Peer pressure is a reality of growing up. Though it's out of our control as parents, there are things we can do to support our teen and help her successfully navigate the peer-pressure pitfalls.
First, talk with your teen and help them set healthy boundaries on using drugs, drinking, having sex or engaging in illegal activities. This will enable them to take their own position when needed, instead of following the crowd.
Then help your teen understand that if they give in and do something that is contrary to their core value system, it will cause distress and regret. And be sure to let them know you will hold them responsible for their behavior. Don't hesitate to discuss specific consequences. Studies show that when a parent clearly disapproves of an activity, a child is less likely to participate.
As adults, we can also help teens think about what they might say in various situations. Telling them to “just say no” or to “walk away” assumes that they are self-assured enough to risk social rejection — which is often not the case.
There are plenty of things kids can do to maintain friendships while deflecting peer pressure, including using humor, suggesting a better idea, or making an excuse. Some parents find it helpful to have a code word or phrase a teen can use when calling, so you know they are in trouble and will come — no questions asked.
Lastly, know your teen’s friends and how they feel about their social status. Those who are more eager to be popular are more willing to compromise morals to fit in. Additionally, teens are more likely to succumb to peer pressure when they are depressed, have low self-esteem, lack personal interests or are isolated.
It may be helpful to know that a recent study out of Temple University found physiological reasons why adolescents are more likely to respond to peer pressure. Using functional MRI, researchers studied the effects of friends on brain activity. The findings suggest that teenage peer pressure has a distinct effect on brain signals involving risk and reward, helping to explain why young people are more likely to take risks when friends are watching.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to be strong, supportive and loving. While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay. For more information, visit YouthEastsideServices.org.