Managing Peer Pressure

Although it is frequently referred to in negative connotations, peer pressure can be both positive and negative. Teenagers can “pressure” their friends to study harder (positive), try drugs (negative), join a club (positive), engage in sex (negative), or pretty much everything in between.  No matter how a teen feels about themselves or how popular a teen is, all teens are pressured at some point in their life. 

Research shows that 87% of America’s teens face a negative peer pressure situation daily. The most common issues teens reported were pressure to cheat, skip classes, fight, lie to parents, engage in vandalism, gossip, stay out late, and drive fast. Teens report that the toughest groups of youth to say “no” to are best friends, older kids (including siblings), the popular group, and special boy or girl friends.

For purposes of this article, we are going to be discussing how teens can handle or manage negative peer pressure. As adults, we need to teach children the skills for navigating the world they live in. Telling them to “just say no” or to “walk away” assumes that the teen is completely self-assured and able to risk social rejection. Most adults can’t do that, let alone adolescents!  Instead, we need to teach teens what they can say or do to avoid the pressure while keeping their friends (or sense of “coolness”) intact.

First, adults need to explain to teens how subtle peer pressure can be. It can sound nice and friendly when someone says, “We won’t get caught. It’ll be fun and everyone is going to be there.” Encourage teens to evaluate their situation with logic – rather than with their emotions – so that they can consider the consequences of what they’re being asked to do. When ugly situations arise and peer pressure kicks in to high gear, it is very easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that you will have to live with the choices you make. If you give in and do something that is contrary to your character or core value system, it will cause you distress later and you will feel regret.

Encourage your teens to seriously consider where they stand on key issues like sex, drugs and alcohol. When they are not around other adolescents, they will be most clear-headed to decide their own position on these topics (instead of absorbing the position of the “crowd”). Once they have developed their own moral compass, encourage them to not allow anybody to make them deviate from their position. Most people – including teens – respect the boundaries of others when they know what they are.

Tell teens to think of themselves as a leader and act accordingly. The more they see themselves in a leadership role the more comfortable they will feel asserting their own opinions and feelings. Additionally, remind them that when they stand up for something that is right (without being angry or confrontational), it is usually enough to inspire others to follow. Along these lines, this would be a good time to remind teens to never take part in bullying. Trying to fit in by making other people feel bad is unacceptable and teens should refuse to take part in anything designed to cause harm to another person. It only takes one teen to do the right thing for the others to realize they shouldn’t bully either.

Try role-playing with your kids to practice hypothetical situations, appropriate to their age and social contexts, that they may have to deal with. You could, for example, play the part of the “trouble-maker peer” with a dumb and/or dangerous idea, while your child plays the role of the “wise decision-maker” attempting to stay out of trouble while keeping their friends at the same time. If your teen feels silly role-playing or won’t engage in this activity, at least encourage them to prepare a mental script of how they would like to deal with uncomfortable situations. The important thing is for adults to give teens alternatives to getting themselves out of tricky situations with their dignity intact.

There are lots of methods that teens can use to manage peer pressure. To stay out of trouble while maintaining their friendships, teach teens these tools:

  • Use jokes to diffuse the situation and avoid trouble
  • Suggest a better idea
  • Use flattery
  • Make a true excuse
  • Return the challenge when dared

Remind your teens that some people may not like it when you go against the group, but doing the right thing is its own reward.

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