Child Safety - Miller & Zois

Teen Peer Pressure

One of the most traditional experiences every teenager will inevitably go through is dealing with peer pressure. Peer pressure can occur at any age, but as any parent can tell you, the teenage years are littered with instances of somebody being pushed to do something out of their normal comfort zone. Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing, it can provide positive encouragement to help somebody try something they’re scared to do, like audition for a school play. But almost every teenager will run into a scenario where their peers are pressuring them into doing something like drinking alcohol or doing drugs. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help prepare your teenager for when they run into peer pressure.

What Counts as a “Peer”?

You may be familiar with the term peer pressure, but what exactly counts as a peer for your teen? When your child was growing up, you were mainly in charge of who your child played with or hung out with. You tried your best to group them up with other friendly, positive children that were a good influence on them. Now that your child is in late middle school or high school, it’s up to them to decide who they like to hang out with. They look for like-minded people that they naturally get along with. Naturally, they belong to a certain “clique”.

The most impactful peers are the friends who are around the same age, with interests and activities similar to them, and who they can see frequently. When they’re hanging out with their close friends, almost all their decisions are influenced by the other person’s behaviors. Usually, these influences are harmless. It can influence the kind of humor they use, the way they have fun together, and how they learn together.

Other people can still be a peer in your teen’s life even if they’re not very close friends. People in the same community, such as friends from a sports team, other classmates in the same grade, or members of a club can still have an influence over your teen’s decisions. This mainly stems from your teen’s need to keep up their public identity. Many teens want to appear cool, smart, or naturally funny.

Teens have peers they look up to or admire, and they also have peers that remind them of what they don’t want to be. They start to compare themselves to others, and that begins to shape their own identity. Teens will follow their peer’s advice because they want to fit in with the crowd, follow a leader, or have what others have.

When is Peer Pressure Bad?

Teen Peer Pressure InfographicLike we said previously, peer pressure isn’t always bad. In fact, peer pressure is a normal part of growing up. Peer pressure can help form friendships, set positive examples, help your child socialize, and give them new experiences. Your child’s peers can help them take the first steps in trying something they’re scared to try. Remember when your had your first crush and you didn’t know how to tell them? There’s always friends in the background encouraging you to follow your heart and let them know.

In other instances, however, peer pressure can lead to doing bad things. Some of the most common bad pressures include stealing, vandalizing, drinking alcohol, doing drugs, bullying, and having sex. There is a myriad of reasons as to why teens want to engage in such behaviors, such as feeling the need to rebel, trying to feel cool or mature, or even due to simple curiosity.

When your teen is hanging out in a group and multiple people in the group start to form an idea on what to do, it can be hard to say no. They don’t want to seem like a buzzkill or that they’re not cool enough to hang out with them anymore. They feel the need to go with the flow or follow the leader, especially if they look up to that person or feel safe with them. In school, there’s a certain expectation to dress a certain way or act a certain way. In these cases, your teen succumbs to peer pressure because they feel the need to conform and fit in. They may feel anxiety if they don’t follow the rest of the crowd.

When it comes to drugs and alcohol, peer pressure usually stems from the need to do “what everyone else is doing”. The most common experience teens run into is when they go to a party and most people are drinking or already doing drugs. Not only do they want to follow everyone else, but they are also convinced it will help them have fun. Peer pressure in these situations doesn’t always have to be direct. The simple presence of illicit items can be a form of pressure or simple gestures can be impactful.

How can I Talk to my Child About Peer Pressure?

It’s important that you have a talk with your child about peer pressure. They most likely already know what it is, but they may not know how to deal with it on their own yet. Without adult intervention, they may have no one to tell them that they don’t need to follow what their friends tell them. Keep in mind that peer pressure can have a dramatic impact on a child’s self-esteem or self-worth, so it’s not always as easy teaching them how to say “no”. Your child may resist your advice because “you don’t know what it’s like”. With this knowledge, here are some tips you can use to help talk to your child about peer pressure:

  • Teach them to listen to their gut instinct. Everyone knows what it’s like to be in a situation where their gut tells them something wrong is happening. Tell your child to recognize that feeling when it happens and leave if it’s telling them that it’s not a good idea to participate in what their friends are doing.
  • Help create a plan for them for when they find themselves in peer pressure situations. For example, if you know a party is coming up and there’s the possibility of drugs or alcohol being present, find out what they’re going to do when approached with that situation. You can even plan out the exact words they’ll say when their friends talk to them.
  • Use a secret code that your child can use to contact you whenever they’re in a bad situation. If they need you, they can call you and use that phrase to notify you discreetly that they need help. You can use a phrase like “can you take me home? I’m having the worst stomach ache right now”.
  • Even though it’s not always as simple as this, make sure your child knows how to say “no”. Teach them that it’s not going to ruin their friendships or make them less cool for saying it. You can reframe it by saying that using the word “no” establishes a standard for themselves and makes them seem more independent and confident in their own views. It may also help to point out that standing up for yourself can also help lead others who may also feel uncomfortable.
  • Encourage them to find friends who have the same mindset as them. Friends who are positive, supporting, caring, and protective will help your child avoid situations where they are faced with bad peer pressure.
  • Tell your child they can use you as an excuse to not do something. There are plenty of “helicopter parents” that keep a close eye on their child at all times. Your child can use this as an excuse to not engage in pressure. Tell them to use excuses like “My parents will kill me. They can definitely tell if I’ve been drinking or smoking.”

There’s no real way to prevent your child from experiencing peer pressure, and you shouldn’t really try ways to stop it. Even though peer pressure can be bad, peer pressure itself can be a vital tool to help your child establish their identity through the behaviors of others. However, don’t be afraid to address the topic with your child. It’s important that they know that if they ever need help, you’re only a call away.