Conformity describes social influence requiring change in belief or behaviour to encompass and fit in with a group. There are hardly any age group that is more exposed to conformity demands than teenagers. Teen honour-shame culture is strong especially because teenagers are likely to be more receptive and are easier influenced than adults. Responding to group pressure means complying with prevailing standards, while the pressure itself can take various forms, such as in the form of persuasion, criticism, teasing and bullying. Everyone experience group pressure in some form or another, but there are hardly any age group more exposed to pressure than teenagers. Many teenagers are experiencing bullying at school and in other social contexts including through online media. They don´t fit in, they are different – they represent failure being those that diverge from conformity.
Where do groups get their standards from and who decides what represents conformity? Many if not most teenagers get influenced by standards and styles they pick up through mass media. TV and other visual media are huge influencers when it comes to outfit and style. Moreover, social media seem to have created a new arena for conveying conformity standards and thereby shame that we hardly could have imagined a few years ago. With the internet, cyber-bullying has to a certain extent taken over physical bullying. A particular worrying trend in this respect is called ‘slut-shaming’ or ‘slut-bashing’ that shows how harassment have taken new forms that is not less damaging. Internet and social media also presents teenagers to far more choices than what was the case a few years ago. There is a constant pressure to maintain an online presence, and likes and comments by far determine social status or rather – standing.
Time has changed styles of communication between all age groups but demand to conformity prevails. More than ever, teens experience public naming and shaming that through online media is reaching a broad audience. For many teenagers that “do not fit in” in one way or the other, such public naming and shaming can create exactly that – shame. Expectations might be communicated clearly from teen to teen, but the basis for these expectations does not come from nowhere. Often such standards are a product of powerful marketing campaigns. In other cases teens themselves are behind trends and standards promoted through the internet. This can be positive fostering teen engagement, but we have also seen how teen trending and campaigning can destroy lives.
Clearly many cultures worship individualistic lifestyles while in other cultures group belongingness in more important, but still for teenagers the urge to “fit in” is strong irrespective of cultural and national background. ‘We are all different, we need different’ – yes, but try to challenge teen honour-shame culture. Adults often conform to adapt to group standards – not because they necessarily agree – but in many cases because it is more comfortable. Teens are more likely to identify themselves with various groups – because in their mind “fitting in” – is the most important thing at this stage of their lives.