Building your Teen’s Refusal Skills

We all know that adolescents face an extraordinary amount of peer pressure, and unfortunately, when humans are under pressure, we don’t always make the best decisions. Despite our intelligence, we are not great at considering all of the consequences of our decisions while people are staring at us waiting for our decision. This is true of adults, but it’s even more accurate in describing teens. When teens are put on the spot, they have a split second to figure out what to do, and while teens generally want to make the right choice, they often want to avoid awkwardness even more.

As parents, we teach our teens why they should say no. We give them the reasons for avoiding drugs, illegal activity, sexual encounters, and risky behavior. Many teens are perfectly aware that they should stay away from these things, and they have every intention of doing so. However, in the absence of a plan, when they are confronted with the cool kid offering them a beer at a party or their latest crush asking for a nude photo, they tend to say whatever they think will please the other person or make them most accepted.

“Just say no” sounds good in theory, but saying no isn’t as easy as saying yes. Sometimes saying no can create an awkward moment, and teens will almost always avoid anything awkward.

If parents truly want their teens to say no, they have to do more than give them the intellectual reasons for it. They need to help their teen develop a plan. Sit down with your teen and think of the many pressure-filled situations that your teen might face, and then, come up with responses that allow your teen to make the right choice, but that would not alienate or judge his/her friends. You need to develop responses with your teen that match his/her personality, but here are some possibilities to get your creative juices flowing:

Suggest an alternative activity.

One way to refuse a risky behavior, but still save face with friends, is thinking of something better to do. It actually offers everyone an “out” and could help someone else in the group who doesn’t really want to go along with the risk either! Your teen could say, ‘I don’t really want to ____; why don’t we go to ____ instead?’ or “I’m starving; let’s go eat!” This type of phrase shows that your teen still wants to be friends and have fun, just in a different way.

Leave the situation.

Remind your teen that they don’t have to stay in an uncomfortable situation. Your teen might say, “This isn’t really my scene, so I’m leaving, but I understand if you guys want to stay.” This statement keeps your teen out of trouble, but doesn’t judge or put pressure on their friends, which should keep the friendship intact. Another option is that you and your teen could decide on a codeword which means they want you to text or call with an excuse for them to leave.

Blame the parents.

Parents should absolutely tell kids, early and often, exactly what the rules are, and what the consequences will be if they are broken. Encourage your teen to tell friends “I can’t – my mom will kill me!” or “No, thanks, my dad said I would be grounded for 6 months if I do something like that!” When your teen can blame you, it takes the pressure off of them and helps them save face with their friends.

Make them laugh.

One of the best ways to lighten a refusal is with a joke. A teen who can make someone laugh when saying no can stay out of trouble and still keep their friends. If your teen has a deadpan type of humor, they might be able to pull off a lighthearted “Sorry, I’m trying to be less popular” or “I’m too fun already; I don’t need that.” If your teen has a silly sense of humor, then perhaps “Sorry, I have to get home because I’m expecting a phone call from the President” can help them slip out of peer pressure unscathed. Remember that the response they use should match your teen’s personality. Your teen will need to figure out what they think is a funny response, not what you think is funny.

Make an excuse.

Help your teen develop an honest answer they can have waiting in their back pocket for risky situations. For example, if your teen plays sports, they could refuse drugs by saying, “No, I’m trying to stay healthy for baseball,” or “No, I’ll get kicked off the team if I get caught. It’s not worth the risk.” A teen faced with pressure to drink could say, “No, thanks. My family’s genes and alcohol don’t mix well.” A youth whose friend is texting while driving might mention a report they saw on the news about accidents and offer to finish the text for them.

Reverse the pressure.

Ask your teen if they feel comfortable reversing the peer pressure. For example, if a partner says, “if you love me, you’re do ___” then your teen could respond “If you love me, you won’t pressure me.” Reversing the pressure gives your teen more control over the situation.

Gather support.

One of the reasons teens get in trouble is because they are trying to fit in. If your teen talks to their closest friends about how they feel ahead of time, then they can support each other when the peer pressure mounts. Encourage your teen to find a friend who shares their values so they can back each other up. It’s much easier to say no when you have friends saying no with you.

Final Thoughts…

By giving your teen a plan for saying no in difficult situations, you are giving them tools to combat peer pressure. Practicing refusal skills as an adolescent will also help them be more successful and true to themselves as an adult.

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