Handling Peer Pressure
Pressure is a normal, challenging part of life for everyone. But how we handle it can vary widely from person to person. Adolescence is a time when peer pressure, in particular, may seem hardest to deal with. That’s because, in an attempt to fit in and get along with peers and friends, our teens want to please. They don’t want to say no for fear of alienating themselves.
It’s important to understand most peer pressure isn’t like it looks in movies or TV shows. These shows suggest innocent teens are told, “Do this if you want to be one of us,” or “If you don’t do this you’re a loser.” In the real world, peer pressure may be much more subtle. It is driven by a desire to feel “normal,” a need we all have, but one that is heightened during adolescence. For this reason, we prepare our children to navigate teen culture when we help them clarify their own values and think through what they really want for themselves. Parents can support teens to both follow their own thoughts and feelings and still feel as though they are fitting in.
Armed with some strong skills, teens can learn to handle and overcome peer pressure. We can give teens the know-how by considering the following strategies and understanding how they can make a difference.
Strategies to Teach Teens
Teach Teens to Have the Confidence to Walk Away
Because we all want to be accepted by our peers, it can be hard to be the only one saying “no” when faced with peer pressure. We must teach teens to be confident in themselves. We can do this through role modeling confidence and praising their wise choices. By doing so, their inner strength will help them stand firm with their feelings. A belief in themselves will help them do what they feel is right. That same confidence allows them to have less fear of failure. It’s a combination that lets them resist succumbing to peer pressure and to have the strength to walk away. They will know that even if they seemingly “fail” among their peers, they will succeed in the long run.
Teach Teens to Look for Positive Peer “Partners”
If your teens don’t have quite enough confidence to walk away on their own, encourage them to look for a like-minded peer or friend who feels the same way they do in a particular situation. If they are being pushed to cut class, feeling tempted to try drugs, or feeling stressed about friends bullying another classmate, having a peer who is also willing to say “no” as well makes that pressure easier to resist.
Teach Teens to Set Limits and Say No
Teens don’t like to say no to friends or peers. They worry that doing so could harm a good relationship. As parents, you set safe limits for your teens. You must also help them understand that there are times when it’s all right for them to say no. Taking illegal drugs, or driving with someone who has been drinking, are examples of times in which safety demands they say no. For example, if your teens feel uncomfortable going to parties where parents aren’t present, teach them how to politely decline a party invitation, saying no in a way that won’t cause hard feelings. If they are being pressured by friends to smoke cigarettes they might say, “No thanks. I’m not into it. I feel sick from even just being around smoke.” Although we want our children to be polite, it is also vitally important, particularly for our girls, to know that a firm “No!” can also be the right thing to do. When people learn to set their own limits, they’ll feel more in control of themselves in many situations throughout their lives.
Teach Teens to Stay Away
Have you heard the old joke about the patient who tells the doctor, “Doc, my arm hurts when I do this!” The doctor replies, “Then don’t do that!” That corny joke actually holds some serious wisdom. If your teens face pressure from peers pushing them to do things they know are wrong, teach them to stay away from stressful situations in the first place. If they know that a group of teens tend to look for trouble, avoid hanging out with them. If they know a corner can be dangerous, walk around the block in the other direction.
Because avoiding fun or peers altogether is advice that will never be followed, we need to encourage young people to instead look for like-minded friends or classmates that also avoid unsafe or unwise situations.
Teach Teens to Develop Decision-Making Skills
It’s important to allow teens to make day-to-day decisions for themselves. If parents are always deciding things for them, they send the message that their teens are incapable. The only way teens can truly develop their decision-making skills is to have a chance to practice putting them into action! As they make decisions themselves, they’ll feel good about the choices they make and may be more likely to choose to do the right thing.
Teach Teens to Ask Questions and Consider Consequences
Asking questions out loud to a friend or a group of peers when in a tough situation may help win allies and take some of the pressure off. For example, if teens are being pressured to shoplift, teach them things they can ask their peers. “Who thought this was a good idea? Whose choice was this? Why do we want to do this? Won’t we get arrested if we get caught?” Hearing consequences said aloud can also get peers thinking and potentially changing their minds about the very thing they were pressuring others to do.
Teach Teens to Talk to a Trusted Adult
If the peer pressure is still too much to handle, let your teens know they don’t have to deal with it on their own. Remind them you’re there for them. If they seemingly feel unable to come to you, for now, let them know it’s also okay to seek guidance from a trusted adult other than yourself. Extended family, teachers, counselors, clergy, and coaches are also good resources. They can provide advice and help deal with pressure-filled situations.
Teach Teens Coping Strategies
It doesn’t take long for children to learn that life is full of choices. By the time our children hit adolescence, they know making choices can bring a certain amount of pressure and stress. Listening to their instincts, focusing on their strengths, talking through issues, and learning relaxation exercises, are all examples of different coping strategies that can help manage stress. Teaching teens — and modeling — coping strategies will help them make healthier choices during the stressful and challenging situations that often come with peer pressure.
Teach Teens to “Blame the Parents”
If it seems like nothing else is working, and your teens need an excuse to help them handle peer pressure…be that excuse! Let them know that you are okay with them using you as an out. Consider the impact of telling friends for example, “If I cut school today, my mom will ground me for the next three months!” or “My dad told me I can’t go to the party. If I do and I get caught, there go my car privileges.”
Teach Teens That It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. If their temporary lapse in judgment doesn’t cross into territory in which safety or morality are at risk, try to stay calm. Have a reasonable discussion after a bit of time has passed. It should be a conversation in which you don’t pass judgment. If possible, share a situation from when you were younger in which you made a mistake and explain what you learned from it. That even-handedness will encourage them towards making positive choices if faced with a similar peer situation in the future. Your flexibility in these areas will also allow you to take firmer stances in areas that would challenge their safety or morality.
Being there for teens when they are faced with the challenges of peer pressure can make all the difference. Our tweens and teens are listening to us, even if it may not always seem like it. Equipping teens with a variety of communication strategies empowers them to make good decisions when faced with peer pressure. These are skills that not only support their ability to make it through tough situations today but will also serve them far into adulthood.