Peer pressure refers to the influence exerted by a peer group in encouraging a person to change his or her attitudes, values, or behavior in order to conform to group norms.
It typically bears a negative connotation, especially when it refers to youth peer pressure. The media commonly reports peer pressure causing teen problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, and street gang. Even in adult life, peer pressure can be used as a manipulative device to subject an individual to another's will. As such, most self-esteem advocacy groups renounce the notion of peer pressure. However, they often fail to realize that peer pressure is unavoidable, and that naively ignoring peer pressure can be detrimental to an individual's well-being. Furthermore, peer pressure could actually exert a positive influence, and it can be leveraged to achieve better inter-person relationship, personal growth, and success.
Peer pressure is unavoidable, and it is present whenever there is an expectation from a society to be imposed on its members. People who are polite, considerate, and generous are well liked. People who are confrontational, judgmental, and self-asserting are disliked. It is worthwhile to note that qualities that gain acceptance in a society generally arouses pleasure in another person, and qualities that result in rejection generally inflicts pain in another person. Sympathy allows one to understand what behavior will induce pleasure and/or pain in another person, and those who are gifted in sympathy are also more capable of understanding and coping with peer pressure.
Naively ignoring peer pressure can have significant consequences. Peer pressure can be a requirement to ensure survival or well-being, by being accepted as part of a society, taking advantage of the benefits as a member. A person who rejects his own family may sever family support (often in monetary or material form). People rejected by a society often have to defend for themselves; it is often the benefit of a weak person to find in a society the protection against an adversary. Also, a society with less civil ethic standard may find it acceptable to unfairly take advantage of non-members.
Since peer pressure is unavoidable, the only way to cope with it is not to ignore or deny it, but to accept it and work with it. The key part is to identify values that you believe in, and find societies that generally expect or promote these values. If you value hard work and discipline, then find a society where hard work is appreciated and appropriately rewarded. If you value intellectual curiosity, find a society where it is okay to ask questions, and that finding an answer is a rewarding experience. If you value discussion where it is not the person who makes the argument counts, but the soundness of the argument itself, then find a society that values objectivity and logical reasoning. It is sometimes hard to commit to values that you believe in, but peer pressure can be used to keep you motivated. Being able to identify your own values is also important, so that you could be resilient to people who use peer pressure as a device to manipulate you.
(A simple way to test whether something is an attempt of manipulation is by considering the ethical fairness of one's argument).
The common wisdom to “find the right connection in order to gain acceptance to a successful society” might sound materialistic, but their success could be an indication that the values of the society are good values, and that peer pressure to become part of that society is worthwhile.
That said, it's not always easy to find the right society that believes in exactly the same set of value as you do. It can take courage, effort, and strategy to convince other people of your values and build a society around that. It could be that what you believe in is not necessary a good idea, and it can take humility to admit that and adjust your own values. These are all qualities essential for leadership. Disparaging peer pressure could devoid an individual the opportunity to acquire leadership qualities, robbing that person of success later on his/her own life.