8 Strategies to Handle Peer Pressure

Dealing With Peer Pressure

We want our children to have meaningful and healthy relationships both in personal and work settings throughout their lives. We prepare them for this when we are loving, supportive and have open communication in our homes. But adolescence is when our teens expand their relationships beyond our homes. And this is a critical developmental step towards becoming an independent adult. As teens navigate peer culture, parents play an important role in preparing them with the social skills needed to make their own smart choices and avoid peer pressure.

There are endless skills for teens to develop with their peers. Skills that are needed to work effectively with people, have meaningful friendships, and healthy romantic and family relationships in the future. While peers become increasingly important during adolescence, parents continue to play a vital role. Part of that role involves helping teens successfully navigate increasingly complex social situations. This includes teaching them to say “No” effectively — stating their position clearly, standing their ground, while still maintaining relationships.

As much as we may wish that we could teach our kids to say “No!” to friends who engage in behavior we don’t like, that isn’t always realistic. Some young people choose to maintain friendships at the expense of their values. Throughout life we will have different values than coworkers and friends. Part of raising teens includes helping them develop the skills to be clear about their values, while still interacting with people who may have differing ones.

Part of raising teens includes helping them develop the skills to be clear about their values, while still interacting with people who may have differing ones.

The Reality of Peer Pressure

Many people think peer pressure is about one forceful teen demanding that another, “Try this…or I’m not hanging out with you.” It is actually far more subtle. It’s more like a dance where everyone tries different moves to look like they know what steps to take. People make choices and engage in behaviors because they think it’s how they’ll fit in. And, the people suggesting the behaviors often do it to show they are the trendsetters.

There is perhaps no better way to protect teens from peer pressure than to prepare them with social skills to make wise choices — as they still learn “to dance.” When teens are equipped with concrete social skills they gain confidence in their ability to navigate challenges and stand up for what they believe in. They gain the strength needed to say “No,” even if it may be unpopular with friends.

Look Beyond “Just Say No”

Teens should never feel the pressure to say yes when their gut tells them no. Having the ability to say no and mean it might even be lifesaving. But what skills does one need to say no? Sounds easy. Look a person in the eye — and just say no. Not so easy when teens feel their peer relationships may be at stake.

We have learned that educating teens about what not to do is not enough. Drug prevention programs that have had success have gone far beyond teaching young people to say no. They tend to teach the “whys” behind avoiding drugs, offer social skills to refuse drugs, and give opportunities to practice those skills over time. We can draw from these successful programs and from our own life experience, to empower teens to say “No” effectively. Consider these 8 tips as you prepare your teen to face peer pressure.


The Influence of Parents VS Peers

Many parents underestimate the impact they have on their tweens’ and teens’ lives. Too often, they mistakenly think friends hold more influence. Learn about some real-life reasons behind these misconceptions and why parents matter!


Quantity of Time Spent With Peers

Youth may seem to spend more time with peers than parents during adolescence. It’s partly because they spend long days in school together. But it’s the quality -- not quantity -- of time spent that’s truly important.


Pulling Away

As part of adolescent development, teens must learn to maneuver the ins and outs of friendships and other relationships. It’s a normal and important part of growing up to pull away from parents as they do so.


Navigating Relationships

Friends and peers can have positive and negative influence on children. Parents can influence the odds that teens are surrounded by positive peer groups by encouraging participation in a variety of healthy activities.


Talking to Parents Less

It’s common for teens to talk less to parents and more with friends. But when it comes down to it, teens want to know and value their parents’ opinions -- especially on tough topics such as sex and drug use.

1) Say No Sparingly

Teach tweens and teens to say no only when they really mean it. No should always mean no. No shouldn’t mean maybe. And it’s ok to be unsure. But when they are unsure, they should be prepared to say, “I don’t know,” or “Maybe,” or “I need to think about it.” As soon as they are uncomfortable, it is important to be clear and firm that the answer is no. It is not up for negotiation. Your teens should state their position clearly in a non-negotiable, but also non-confrontational, way. They might say, “No. Thanks. Not into it.”

2) Be Mindful of Body Language

Remind your teens that words are only a small part of the story we tell. Body language is also a big factor in what we communicate to others. Saying no while smiling and leaning into someone could send mixed signals. No is more clearly communicated through body language when you stand your ground, make eye contact, and remain calm. Sometimes the best strategy is just walking away and distancing yourself from potential trouble.

3) Offer Alternatives

Sometimes teens may hesitate to say no because they think it will be unpopular with friends. No one wants to be the odd one out or to appear like they are judging friends for their choices. A helpful strategy to teach teens is to offer alternatives. For example, a teen facing peer pressure to ditch class with a friend could respond, “I’m going to class. But I’ll meet up with you after school to shoot hoops.”

4) Reinforce Values

When teens make a choice that is right for them and stick with it, they learn to express their values. What is ok for one person may cross a line with another. Remind your teens that they are their own people making their own choices. It is up to them (not their friends) to decide what they value. It is up to us as parents, to establish the boundaries that will keep them safe and to guide them towards healthy values they will choose to follow.

5) Practice

When teens have the opportunity to practice new strategies, they gain confidence in their ability to use the skills in real life.

Role playing is the most obvious way to practice saying no. Set aside a time where you present your teen with a variety of potential situations. For example, they get to the party and there are no parents present or they are offered a ride with someone that has been drinking. Give them time to consider your sample situations and ask them how they would respond.

6) Find Teachable Moments

Role playing can feel like too much pressure to some young people. Consider as an alternative using an example from TV or a movie. When a teachable moment presents itself, ask how your teen would have responded to a similar situation. Or as you’re riding together in a car you may be exposed to real life situations on the streets around you. Comment on what you notice and ask your teen to consider how the kids you pass should handle a given situation. These strategies allow teens to develop skills without forcing them to focus on themselves.

7) Model. Model. Model.

Finally, model how you say no clearly and definitively through your own body language and words. Be subtle and just comment on how you navigate the world. There’s no need to point out that you’re teaching them. Just let it happen naturally. As our teens watch us, they gain “practice” painlessly from our life experiences and modeling.

8) Blame Parents

When all else fails, having an out to save face in front of friends can be an important resource. Teens can “blame parents” as a way to avoid pressure to do things they don’t want to. For example, a teen that is pressured to drink alcohol might say, “No, I can’t. My mom waits up for me and she’ll know if I smell like alcohol. I’d be grounded for life.”

Setting up a code word is another opportunity to get out of a situation and save face. This strategy includes a pre-set agreement between parents and teens, so that when the teen uses the word, the parent demands they come home. This allows the teen to tell friends, “Sorry guys, I gotta go. My Dad is making me come home.”

Do you Know how to Help Teens Handle Peer Pressure?
Parents play a key role in supporting teens to deal with peer pressure. Take this quiz to find out more.

Evaluate Friendships

Because adolescence is about testing limits and seeking new experiences, sooner or later teens will face peer pressure and difficult decisions that may be unpopular with friends. If your teens are increasingly finding themselves in uncomfortable situations, suggest they reassess their friendships. True friends respect each other’s choices. We are at our best when we surround ourselves with people with similar values and interests.

Teens empowered with tools to face challenging social situations gain important opportunities to express their values. They have confidence to do what’s right and skills needed for healthy future relationships. Our role as adults is to give them the tools to do so.

About Elyse Salek

Elyse Salek, M.S.Ed. is an Administrative Director of Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Her degrees are in Psychology and Human Development from Middlebury College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Education. She is the proud mother of two children.

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