Question: Can you please give me some good guidelines on how to deal with peer pressure? I am very affected by what the people around me are doing. I don't know if it's that I'm afraid of people getting angry with me or I need to be the center of attention. I think that that is my most difficult challenge and if I could just not be afraid to be different I would be a much better person.
This is a good question. You are not alone in being affected by this nor is this a new problem. Long before psychology had anything to say on this topic, The Rambam in the beginning of the 6th Perek of Hilchos Deios lays downs some general guidelines regarding peer pressure. I will try to follow that format and embellish a bit.
It is normal for one to be influenced by their surroundings. One can be influenced to conform through either direct or indirect pressure, regardless of one’s age. We all have a strong motivation to belong to a larger group, but this comes with the price of conformity. This is true on some level for all groups including political groups, Shuls, Yeshivos, and friends. In all these situations, peer pressure can be a very powerful force. Even highly intelligent people are susceptible to cave to the pressure to conform as has been documented in many experiments (e.g., the The Asch Conformity Experiments).
Because of this reality, we should surround ourselves with those who will influence us positively. Not all conformity is damaging. For example, belonging to a broader group that encourages one to grow in Torah study, Tznius, to make technology restrictions, or to care for eldery parents are all example of positive peer pressure. Aside from utilizing general positive peer pressure, we can also use it for specific needs such as by belonging to groups that will help us overcome our unique challenges (e.g., losing weight, quitting smoking).
In addition, we should distance oneself from those who can negatively influence us. Peer pressure can lead us to engage in behaviors that are inconsistent with our values (e.g., drinking or smoking). Even more common, but perhaps equally damaging, is the pressure that we feel to fit in and keep up with the Jones’ and lead our lives in ways that are not authentic and carry negative ramifications.
The balance of life is to seek positive peer pressure while simultaneously training ourselves to combat and resist negative peer pressure. This is about staying true to our own convictions. The following are tips that may be helpful in this regard:
Originally appeared in Yated Neeman