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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Peer Approval Addiction support group meets here

October 19, 2009

It's hard not to worry when everyone's watching

It's hard not to worry when everyone's watching

I jumped right in. If I couldn’t immediately let these 7th grade girls know a) I get middle school friendship issues, b) they could trust me to listen with compassion and respect, and c) this was a safe place to talk about stuff that really mattered, it was going to be a long and pointless hour.

My PowerPoint began with this email:

Hey Terra,

When me and my friend are alone we have a lot of fun. But when she’s with her other friends, she doesn’t talk to me at all. What do I do?

–Invisible Friend

“Who can relate to this situation?” I asked, raising my own hand high.

The girls shot each other furtive glances, but otherwise, didn’t move.

I advanced to the next slide.

Hey Terra,

My friends don’t want to be my friend anymore. They pick on me. They whisper and then look at me and laugh. When I try to make new friends they seem to steal them away from me by telling lies. My mom wants to talk to the other parents but I don’t want her to because it will make it worse! How do I deal with them?

–Lonely and Confused

“Does this one ring any bells for you? It sure does for me.” I said. My hand felt lonely and confused up there.

Again I advanced:

Hey Terra,

When I’m with these 5 girls at school I don’t behave. And even though I don’t want to, I feel like I have to act cool. I don’t wanna be with them but I have no other choice because if I leave them to be with nicer girls they’ll just call me names like “You’re a user.” And if I do leave I don’t know how to tell them. I’m really very confused.


“How about this one, girls? C’mon. Be honest. Who’s been there?”

For the third time the girls scoped each other out, their nonverbal communication crackled with emotion, yet when my hand went up only one girl joined me. Before I could acknowledge her courage, she retreated. Probably hoping against hope that she hadn’t just ruined her entire life.

“You guys ever hear of Peer Approval Addiction?” I asked. “Nope? Well, let me explain it. You know the word addiction, right? As in drug addiction.”

They all nodded. A key element of the Good Girl Code is to impress adults with your maturity and intelligence whenever possible.

“An addiction is an out-of-control behavior that a person continues engaging in despite negative consequences to their mental or physical health, or their relationships. Why would someone do that? Not because they want to, but because they feel like they have no other choice. Just like the girl in the last email.

“Peer Approval Addiction is doing whatever it takes to fit in and be accepted by your friends and even by people you’re not close to but who you believe have power over you. That’s what’s going on right here, girls. That’s why you’re not raising your hands.

“I just want to let you know that you’re not fooling anyone. I know there have been times when you’ve felt just like ‘Invisible Friend’ and like ‘Lost and Confused.’ We all have. At least once in your life, you’ve also probably felt like you wanted to get out of a friendship because you weren’t comfortable with the way your friend was acting. At least once or maybe twice, you’ve been hurt when a friend turned against you and you didn’t have a clue why or what to do about it.

“Look, I know it can be a scary to publicly admit that you’ve been dissed, ditched or dumped by a so-called friend. I know that you’re thinking ‘If I raise my hand here and no one else does, someone’s going to tease me.’

“You’re not the only one who feels this way. All of us, teens and adults, at least once in our lives, have held ourselves back from telling the truth or doing what we knew was right because we were worried what other’s would think. So all of us are a little peer approval addicted. I know I sure am. How about you?”

I raised my hand and so did every single one of them.

We were making progress and we still had a full 54 minutes to go.



  1. Such an important thing for teenagers to learn (and really anyone. People of all ages struggle with this). Hopefully it will help them recognize when they are acting because of their “Peer approval addictions” and begin to learn a little more about themselves.

    Comment by Elizabeth — October 20, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  2. I’m so not going to be friends with that one girl who raised her hand when no one else did. What a loser!

    Seriously though, I definitely remember how it was in middle school, feeling paralyzed, unable to act until I knew how the group would respond. How exhausting! I think adults retain an element of this, especially when they feel insecure because they’re out of their depths. For example, at a wine tasting it can be scary to volunteer what obscure flavors and smells you can detect. “What if I’m wrong? Is there really a hint of maple syrup or am I just making that up?”

    Comment by Fayette — October 20, 2009 @ 12:17 pm

  3. Peer approval is a problem throughout all age groups. In pre-teens and teens it is characterized by wanting acceptance by a social group and in adults we see a scampering for accumulating material possessions to proclaim ‘I have arrived’. I call it the ‘looking good’ phenomena – we do things we don’t necessarily want to do because we want to ‘look good’ to others! The ramification of this problem is more serious for young children and teenagers because of the lack of emotional understanding to deal with it. Also the consequences of their ‘giving-in’ can be disastrous in some cases. Given this, the only way out is through communication. This article pretty much covers one of the ways of dealing with it: Hope it helps!

    Comment by Shalvika Sood — October 21, 2009 @ 10:17 am

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  5. Great post! Teens who who are obsessed with peer approval may have bigger issues in adulthood. They can become people pleasers and say “Yes” all of the time when they want to say “No.” They won’t learn how to stand on their own two feet or stand in their power. They don’t know about the Law of Cause and Effect — for every action there’s a consequence or reaction. Teens need to love and respect themselves.

    Comment by Rebecca — May 2, 2011 @ 6:12 am

  6. […] both girls and boys have middle school friendship woes. And yes, both boys and girls can become Peer Approval Addicts. But girls often take their feelings of hurt, jealousy, betrayal and rejection to dramatic and […]

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