As parents know, dealing with peer pressure is part of growing up. It’s normal for teens to feel swayed by a group and be compelled to fit in. While we typically think of peer pressure in a negative way, the influence of peers can easily be positive as well. Think of the athlete who is pushed to work harder because his teammates are depending on him, or the student who studies a little longer because she wants to keep up with a classmate who is also a good student.
There are many ways peers can pressure each other to behave in constructive ways. Kids that are routinely honest, nice, courageous, respectful or grateful demonstrate these positive attributes to others. Teens can inspire each other to avoid smoking, drugs or alcohol. Teens who decide to start a diet or exercise program together can root each other on. Local teen Ashley says that her peers helped shape her thoughts about her future. “All my friends were going to college and I never really considered it an option to not go. We were all excited to get our books, prepare for living in the dorms, shopping for supplies together, etc. There was excitement and positivity around that experience.” Teens who feel confident in themselves can resist the pressure of others urging them to act in ways they aren’t prepared for. Sixteen-year-old Brayanna says, “There is a feeling in high school that everyone is having sex and I was feeling pressured to engage in that behavior. I had a partner but just felt that I wasn’t ready for it, so I told him ‘no.’ He ended moving on to someone else and that was OK with me.”
Peers can offer each other a sense of belonging and acceptance. They can help each other make difficult decisions, problem solve for new solutions and offer moral support. The influence of just one supportive peer can have a profound impact on a teen’s life.
Of course, peer pressure has its down side too. How can you help your teen resist the negative influence of others?
- -Encourage your child to listen to their intuition. Tell them that if they are feeling uncomfortable in a situation their gut is telling them something is wrong.
- -Prepare and plan for scenarios that may involve peer pressure. Help your child think ahead about what they would say or do in the event they feel coerced into acting in a way they don’t want to.
- -Have your child get comfortable saying “no.” No other explanation is required, although if they feel the need to “blame” their parents for not engaging in a risky or undesirable behavior, that is perfectly acceptable as well.
- -Encourage your teen to spend time with friends who are like them. Have them align with peers who have a similar belief system and values. Embolden your teen to be confident and lead by example. Tell them to feel good about their ability to resist peer pressure.
The teen years are a time when many children begin to identify with peers more than parents. Encourage kids to find others that support them and reinforce their best qualities. Allow kids to have the freedom to have experiences, take chances and possibly make mistakes. With a group of like-minded friends, they can take advantage of the effect that positive peer pressure can have to keep them on the path of good decision making.