Peer pressure: what are the main issues and how to respond



It’s not always a bad thing for your child to want to copy their peers. They can be inspired to be creative, take up a sport or work harder at school. But sometimes peer pressure can make young people act in ways that are totally out of character. It could be anything from buying expensive material things to fit in with the latest fashions to behaving badly to get approval. Here are three of the main issues to be aware of and how to deal with them. 

1. Cyberbullying

The internet forms a positive part of our everyday lives, but it can also be an unkind place where negative messages can quickly spiral. When this happens, young people can easily get swept up in feeling like they have to take part or respond. Sometimes this is to impress friends or be seen to respond. Other times, it can be when you feel you have to join in or risk becoming the target of bullying yourself. It is important that your child understands how cyberbullying can affect the victim and that they have choices. 

What can you do?

  • Help your child understand how ‘fun’ banter online can quickly become more cruel and personal. Remind them to report it to an adult if they think it might be happening.
  • It can be difficult to realise you’re being pressured until after the bullying has taken place. Encourage your child to understand they always have a choice about what they do and that telling yourself or a teacher is the right thing to do.
  • If your child has been actively taking part in cyberbullying, talk to them about why they did it, how it made the victim feel and how they will act in the future. Remind them to speak to you if they feel pressured to take part or think someone they know is being bullied.

2. Self-esteem and body confidence

Peer pressure can have a big impact on how young people feel about themselves. Many may feel pressure to look as ‘perfect’ as the celebrities they follow on Instagram or YouTube. These unrealistically high expectations can often lead children to ask themselves: ‘Why can’t I look like that?’

What can you do?

  • Talk to your child about how celebrity photos are often heavily edited to emphasise certain features, and therefore shouldn’t be used to make comparisons.
  • Be a role model. Don’t point out something you don’t like about someone’s appearance, whether you’re talking about a celebrity, a stranger or even yourself.
  • Help them to set their social media account settings so that only friends can view and comment. This will avoid any unwanted negative comments from strangers. 

Read more about boosting your child’s self-esteem here 

3. Radicalisation and extremism

There are thousands of reported cases of children being radicalised or targeted by extremist and far-right groups in the UK every year. The risk this poses to children will vary, but in truth all children are vulnerable to those looking to radicalise their opinions or beliefs. Extremist groups and individuals often use social messaging apps with encryption so that their messages can’t be read by others. One of the most popular methods of radicalisation involves building friendships to make targets feel part of a force for good – a compelling message for young people who may feel powerless and aggrieved.

What can you do?

  • Listen to your child; ask what they do online and who they talk to. 
  • If you take an active interest, it will lessen the need for them to go elsewhere for support.
  • Remind them to check and think critically about the social posts and pages they ‘like’ or follow, and to investigate whether the source is from a balanced and trustworthy group.

If you are worried about radicalisation or think your child may be the target of extremists, you can visit a devoted Educate Against Hate page for parents. 


This article is by Parent Zone, the experts in digital family life.