WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
One of the meanings of the word peer is “a person of the same age, status or ability as another specified person”. It is this meaning of the word that I am concerned with for what I have to say today. In a sense, the word peer signifies an equality of sorts: people of the same age, children of the same class, people of almost the same age in the same profession and people of similar abilities working in the same organization. Most articles on peer pressure have concentrated on peer pressure among teegers since peer pressure in this bracket of impressioble adolescents is most significant and prominent. In fact, there are those who believe that the importance of peers declines upon entering adulthood. I am uble to agree with this view from my own observation of what peer pressure can continue to do to people even at the age of 40 or 50. Moreover, I am convinced that peer pressure is society– and country–specific and that the age brackets for the most significant peer pressure need not be the same for all countries, all societies and all cultures. Not many articles or academic papers on the subject seem to have made the observation that peer pressure is culture– and society–specific or that it is likely to be manifest over a wider age bracket in certain societies. Obviously, the peer pressure in a country with more corrupt people is bound to be more extensive than one with hardly any corruption at all. I shall have occasion to revert to this a little later.
Peer pressure has been called a hallmark of adolescent experience. Peer conformity in young people is most pronounced with respect to style, taste, appearance, ideology and values—commonly associated with episodes of adolescent risk–taking (such as delinquency, drug abuse, sexual behaviour and reckless driving) because these activities commonly occur in the company of peers. Affiliation with friends who are in risk behaviours has been shown to be a strong predictor of an adolescent’s own behaviour. However, it would be wrong to run away with the impression that peer pressure can only have negative effects. Peer pressure can also have positive effects when youths are pressured by their peers towards positive behaviour such as volunteering for charity or excelling in academics. Let us take a typical example of how peer pressure works in ordiry everyday situations. A group of young boys have got together with the intention of playing video games. One of them suggests a game that he has played and enjoyed quite a few times. But two or three others turn down the suggestion on the grounds that the game suggested is much too easy. The boy who origilly suggested his favourite game accepts the gentle peer pressure of the others and consents to play a game of their choice. This is a simple everyday example of peer pressure that is comparatively gentle and harmless. All kinds of peer pressure, especially among adolescents, are exerted by one or two children who have a strong influence on the rest and who are looked up to by the rest of the group. When peer pressure is of a harmless kind there is no need to fear that those who exert the pressure will influence the others into ucceptable or hazardous behaviour like drug abuse or rash driving without helmets on motorcycles. It is because peer pressure exists and often influences impressioble adolescents to ucceptable or hazardous behaviour that adolescents are in greater need of monitoring and guidance by their parents.
However, as I said earlier, peer pressure does not end with adolescence and does not decline appreciably with adulthood in all societies. My own observation is that in corrupt societies peer pressure of a negative kind continues well into adulthood. Take for instance a dispensation like ours. We have a situation where the siphoning of development funds received from the Centre has become so legitimized (thanks to the ibility of our government to punish wrongdoers and enemies of the people) that almost every government employee sees such funds as sources of easy money. This is because almost everyone else is into corrupt practices that make siphoning of such funds possible and generally undetectable. However, for everyone with a conscience there is always struggle and conflict when such things are done for the first time. And almost invariably there is peer pressure in such cases. This peer pressure arises from the fact that it is highly inconvenient to have a totally honest person in a government department where almost everybody else has fallen prey to greed and decided to walk along the path of least resistance. In such an environment, the honest personá or the one with a strong conscience and well–entrenched values is an obstacle to the efforts of others at improving their own fincial conditions. It is such people who come under very strong peer pressure even when they are well into adulthood. And once the peer pressure has worked, it extends to pressures to acquire status symbols that will hopefully enhance one’s image in society. It is at this point that peer pressure relates largely to what brands of consumer durables and garments to buy and what kind of car is a better indicator of the fact that one has arrived (even though one hasn’t really). At this stage of one’s life the willing victims of peer pressure are happy to accept this pressure and thankful for the fact that sources of such pressure exist.
What is an interesting phenomenon in a corrupt society is that peer pressures operating on adults create another kind of peer pressure that once again trickles down to their progeny in schools and colleges. The quantum of black money circulating in our society has raised standards of living abnormally without doing anything at all for the quality of life that seems to get lower and lower every day. We see a large number of parents who would not normally have been able to afford the very expensive public schools to which they send their children if they had to depend solely on their salaries. The children are equipped with the most expensive luggage, clothing and toiletries if they are boarders. They have no awareness of the value of money since they see so much squandering of it at home. They also happen to be quite aware of what their parents earn and what they spend. So they are quite aware also of the impossible fincial equation. They know the Achilles’ heel of their parents: they are uble to resist any demands their children make regardless of what the cost is going to be. The style, taste and expensive habits of these adolescents and youths act as a kind of peer pressure on others who cannot afford the recklessness waste of money that has begun to be seen as a status symbol. This is rather unfortute not only in terms of the abnormal peer pressure exerted on others, but also because such a lifestyle based mainly on unearned income, can be a source of great frustration if the ‘beneficiary’ of such a lifestyle cannot mage to sustain it with his/her own earnings later on in life. What amuses me most of all is the demand made on doting fathers for a motorcycle the moment the son has got into college. I have noticed how many fathers are uble to resist this demand even though the college that the son attends is just about 200 yards away. Children are able to make such demands of their parents because they know how much extra revenue comes into their coffers besides the salaries they earn. I have known even low paid government employees having to scrape together close to a lakh of rupees to buy a motorcycle for a college–going son who is uble to get a driving licence for it even a year after the motorcycle was bought. I call this kind of peer pressure the most despicable form of materialistic pressure in a consumerist world.
It is important to realize that most parents are quite helpless about the kind of the peer pressures that their children face through their teen years and even later on. They can hope that at least some of the peer pressures will be positive ones that ensure better academic or athletic performance and motivate children to devote some time to helping less fortute people in society. But such hopes can remain mere hopes unless they can find tactful ways of motivating their children to associate with such peers who can be counted on to exert positive peer pressures rather than the ubiquitous negative pressures that we see all around us. It might be a good idea for parents to put their heads together and to work out strategies to ensure that there is a steady increase in the positive peer pressures that their children are subjected to. One altertive for responsible parents is to work towards making their children the leaders of peer groups.