're going to run into that "Come on! We're all doing this!" biz, why not think now about what to do if you want to say no? Mentally rehearsing different scenarios and your responses helps prevent the "I got caught up in the moment" regrets.

First, there's the direct route. Picture yourself as a confident leader who has a say in what you do. Decide how you feel about things like putting down others, sex, alcohol, stealing, and drugs. A firm "I don't do that; count me out," is convincing if it's heartfelt. Realize that others may be looking for someone to take the lead in refusing to follow along. You could be that someone.

But it can be hard to stand up to a group of people. If you don't feel comfortable being direct, try these tips:

* Adam suggests saying you've got something else you must do: "I can't. I've got a test tomorrow. Gotta study."

* Adam also lets people know that he's on an honor code — that he's promised his parents he won't do things like drink or steal, and he's sticking to that promise.

* Find someone else who wants to say no. It's easier to stand up to a group when you've got company.

* Think of how you'll feel afterward if you do something you don't want to do. Regret is not fun to live with.

* Talk with someone you trust about how to deal with these situations. Chances are your older siblings or parents dealt with similar problems when they were your age, and they might have some helpful insight on how to deal.

* Be matter-of-fact when you decide to say "no" to your friends. Don't be angry or judgmental.

Why Is It So Hard?

Your friends influence you. It's wonderful to belong to a group, and to feel they like you. Plus, it can be a lot of fun to enjoy a group activity. Who wants to be known as a spoilsport?

Some qualities make it harder to be that one person who stands up to the group:

* Lack of confidence hinders your ability to assert yourself.

* If nothing else is happening in your life besides your friends, it makes their opinions seem all-important.

* Feeling unsure about your friendships may make you too eager to please.

The Payoff

So why stand your ground when it can be so difficult? Believe it or not, saying "no" to something you don't want to do may actually improve your social standing. According to Weston, "While a few people may think less of you, many others will quietly respect you more. Why? Because they may be impressed that you are your own person, and not just one of a crowd."

What's more, doing your own thing can make you feel good about yourself. "It can be empowering to resist peer pressure. Saying "no" to others can mean saying "yes" to yourself," says Weston. "When you stand up for yourself... it's like you're voting for yourself and being true to your own beliefs, and that always feels good."