Peer pressure is a natural part of growing up. As children age, their friends’ opinions will matter greatly to them.
Children and teens may appear to value the opinions of their friends over those of their family members. Don’t be alarmed by this. It is part of normal development.
Parents can help children who may be influenced by peer pressure. Your guidance still matters greatly. Communication, respect, and understanding can help you better equip your child to handle peer pressure.
Understanding Peer Pressure
Young children depend on their parents for all their needs: food, shelter, and even their identity.
Children will experience the effects of peer pressure as they develop. Asserting their own identity often means finding friends who become incredibly important to them.
Not all peer pressure is bad for children. Peer pressure can positively encourage:
- Learning from people of other backgrounds.
- Making friendships that could last for a long time.
- Meeting other children who model hard work, loyalty, and ethics.
- Children trying new hobbies, sports, foods, and positive experiences.
Parents often worry about negative peer pressure, such as the pressure to consume alcohol or drugs at an important time in their development.
Preteens and adolescents feel immense pressure to fit into a group and conform to its standards so they will not feel left out. Peer pressure can negatively influence children to do things like:
- Take unlawful substances or try alcohol.
- Engage in unsafe sex.
- Use social media or phones in an unsafe manner.
- Shoplift, cheat at school, or take part in other illegal or aberrant behavior.
How Parents Can Guide Their Children
Parents can and should anticipate that children will value their friends over them at some point in their lives. Rachel Aydt wrote an article for Parents magazine detailing how she faced talking to her children about peer pressure.
Aydt provided a more lax example. Her son was in kindergarten and wanted a new backpack because a young friend said his was boring. She mentioned that children may feel peer pressure because they do not always own certain items or know how to handle themselves in some social situations.
There are still many strategies parents can use to help their children assert their own beliefs, maintain friends, and negotiate with peer pressure during more difficult situations.
- Make sure your children know what peer pressure is. Children may understand that it is not right to tease someone else because they do not conform to some societal standards (not owning the right clothes or not doing certain things), but they may not have heard the term peer pressure before.Provide a description of this concept to start an open dialog. Educate your child with age-appropriate examples.
- Offer recommendations for how to say “no.” This sets them up for success when they encounter pressure to make unhealthy choices.Teach them to offer compromises. For example, if a friend pressures your child to cheat on a test, your child can offer to help them study instead.There will be times when the best policy will be to give a firm “no” to something that is harmful, such as taking illicit drugs or engaging in risky sexual activity. Have honest conversations and teach them that it is okay to firmly say “no.”
- Let your child know it is okay to be different. Teach your child about the importance of being unique. While there are times when compromising with a group is important, stress the importance of independence. Provide examples of people who stand out to help your child resist negative or harmful activities.
- Talk about the other side. Children do not always understand that some people put pressure on others because they are insecure, or they are more easily influenced by social media sites that promote unhealthy choices. Teaching your child about insecurity and its power can help them better understand people who pressure them.
- Instill confidence and self-esteem. People who are confident care less about what others think of their preferences. You do not have to wait until your child faces difficult peer pressure to start teaching them the value of healthy self-esteem. Confidence will allow your child to better resist negative peer pressure.
- Know your child’s friends. Meet your child’s new friends. Invite them over for dinner or another social event. You’ll have a better gauge of what is going on in your child’s life if you know their friends well.
Special Considerations For Adolescents
Teenagers are not yet adults. Their struggle with peer pressure may seem more difficult because they are offered choices they are not yet ready for. Adolescents also seek adventures and new experiences, making them especially susceptible to peer pressure because they want to have fun.
For teens, it can help to define their perception of things versus the reality of how things actually are. They may perceive that everyone is drinking, doing drugs, or having sex, but this isn’t actually the case. Cite specific examples, or pull up some research data to illustrate your point.
Up to 40 percent of high school-aged adolescents are still virgins by the time they graduate. Data like this can reassure them and let them know they’re not alone.
Teaching an adolescent these realities is known as the normative strategy. Adolescents may not show it, but their parents are still incredibly important to them.
Stay involved with your kids, and keep an open line of communication. You can help them better deal with peer pressure and avoid some of its negative impact.