How Peer Pressure Can be a Positive Force in Your Teens’ Lives
Peer Pressure: The Bad and the Good
Most young people will experience some type of peer pressure during adolescence. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, peer pressure can be a force to reckon with because of its potential influence at a time when a teen is working to establish their identity. As they’re busy asking themselves questions such as, “Who am I? Where do I fit in?” or “What will others think of my choices?” they may look to their peers and friends for answers. They may face challenging moments when it feels hard to say no to their peer group, even if it leads to unwise choices. But, there will be other times when they make positive choices based on this social pressure. That’s what’s known as positive peer pressure.
The Positive Side of Peer Pressure
Did you know that teen brains are wired to get excited and feel rewarded when they’re around peers? It’s one of the reasons teens want to spend more time with their peers when they hit adolescence. Teens compare themselves with their peers to help determine if they’re “normal” within their group. And when they spend time with peers who encourage them to make growth-building choices, they stand to benefit from positive peer pressure.
If your teens have peers who work hard in school or show strong commitment when playing sports, for example, they could positively influence your teen to be more patient, goal-oriented, supportive, or committed. If your teen spends time with kids who are helpful, kind, generous, honest, curious, or empathetic, they may build or strengthen those strengths in themselves. Through positive peer pressure, they might try extracurriculars or hobbies they wouldn’t have chosen on their own. They could be inspired to make healthier lifestyle choices. They may even increase their self-confidence. Peer pressure can come across as positive encouragement or support.
A Teen POV
We asked members of our Youth Advisory Board about their experiences with positive peer pressure. Their responses may help parents understand the impact of positive peer influence:
“It’s really easy to feel some major imposter syndrome at my school; it’s easy to get into a rut and feel like it’s not worth trying to get over the struggle. My peers have encouraged me to keep working hard to get better both with my academic struggles and personal balance.” – Paige, 19-year-old
“In my school, there’s a rule of thumb: Choose two of the above – 1. Sleep 2. Social Life 3. Grades. For a while I just chose 2 + 3, but my friends helped me see the importance of sleep and have helped me make time for it.” – Hector, 20 -year-old
“My friends have encouraged me to play and join sports and go for long walks with them. This is definitely pretty important, especially in college, for mental health and health overall. I have been in better moods ever since I have started being more active with them.” – Jadan, 18-year-old
“When work has piled up and I’ve procrastinated, one of my friends will text in the group chat and encourage everyone to go to the library and get work done together. They help me get my work done.” – Talia, 19-year-old
“Sometimes in life, it is hard to go through the down moments. My friends encourage me to focus on myself so I can have the energy to focus on other things. It helps having these people in your corner especially when you come from an impoverished community.” – Kay’Stienna, 22-year-old
“My school is all boys and there is that stigma of not sharing your emotions. Removing that stigma and sharing my emotions with close friends has been a result of positive change from the influence of close friends. I have a great support system around me that promotes honesty and helps me reduce stress.” – Art, 17-year-old
You Can’t Pick Your Teens’ Friends
With all these real-life examples of how positive peer pressure impacted these teens, it could seem tempting to want to introduce your teen to children that you think would be a good influence. But it’s a mistake to think you can pick your teen’s friends. It’s part of the teen developmental process to choose their own friends – and we need to remember teens are the experts in their own lives. You’re just as likely to pick the wrong kids as they are, maybe even more so. Think back to some of the friends you had when you were a teen. Do you remember the one kid who acted like a perfect angel when adults were around, only to turn into a little devil once their backs’ were turned?
Avoid criticizing your teen’s friends too. If you do, your teen may react negatively towards you and defend their friend. And just because their friend does something rotten to them one day doesn’t mean they won’t be besties with your teen the following day.
Try These Strategies Instead
- Teach your teen about the negative side of peer pressure. Is a friend or peer pushing them to make a decision that goes against their values or comfort level? What are some different ways they can respond and still save face? It’s not too early to teach about this before they hit the teen years. Consider giving your teen a code word so they can quickly and discreetly escape uncomfortable, pressure-filled situations. Once you’ve rescued your teen and everyone is calm, look for a time to talk about what made them uncomfortable and how they might react in the future.
- Explain what’s behind meaningful friendships. You have the ability to help teach your teen ways to make and keep friends. Encourage them to tell you how they might work towards establishing a friendship. Ask your teen what some of the most important qualities are that they’d look for in a friend. What are some qualities they hope others admire about them? Have them write down a list of different character strengths they would want to see in themselves and their peers. Those could include values like honesty, respect, loyalty, and empathy.
- Help your teen realize the many different types of relationships that will be a part of their lives. Those could range from friends to classmates, teammates, work colleagues, romantic relationships and even “virtual” relationships – peers they interact with online. How might they start some positive interactions with these different types? Be sure to listen carefully and try to understand their perspective without judgment.
- Help them focus on quality, not quantity. Many teens have multiple groups of friends with whom they share different interests and pastimes. While it’s nice to have a cast of different types of peers your teen can call friends, especially since teens sometimes shift quickly between peer groups, having one or two good, reliable, friends may be enough for some young people.
- Be present. Let your teen know you’ll be there to support them throughout all the different relationships they may build through the years. There will be many types of friends that will come and go. As their parent, reinforce that while peers and friends may come and go, you will always be there for them.