Wanting to be more like your friends is a normal part of being a teen. Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing, but when it causes concern for you or your child, there are things you can do to help manage it.
Peer pressure is about being influenced and choosing to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do, in the hope of feeling accepted and valued by others. It isn’t just about doing something against your will.
Peer pressure can be positive. For example, your child might be influenced to become more assertive, try new activities, or to get more involved with school. But it can be negative too. Some teens might be influenced to try things they normally wouldn’t be interested in, such as smoking or taking part in antisocial behaviour.
Peer pressure might result in teens:
- choosing the same clothes, hairstyle, or jewellery as their friends
- listening to the same music or watching the same TV shows as their friends
- changing the way they talk, or the words they use
- taking risks or breaking rules
- working harder at school, or not working as hard
- dating or taking part in sexual activities
- smoking or drinking alcohol
Teens who experience poor self-esteem, those who feel they have few friends, and sometimes those with special needs might be more likely to give in to peer pressure. These teens might feel that the only way they’ll be included and accepted in social groups is by taking on the behaviour, attitudes and look of a group.
Coping well with peer pressure is about getting the balance right between being yourself and fitting in with your group.
Helping your teen manage peer pressure
You might be worried that your child is being over-influenced by her peers, or that she’s compromising her values (or yours) to fit in with her friends. You might also be concerned that your child won’t be able to say no if she’s pressured to do more risky things , such as smoking.
But listening to the same music and dressing in the same way as friends doesn’t necessary add up to doing the same antisocial or risky things . It’s worth remembering that you have an influence over your child too, especially over the longer term. If your child has a strong sense of himself and his values, it’s more likely he’ll know where to draw the line when it comes to the risky stuff.
Here are some ideas to help your teen manage peer pressure:
- Keep the lines of communication open. You can do this by staying connected to your child. This can help make her feel more comfortable talking to you if she’s feeling pressured to do something she’s uncomfortable with.
- Suggest ways to say no. Your child might need to have some face-saving ways to say no if he’s being pressured to do something he doesn’t want to do. For example, friends might be encouraging him to try smoking, so rather than saying ‘No, thanks’, he could say something like, ‘No, it makes my asthma worse’, or ‘No, I don’t like the way it makes me smell’.
- Give teenagers a way out. If your child feels she’s in a risky or high-pressure situation, it might help if she can text or phone you for back-up without worrying you’ll be cranky. If your child’s embarrassed about having to call you, you could agree on a coded message. For example, she could say that she’s checking on a sick grandparent, but you’ll know that it really means she needs a hand.
- Encourage a wide social network. If your child has the opportunity to develop friendships from a wide range of sources (such as through sport, family activities or clubs), this will mean he’s got lots of other options and sources of support if a friendship goes wrong.
- Build up your child’s sense of self-esteem. This can help her feel more confident to make her own decisions and push back on peer pressure.
When you’re worried about a peer group
Encouraging your child to have friends over and giving them space in your home can help you get to know your child’s friends and be aware if negative peer pressure is becoming an issue. Good communication and a positive relationship with your child might also encourage your child to talk to you if he’s feeling negative pressure from peers.
If you’re worried your teen’s friends are a negative influence, being critical of them might push your child into seeing them behind your back. If your child thinks you don’t approve of her friends, she might even want to see more of them. Instead of focusing on any people you don’t like, you can try talking to your child about the behaviour you don’t like. Discuss the possible consequences of the behaviour, rather than making judgments about her friends.
When to be concerned
If you notice changes in your teen’s mood, behaviour, eating or sleeping patterns, which you think are because of her friends, it might be time to have a talk with her. Some mood and behaviour changes are normal in teenagers, but if they go on for a few weeks, you might want to pay more attention to your teen’s mental health and wellbeing.
Tip: Children who experience strong self-esteem are better at resisting negative peer pressure. If your child is happy with who he is and the choices he makes, he’s less likely to be influenced by the people around him. Self-esteem helps in establishing good relationships, but good friendships also help self-esteem.
Having friends and feeling connected to a group gives teenagers a sense of belonging and being valued, which helps develop confidence. Friendships also help teenagers learn important social and emotional skills, such as being sensitive to other people’s thoughts, feelings and wellbeing. Our article on teenage friendships has more information.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
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