Your friends could be making your decisions for you without you even knowing it!

Art by Amanda Lanzone

Are you really making your own decisions? Find out now.

You’ve been playing the violin since you were 6. But today you’re in study hall instead of orchestra because the rest of your crew quit music—and you didn’t want to be left out.

Sounds to us like you’re a victim of friendfluence—the power your friends have over the tiny and tremendous decisions you make daily. In the ancient past (aka the ‘70s and ‘80s), people called it peer pressure, usually in reference to your pals persuading you to do bad stuff, like smoking.

Today, though, we’re a bit more enlightened. Research shows that friendfluence happens all the time—teens’ brains are biologically primed to seek approval from peers—and it can be used for good. In fact, one study found that the #1 thing kids felt peer-pressured into doing was graduating from high school.

Picking out the positive influence over the negative pressure isn’t always obvious, though. So we’ve gathered a panel of experts to help you learn when you should follow your heart . . . or the herd.

Contagious Behaviors

It seems like all your friends talk about anymore is dieting—every lunch period feels like one giant unspoken competition to see who can eat the least. Soon enough, you’re bringing a baggie of carrot sticks instead of your usual turkey sandwich . . . and battling hunger pangs all afternoon.

The Friendfluence Factor: Believe it or not, many bad behaviors—from complaining yourself into a crummy mood to skipping meals—spread like chicken pox among groups of friends. And guess what? It’s not because one person is directly pressuring the others! Most often, it’s subtle. You gradually notice what others are doing, so you do it too. “Your sense of what’s normal gets warped,” says Friendfluence author Carlin Flora.

Your Move: The way you respond can be friendfluence itself, so use that power for good. You can sneakily teach the other girls at your table that restrictive dieting isn’t healthy: “I read that skipping meals messes up your metabolism and makes you lose muscle tone. I’m having turkey on whole-wheat. Anyone want a bite?”

Pleasing the Pack

Your school is doing a production of Rent this fall. You think it would be fun to audition and acting is something you’ve always wanted to try, but you feel like your buds constantly rag on the “theater geeks.” Do you go for it, or do you try out for basketball instead because that’s what all your friends are doing?

The Friendfluence Factor: It’s not that you think being part of the play will make you a nerd—it’s that you’re afraid you’ll lose the connection that comes from hanging out with your crew 24/7. But the question is, if you choose b-ball instead of the play, are you selling yourself out? You have to decide if your desire to hang out with your buds is stronger than your desire to perform. (If it really is, that’s totally valid too.)

Your Move: Want to audition? It’s easier to own your decision if you deliver it to your friends with a little bit of humor: “Seriously, even that nerdy dude from the Harry Potter movies gets tons of girls. I think I’m going to give this acting thing a try.” And as psychologist Lucie Hemmen puts it: “Doing the play will help your friends open their minds about theater kids, because by definition you will become one—and they like you.”

Obeying “The Code”

Your soccer team’s star forward, Mia, is showing signs of a concussion. You know for sure that playing with a head injury is insanely dangerous, but Mia’s getting scouted tonight—and begs you not to tell. Do you do the right thing (DTRT) or mind your own business (MYOB)?

The Friendfluence Factor: Without Mia, your chances of winning look rough, and no one wants to break the trust of a friend or be the one who ruins the team’s season. But this is a little picture vs. big picture situation. You’ve got to believe Mia will eventually understand that you cared enough to step in and save her career.

Your Move: This might sound harsh, but forget what your friends want—when it comes to matters of safety, you’ve got to be mature and do what’s right. You can start with the truth: “I get it. But scouts will come back! You play with this and you’ll never even get to college.” And if that doesn’t work? Tip off the coach—and let them take over.

Persuasion By Put-Down

You and Kevin are hanging at Adam’s when his older brother’s friends show up with beer. Kevin grabs a cup, and when you whisper that you’d rather leave, he starts calling you a baby in front of everyone—pressuring you hard to drink up.

The Friendfluence Factor: Kevin’s being lame—let’s just be real about that up front. But before you give in or flip on him (it could go either way), consider this crazy concept: He’s probably lashing out because of what your refusal says about him. “Close friends look to each other for validation—there’s a sense we have to do everything together,” says psychologist Mitch Prinstein. “He wants you to support his choice to drink by agreeing to drink yourself.”

Your Move: Yes, what Kevin did hurts, but you can address the way he totally sold you out in front of the group later. For now, just get out of this super-awkward situation and keep your cred by delivering your go-to excuse with plenty of confidence and zero judgment. Try something like, “Hey, I’m not being a downer! Do what you want to do, but my swim coach has a one-strike policy with alcohol and it’s just not worth it for me. You get it, right?”

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