While it’s important to meet new people and socialise, it’s just as important that we do it in a way that makes us happy.

It is common for us to change our decisions, behaviour, or actions in order to feel accepted by someone or a group of people – all of us have done it before. But when it gets to the point where, in order to feel accepted, you’re being influenced into doing something you normally wouldn’t enjoy, or when you feel like you can’t do something that you really want to do, we enter the domain of peer pressure. This can affect your mentality in so many ways and can lead to:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt and regret
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Peer pressure was especially noticeable when I was an undergraduate (especially especially during Freshers’ Week.) Now that I am older and wiser I will first share with you the #1 truth about peer pressure which took a really long time for me to understand or see for myself:

In a group situation it is incredibly likely that someone else feels exactly the same way that you do; but the nature of peer pressure means it is so easy for us to feel alone (even if we are not) so that neither of you speak up, so that neither of you end up being as happy as you could be.

But if I’m honest with you, despite knowing this now as a postgraduate, peer pressure still exists and it is a very conscious effort I make to ensure I’m being brave enough to “go against the grain” sometimes. I try to make sure I do the things I want to do while choosing not to do the things I know I don’t want to do without feeling like it makes me unworthy to belong to a group of friends. The more I do this, the clearer it is that most people are actually very understanding and accepting if I don’t follow the group in what they’re doing.

 


Whether you are an undergrad or postgrad, below I list a number of common situations where you might feel pressured into doing something you don’t want to do.

I hope you will find some of these suggestions useful.

 

Alcohol : pub & binge drinking culture
Firstly, if you know you don’t want to join these events it is perfectly fine not to. While you might convince yourself you’ll regret it, it’s probably not true – be brave enough to listen to yourself and you’ll end up being happier. But if you do join in but don’t like drinking much:

  • Go with your friends and order water, fruit juice or soda. Don’t feel guilty about it. People may jest a bit but I assure you it passes quickly.
  • Go with your friends and order a pint (or half pint) but make it last the whole night.
  • It’s perfectly fine to leave early, loads of people do it even if you feel like you’re the only one.
  • Take only enough cash for one drink!! Can’t argue with “forgetting” your cash/card.


Clubbing & late nights

If you’ve never been clubbing before, maybe you do want to try it – maybe you’ll like it, but maybe you won’t. But if you are experiencing heavy peer pressure to continually go clubbing when you don’t want to, I think you are just going to have to stick with your guns here. Stay true to who you are. Honestly keep reminding yourself of just how much you prefer doing X or Y compared to shouting so much that you get a sore throat the next day; that you prefer having instant access to a trustworthy toilet; that you prefer having an audible conversation with your parents over Skype; that you simply just prefer a cuppa in PJ’s on Friday nights instead of freezing your butt off at 4 in the morning. Don’t feel bad about it – there are some things you can do:

  • Try to organise something else (either on that same night with a friend you’re comfortable with, or another day with the whole group; maybe a gig or movie night).
  • Try other ways of interacting with others – get involved with the university newsletter, societies and committees, or try find a pen pal (yes people still do this).
  • Force yourself to introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met before. It’s awkward at first but the more you do it the more natural it seems – and it is often positively received.
  • Be brutally honest (but socially acceptable) with them. People appreciate some spunk believe it or not. But please don’t cut yourself off from anyone you do get along with in the group.


Sex

I imagine the experiences of guys might differ from that of girls for all sorts of reasons. As I’m female I’ll only give insights from my point of view and my experiences.

You may experience very real pressure from others who might (a) encourage you to take advantage of your own freedom at university; (b) take advantage of their own freedom and influential power over you.

The reality is that no one apart from yourself is going to judge you for not rushing into bed with a man you don’t really want to have sex with, or someone that you just met, or someone whose name you don’t remember. Remember this fact: your body is your body. It may feel so bad in the heat of the moment that you want to cry, and he may not want to speak to you ever again, but I assure you that while you will never ever regret saying no to someone you don’t want to have sex with, you can regret having sex with someone you don’t want to for the rest of your life.

If you suspect you’ll find yourself in a difficult situation, prepare yourself by setting some ground rules before you go out:

  • Set yourself a drinking limit and stick to it.
  • Go with a trustworthy friend or two. Stay with them and specifically ask them not to let you take someone home, especially not inside your room.
  • Perhaps you make a deal with yourself to move away from anyone who gets too physically close to you at the club.
  • Ensure that you get a licensed taxi home and that you are prepared to tell the driver if a man you don’t like is following you home.

 

Finally, the following two situations might seem silly to you, but they affect a lot of students, sometimes without them realising it. Your decisions can greatly affect your learning experience at university and I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer simply because of peer pressure.

Seminar/tutorial/class questions
A lot of students, particularly undergrads, fall into this trap of not completing seminar work even if they want to because it’s embarrassing when you seem like the most eager student on the planet – the only one who’s tried the questions before class. Make no mistake: doing the work is completely justified:

  • Those who complete the work often go on to achieve some of the highest grades.
  • You paid for the access to seminar content and for the opportunity to practice. You are entitled to make full use of it, especially if you want to!

Raising your hand in lectures and asking questions
Similar to the reasons above, I encourage you to please be brave enough to ask if you have a question as it is a great way to personally and professionally develop yourself. You may feel embarrassed but by asking you have also probably just helped a dozen other people on your course. If it really is too embarrassing, don’t be afraid to see the professor after the lecture or during office hours: you’re here for a reason and that is to learn!

 
Michelle