What Teens Think About Peer Pressure — And How Parents Can Help
Peer Pressure & Adolescent Development
Most teens will experience some form of peer pressure – whether in person or online – during adolescence. At a time when teens are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in, it is especially challenging for them to say no in uncomfortable situations or to go against their peer group. Teen brains are wired to care what peers think. Their brains actually have reward centers that get excited around peers, reinforcing their desire for more and deeper peer interactions.
Peer – or social – pressures may be subtle, making teens feel they must dress or act a certain way to fit in. Being different and not fitting in can cause teens stress and anxiety. They may grow fearful that they will never be accepted for who they truly are. Teens are motivated by a desire to be “normal” as they develop their identity, which they do in part by comparing themselves to others.
As a parent, you may read this and ask, “Can I help my teen deal with peer pressure?” Good news: you can! Parents play an essential role in preparing teens to navigate pressured — or even risky — situations. Strategies like the code word and check-in rule can help teens feel confident they always have a safe way out of any uncomfortable social settings. There is also so much power in the ability to say “no.” Teach your teen that “no” can be a complete sentence. Help them identify the core values they won’t compromise. Surround your teen with role models that shape their development in positive ways. With your support, teens can develop the tools and skills they need to handle (and even overcome) peer pressure.
The Teen Perspective on Peer Pressure
While parents need to understand the developmental side of peer pressure, it’s also valuable to hear directly from adolescents who experience it now. To get the teen perspective, we asked our Youth Advisory Board members to share their thoughts on social pressures and advise parents on the best ways to support young people through challenging situations. Here are some of their responses:
“… If your teen comes to you explaining a situation in which they have felt peer pressured in any way, the best piece of advice I can give is to listen to the entirety of their story. This is so important because it is quite hard as a parent to listen to your child be emotional, upset, angry, and anxious, but it is super key not to cut in with a dramatic response and overreact when they are trying to share pieces of information with you. That immediate dramatic response is likely to cause a shut-down from your kid, and it could cause them not to want to come to you with other issues in the future if they lose trust in you. Additionally, asking them how they would like to proceed is best to do as well. Immediately attempting to contact another parent or principal might lead to more embarrassment on their part, which is why talking through the next steps is key.” – Jadan, 17-year-old
“When it comes to addressing peer pressure, parents should address their children in a way that portrays them as relatable. Parents should not try to put themselves on a pedestal above their children and tell them what to do without enlightening their children about the fact that they have gone through it and experienced it and that it’s difficult. The more that parents can portray themselves in an understandable and relatable light, the better their children will understand and want to listen to them.” – Art, 17-year-old
“As a teenager, there are lots of times where you’re with friends, and they want to try something you’re not comfortable with, but you don’t want to tell them you’re uncomfortable because that’s kind of awkward. It’s a situation you want to get out of. So, my parents and I had something growing up to help with that. Because there were a couple of times when I was in those situations and didn’t want to be there, but I also didn’t want to go through the awkward conversation of telling my friends I wasn’t okay with it. Then they’d think I’m not cool. My parents and I had a code word. So, if I was in one of those situations, I’d say, ‘Yeah, sure, we can do that. But I’m just going to call my parents quickly because they told me to check in with them around this time to make sure that I’m doing okay.’ Then I’d step away and call them and say something specific, and they would know, by that sentence that I used, that I was in an awkward peer pressure situation and wanted to get out of it. And then they would tell me, ‘Actually, this thing just came up. I know we told you that you could be out later, but we really need you to come back for this.’ So that gave me an easy out where I could tell my friends, ‘My parents had this thing come up and they need me to be back. And I don’t want to leave, but I also need to be back for that. So I’ll see you guys next time.’ That was really helpful for me growing up.” – Paul, 22-year-old
Talk With Your Teen
Open up a conversation with your teen. Share these teens’ thoughts with your child and ask if they can relate to any of these shared experiences. Talk about the ways you can prepare them to best handle pressured situations. If you do not have a code word yet, try brainstorming some options together.
Conversation Tip: If you are having trouble getting this conversation started, try bringing it up while you are doing an activity together, like driving or running errands. This approach can help relieve pressure from the talk and help your teen feel more comfortable opening up. Discover more tips for getting teens talking here.