Peer pressure can often lead to anxiety and stress in middle school students.
According to Wendy Dingman, a school counselor at Solon Middle School in Solon, and Nancy Markus, seventh-grade level adviser at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike, peer pressure has increased due to social media use.
“Anyone can find justification for any activity on social media,” Dingman said. “I’ve seen many posts on Instagram glorifying drug use, drinking and even self-harm (cutting).”
Markus has noticed a change in her students due to social media.
“I do see a huge difference because of social media,” Markus said. “Mean things can be said online that were perhaps not said in the past. Bad language online is rampant and it does carry over into the school at times.”
Dingman noted it may be difficult for teens to step away from their cell phones.
“Students feel compelled to be on-call socially 24/7 now and don’t want to miss anything by being offline at any time,” she said. “For the developing brain, this is exhausting. Even though we are often unaware of the mental stress caused by being constantly electronically connected, we all need a brain break from online activity.”
Dingman explained why social media is important to middle school students.
“I understand the social demands of students to preserve their social status by being attuned to all the social activity,” she said. “The adolescent brain is strongly wired for friendship and a sense of belonging. Social media and online gaming with others is a huge platform that feeds that need.”
Gross Schechter and Solon Middle School have implemented strategies to help students navigate peer pressure.
“We have a proactive program about peer pressure for drinking, smoking and sexual activity through our health classes for all students,” Markus said. “We discuss the issues informally during advisory and class but, we also talk to all the middle schoolers each year about social media and the ramifications of what is said and posted.”
Dingman mentioned the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, health class and family consumer science.
Both Dingman and Markus discussed the importance of parents’ roles in their middle schooler’s lives.
“Parents need to know that as teachers we are all aware of developmental changes of adolescence as well as what to look for in peer pressure,” Markus said. “We try to give the parents information about social media and the internet. They need to know what kids are saying and looking at. They need to know that most kids have more than one social media account, so they can write and share things that parents might not look for.”
Dingman said it’s necessary for parents to have open and consistent discussions.
“Keep talking,” Dingman said. “Even if teens express annoyance at their parents, they are still listening. It helps to stay involved in students’ lives while still giving them space to grow. It’s a difficult balance to find as a parent, but so important.”
Peer pressure isn’t always negative.
“Peer pressure can, of course, be positive,” Markus said. “At Schechter, we try to reinforce mensch behavior with positive comments, acknowledging mensch behavior with the group and having a monthly tikkun olam project.”
Dingman agreed peer pressure can be positive for students, but recognizes that it can become overwhelming.
“Some students want to follow positive leaders in school,” she said. “However, this peer pressure can add stress to students as well because it becomes competitive in regard to test scores, a number of AP (Advanced Placement) classes and college admissions. Everyone benefits from balance regardless of the activities or choices in life.”
Ally Benjamin is the Irving I. Stone Editorial Intern at the Cleveland Jewish News.