TW: ANXIETY**

My Experience With Peer Pressure

eer pressure. In sixth grade, when I was still in elementary school, I had brushed the idea off. Peer pressure? To me? I had everything I needed to be considered “cool.” I had a roller backpack with the coolest design and the coolest new Skechers shoes. I listened to all the cool music artists and watched the coolest sports games. What was there more to it? I was cool. Period. And I was confident that in seventh grade, middle school, I still would be considered cool. Right?

But I was so, so, so wrong. Seventh grade wasn’t a different grade, it was a completely different universe. I felt lost and very confused. Nobody liked what I liked. They kept talking about Conan Gray, Doja Cat, Instagram, Snapchat, and so many things and people who I didn’t use and didn’t know about. Because of this, it was hard for me to even talk to people, much less make friends. Sure, I made friends here and there, but that was really only due to my exceptional social skills. I couldn’t really bond with anyone over anything, and that stuck with me. I felt like to fit in, I had to change myself to make the most of my middle school time. And yes, I do know the lesson in almost every kids’ TV show that exists, that you don’t have to fit in to make friends and be popular or whatever, but obviously, these show writers hadn’t experienced going to middle school with Gen Z.

Originally, in my first few weeks of middle school, I had only barely managed the peer pressure by hanging out with my friends. My friends, who were just like me; dressed like me, did the same things as me, and it was solely because of these similarities between me and my friends that I could sail on the stormy sea called middle school with my rusty and nearly breaking boat.

But what I forgot to realize is that peer pressure wasn’t just happened to me, it was happening to all my other friends too. Nearly half of my friends in those first two months of school got some sort of social media that I didn’t have, which caused me to drift from them. And it wasn’t until when one of my closest friends, the only person who I didn’t think would change at all, got Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok all in the same month that I realized that it was the end of it all. Peer pressure had taken all my friends away and it would soon enough break me.

And from this, I started feeling more lonely than I should have felt at a school with more than 1,000 people attending daily. I started lagging behind in schoolwork and didn’t want to go to school anymore. This was peer pressure. This is what would be the worst part of middle school. Not the mean science teacher, or running the mile every week, but encountering the clear peer pressure that exists in our school first hand that people still deny exists in our school community.

So I didn’t do anything for the rest of the year. I didn’t change myself, luckily, but I didn’t change myself, unluckily. I was just stuck in this mindless place where I felt lonely but I also felt sort of fine due to my couple of friends who were just like me, scared and confused in this new world called middle school. To rehash my 7th grade, it was NOT the best year.

But when I finally got an Instagram account in mid-April, what I thought would be my saving grace only led to MORE peer pressure. I suddenly became stressed out over what people would think of me on Instagram and started to literally LIVE on the app. I started forgetting about schoolwork and only focused on my reputation on Instagram. I wasted my whole summer, in which I could have focused on my mental health and studying, and instead ruined my mental health even more. I started changing myself, not just for the chance for more friends, but for Instagram as a whole. I would probably now consider those three months of my summer the worst months ever.

It was here where I started to feel more lonely than ever in quarantine. I had such a fragile bond between my new friends that I had made on Instagram and myself. They had only seen the cool, new me that I presented myself on Instagram, and because of this, I was scared 24/7 of how they would react if I showed my true, crazy self to them. Obviously, my mental health turned to me and said, “Aishani, this isn’t working.” And it wasn’t. I was becoming more and more frustrated with myself and started to burn myself often. My mind would often short-circuit and I couldn’t focus on anything I was doing. I became extremely insecure about everything I did. All because of the simple two words, peer pressure.

So I decided I had to somehow ignore the peer pressure that was surrounding me. I had to take a break from social media and start to focus on myself. And I did. I took a break from Instagram, and my phone in general, and started hanging out with my friends more. I watched funny TV shows and started talking more with my family. I allowed myself a break from most things in my life and just really allowed myself to live. I started listening and vibing to music, and focused on schoolwork and extracurriculars. I had to accept the fact that even though peer pressure will always be a factor in my life, only the people who are truly strong can persevere, no matter hard it may be.

But from firsthand experience, it’s difficult trying to restore your mental health after it’s been deteriorated for so long. I spent over two months wrestling my social media addiction and trying my best to develop my own true social media presence while focusing on extracurriculars and upcoming schoolwork. My insecurity leaped jumps and bounds, and that caused my anxiety to fly up like a rocket. Sometimes, it felt impossible to focus on anything, much less have the drive, and need to do anything. Long story short, the road to recovery was hard. Plain and simple. But I did it. And I can tell you that out of anything, taking that recovery road was the best decision I’ve ever made.

And so here we are. A whole year’s journey. Yes, peer pressure is still a big thing around me now, but I’ve taught myself to accept it and that one day, people will love me for me, and I don’t have to change myself for that. I’ve learned how to distance myself away from my phone when needed, and how to properly balance my social life with my personal one. (Hint: personal comes first.) I’ve also learned that being popular in school should be the least of your worries during middle school, or you’re in for a whole lot of drama. (Take my word for this.)

But undoubtedly the most important lesson I’ve learned is that middle school is not an easy ride, and will probably never be. A lot of things will happen to you during these two years, and you’ll come out being a different person, like me. You’ll make some new friends, break up with the old, and you’ll definitely make some memories that you’ll want to treasure forever (and ones that you’ll for sure want to throw away.) Whether or not you’re cool or not, anyone and everyone in middle school will have their difficulties. Everyone will have their ups and downs, and that is okay. Middle school doesn’t have to be and will not be perfect for anyone. Peer pressure will impact everyone in some way, but don’t let it affect you negatively. Don’t let anything or anyone make you change if you don’t want to change, and definitely don’t feel lost and confused if you’re not in the loop of what some people are talking about. Trust me, you will make friends who like you for you, not just because you changed yourself to make yourself seem more likable and whatnot. You are you. And no one can change that.

“You will never influence the world if you’re just like it.”

~Aishani

she/her