Peer pressure is a reality of life. Our decisions and actions are influenced by people around us from our first social experiences, well into adulthood. Many would argue that adolescents, specifically teenagers, are most vulnerable to the negative outcomes of peer pressure, so it’s critical we give our children the tools to recognize and resist it.
The American Academy of Psychology defines peer pressure as, “the influence exerted by a peer group on its individual members to fit in with or conform to the group’s norms and expectations.” Most experts agree that peer pressure can have both positive and negative effects. Teens who have a strong sense of self-confidence can both avoid the negative influences of peer pressure and influence their peers to make more productive and healthy choices.
Resisting the Negative
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, teens can encourage each other to make poor decisions such as skipping class, stealing, cheating or sharing inappropriate material online. They are especially vulnerable to substance abuse and the majority of teens with substance abuse problems began using drugs or alcohol as a result of peer pressure. They share the following tips for teens and parents to recognize, prevent, and address negative peer pressure:
The following are tips about peer pressure to share with your kids:
- Stay away from peers who pressure you to do things that seem wrong or dangerous.
- Learn how to say “no,” and practice how to avoid or get out of situations which feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
- Spend time with other kids who resist peer pressure. It helps to have at least one friend who is also willing to say “no.”
- If you have problems with peer pressure, talk to a grown up you trust, like a parent, teacher, or school counselor.
Parents can also help by recognizing when their child is having a problem with peer pressure. The following are tips for parents to help your child deal with peer pressure:
- Encourage open and honest communication. Let kids know they can come to you if they’re feeling pressure to do things that seem wrong or risky.
- Teach your child to be assertive and to resist getting involved in dangerous or inappropriate situations or activities.
- Get to know your child’s friends. If issues or problems arise, share your concerns with their parents.
- Get to know how your child interacts with friends and others online. Communicate openly about safe internet and social media use.
- Help your child develop self-confidence. Kids who feel good about themselves are less vulnerable to peer pressure.
- Develop backup plans to help kids get out of uncomfortable or dangerous situations. For example, let them know you’ll always come get them, no questions asked, if they feel worried or unsafe.
Positive Peer Pressure Through Leadership
On the other end of the spectrum, teens can be encouraged to positively influence their peers. This positive peer pressure can be an effective tool to avoid the pitfalls of poor adolescent decision making. Teens who are confident leaders create a healthy and safe environment where everyone thrives.
The Center for Parent and Teen Communication emphasizes the importance of positive peer pressure for teens. They offer the following opportunities for productive influences:
1) Inspiring Positive Choices
2) Picking Up Healthy Habits
3) Sharing New Experiences
4) Offering Moral Support
5) Social Media as a Positive Force
They emphasize that parents should not try to choose their children’s friends, but instead, “monitor our teens as part of a balanced parenting style.” This involves encouraging positive friendships, setting safe boundaries, and loving and supporting kids for who they are. Parents can model and discuss good character and help kids to make good choices. This creates a space for teens to learn to navigate peer culture, striking a balance between being themselves and fitting in. Most importantly, “Teens who learn to think for themselves and make the most out of their connections to others as they travel the road to adulthood.”