Peer Pressure: Strategies to Help Your Child Resist
I vividly remember, many moons ago, experiencing peer pressure in 6th grade. I so badly wanted to fit in with the "it girl" of middle school, that I pretty much did what she said whether I agreed with it morally or not. The "grown-up me" of today wishes I could time travel back to help "6th grade me" and give her some pointers.
Thankfully I got there on my own eventually after realizing a lot about what it means to be a friend, and gaining some much-needed self-confidence.
Now, with children of my own, my antenna is up for any signs that they could be encountering negative peer pressure with friends, or down the road with choices surrounding alcohol, drugs, sex...you name it. So now, even though the teen landscape is quite different then back in my day, I'm time travelling forward to help "future me" work through those tough times, should they arise. If you are experiencing this now with your own kids, I hope this article will help spark some worthwhile conversation.
So why does peer pressure come into play at all? The answer lies within your child’s yearning to become more independent. By the teen years, your child’s peer group becomes the most influential people in their lives. The desire to “fit in” and the opinion of others become heightened for some at this age. Dr. Kathleen Trainor, a clinical psychologist who focuses on treating anxiety in young people and founder of the TRAINOR Center, explains “No one wants to go back to middle school! There are so many changes with puberty and social pressure happening all at once. Kids are so insecure at that age and the insecurity can get acted out. There is a huge desire to ‘fit in’ and not be different which can cause kids to easily feel hurt and insecure.”
Keep in mind that not all peer pressure is bad. Influence of others to help your child step outside of their comfort zone – like joining an activity they would not have originally signed up for – helps positively with your child’s development. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on how to best support your child through negative peer pressure.
Creating a safe, trusting environment with your child is a must to cultivate open communication. Studies show that kids and teens that have a strong relationship with their parents are less likely to submit to negative peer pressure. As a parent, it’s important to keep an open-mind and refrain from judgment in front of your child. If your child makes a mistake, accept it and move on to how they can handle a similar situation moving forward. Dr. Trainor adds, “Parents need to normalize this for kids and help them realize a lot changes in these years including friendships. Support them through the changes and reinforce their strengths and values as they navigate through. Keeping active with enjoyable self esteem building activities like sports, etc. can help as well.”
Below are some key areas to highlight in conversations with your child around peer pressure:
Healthy friendships make you feel good
Emphasize with your child that "real" friends won’t make you feel bad or make you prove yourself to remain friends. Asking a simple prompt question like, “How did that make you feel?” can often lead your child to their own conclusion about their friendship.
Trust your gut
Using this simple rule is a strong indicator on whether your child wants to try or do something, or if they have that "icky" feeling when making a decision. You can explain that “icky feeling" is their gut telling them "this is wrong for you."
Make healthy choices
Underline that your child has the power to make decisions on the environment they put themselves in. No one is forcing them to attend a kegger if they don't want to drink. Helping your child navigate the pluses and minuses of attending a party, smoking pot. etc. ahead of time, may help them decide if this is an environment they want to put themselves in.
How to say "no"
Saying “no” is a lot harder than it sounds, especially in the moment. Having discussions with your child ahead of time on how they feel most comfortable saying no, will help them get out of a situation when the easiest thing to do is say “yes.”
- The number one piece of advice for your child is to be confident in their decision. Help your child see the difference in saying “no” confidently vs. meekly, or even how your body posture influences the perception of confidence.
- One route that may be more comfortable is saying “no” more casually, and giving a reason, like: “No thanks, I don’t smoke” or “Not right now, maybe later.”
- Depending on your child’s personality, humor is another way of easing what could be an uncomfortable situation: “No thanks, I’m aiming to be a social outcast.”
Dr. Matt Hersh, a clinical psychologist with a focus on mindfulness, offers the following advice to parents: “To be as successful as possible, children should know why and what they are saying 'no' to in the first place. Because there’s not a one-size-fits-all peer pressure resistance strategy, children can also role-play with parents and other trusted adults the types of 'no' responses that they’re comfortable expressing. Ultimately, the more confident and comfortable the child is saying 'no' outside of pressured situations, the more successful they’re likely to be in the heat of the moment.”
Role playing with your child is important. What would your child do if they were asked to get in the car of someone who is clearly under the influence? How would they handle it if someone asked to cheat off their test? The more you can set-up scenarios in advance, and be a trusted resource, the less of a challenge it will be for your child to make choices they are comfortable with. If you haven’t already read about the “X Plan,” it is a beneficial method to share with your child should they find themselves in a difficult situation and need your help. Read more here.
Be a Leader
Staying true to yourself is key. Chances are, there are other kids who feel similar, and your child now has the chance to model positive behavior, and maybe find a few like-minded individuals in the process.
Peer pressure comes in all shapes and sizes, and some kids have a harder time with it than others. Giving your child the tools to empower themselves and their decisions is the best support that you, as a parent, can provide during this stage in their development.
Read more on Mean Girls in Middle School.
Written by Phase2Parenting
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.