Looking after your friends is easier said than done but there are some simple things that can be done to make sure your good ol' pals feel supported.
University can be a challenging time for anyone. Booze and bad decisions are just the tip of the iceberg, with new friendships being navigated, old friendships waving goodbye and everything in between. A new lifestyle and brand-new city can be daunting for many people and the more drastic the change, the harder it can be to adjust. Uni culture can be hard to get used to, especially for people without the knowledge and experiences of older siblings who have done it all before. But how can you support your friends in the variety of new situations presented by university life?
Peer pressure is a stupid concept in this day and age when individuality is such a large part of modern culture. However, it is undeniably real and one of the biggest dangers faced by university students. Peer pressure can be damaging not only to your reputation but also your mental and physical health. At university, there are many situations where large groups such as sports clubs or societies go out together and situations like this are often prime opportunities for pressuring your peers into doing embarrassing and potentially dangerous things.
There’s a huge difference between being cheered on by a room full of people to burp the alphabet and being egged on with full enthusiasm to jump off a balcony for the bants. In these situations, take a step back and think about the person being pressured into this, even if they seem enthusiastic. Are they about to do something potentially life-threatening? Could they be expelled? Might the photos that were uploaded damage all future job prospects? This is especially true if they intend to go into careers such as politics, teaching or government. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and undoubtedly everybody has a past, however, nowadays, social media doesn’t allow any skeletons to stay in the closet.
Yes, that’s right, you’re not seeing double. Peer pressure can be a very dangerous thing, however, these powers can be used for good. If your friend wants to join a club but is too shy or is desperate to go on a trip but feels too awkward, positive peer pressure from your friendship group could go a long way. Encourage your friends to join things, even go with them to try it out. Gently nag them about the outfit they really want to wear but don’t have the guts to. University is full of amazing opportunities, but they are only available to those who go out and take them. Some people may just need a little more encouragement than others, so take man’s desire to bend to the popular group opinion and use it to be a good friend.
Health and safety
When going out with your friends, actually do listen to what your parents taught you. Not the part about the fat man who’s allowed to break into our houses in December. Don’t get separated, look after each other, don’t let them climb into a windowless van with a man covered in Care Bear tattoos. There is a reason parents warn us about these things over and over again and not everyone is as aware of danger as they should be. Watch out for drink spikers in clubs, always cover the top of your drink and never let your friend drink something they’ve put down or hasn’t seen the bartender make. Also, be aware that some normal humans turn into shameless predators after a few drinks. If your friend isn’t in a fit state, don’t let them go home with anyone but you, even if they insist they’re fine. Use your own judgement. Don’t let your friend walk home on their own at night if they’re drunk and DEFINITELY don’t let them drive. Your university years are supposed to be the best of your life, but that’s only the case if everyone gets home safe at the end of a great night out.
The struggle is real
For some people, things that you find easy are just plain difficult. Things like cooking, budgeting and washing clothes can be completely overwhelming for those who have never had to do anything like it before. If your friend is rubbish at shopping and teetering dangerously close to scurvy, offer to go with them and help them out. You could suggest doing washing together on a set night, so they don’t run out of clean pants. Try to sympathise with people who may have been babied at home - through no fault of their own - because getting thrown into adult life can be exhausting and overwhelming when you’re used to mum doing everything. Some people don’t seem to realise the effort that goes into running and organising their life until their parents aren’t there to do it. Don’t mock those who can’t cook and never tease someone who’s trying their best in case you discourage them from trying again.
Traffic light friends
The concept of traffic light friends is very simple. Sometimes your friend will feel amazing and ready to party the night away, a full green light. However, some nights, they might not be feeling it and maybe they just want to chill with a movie or have a casual drink at the bar: orange light. You get where this is going, right? You might really want to hang out with your friend and do something or you might be trying to cheer them up if they seem down but sometimes it’s just a good old-fashioned red light. They might not want to see anyone, they might want to spend the day reading a book or muttering a satanic ritual (each to their own). At university, especially in the first year, most students feel under a huge amount of pressure to live the ‘university experience’ and this is a phrase that I really hate because it simply does not exist. Everyone’s experience is unique and individual and just because your friend might not want to get blind drunk every night does not mean they’re not doing fresher’s properly. It can take real courage to tell a flat full of people eager to go out that you’re not really feeling it. So read the room and remember: people get hurt when you don’t listen to traffic lights.
The big issue
It can be difficult to spot when someone is struggling, but a good friend will keep an eye on someone under pressure or someone who has seemingly changed behaviour. Mental health is difficult to talk about and some people come from backgrounds where such things aren’t acknowledged or even believed in. It can be an incredibly sensitive subject to approach, but if you are concerned about a friend’s mental health then try to talk to them about it. If they don’t want to discuss problems with you then direct them to areas where they can receive support. If you believe the problem to be severe then contact your student support service or speak to your Advisor for direction.
Overall, being a good friend isn’t rocket science. Looking out for your friends at university can be the easiest thing in the world if you just follow these guidelines. Always keep the feelings of others in mind, and maybe don’t post that photo of your mate drinking tequila off a toilet seat.
If you liked this article, we think you'll love:
- The Top 7 Ways Universities Are Approaching Mental Health
- How to Get Help if You're Struggling at University