It’s a fact of life. Teens and preteens are a lot more influenced by their peers than by their parents. From sports to social media, they’re under constant pressure to do what their friends are doing.
Learn the signs of when peer pressure is good and when it’s a problem. And pick up some tips to help your child deal with and navigate peer pressure when it happens.
With help from our experts, you can steer your teen in the right direction.
As your child grows throughout middle and high school, they develop their own set of values—what’s right and wrong, and what’s good and bad. Your influence is definitely important, but now they are heavily influenced by their classmates and friends. So, no matter how much you try to avoid it, peer pressure is going to happen.
Your child is still trying to figure themself out. They wants to feel accepted and to fit in, and they look for approval and influence from their peers in order to do so. This is normal. This is part of natural development. It’s how kids “try on” different parts of becoming young adults.
We tend to label peer pressure as something that gets kids into trouble or situations they shouldn’t be in. But some peer pressure can be helpful, such as the kind that comes from being around motivated students. That’s the kind of pressure that can result in better grades. Also, competitive pressure from athletics can improve performance. So, it’s important to recognize that some peer pressure can have a positive influence on your child.
Peer pressure happens because kids want to fit in and be accepted by their peers, the people they relate to the most. It becomes a problem when:
- It is dangerous to your child’s health.
- It could potentially cause your child to do something illegal or be associated with people who are involved in illegal activities.
- It causes your child to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable or goes against their values.
To help your child see your concerns about potentially negative peer pressure, it’s important to talk to them. Of course, school-age kids and teens have different perspectives, so there are different ways to have the conversation.
Talking to school-age children:
- Share your own experiences, including the ways that you deal (or dealt) with outside pressures in your own life, and then ask your child to share theirs.
- “Be direct about your own expectations for behavior so that your child knows what isn’t acceptable,” says Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life licensed therapist Jody Baumstein, LCSW.
Talking to teens:
- Communicate the impact certain choices could have on your child's life, not yours. Licensed therapist Kathleen Hill, LPC, says, “Talk about if your teen’s behaviors align with their long-term goals. For example, will cheating on a test with their friend affect their chances of getting into the college of their dreams?”
- Share the impact your child's behavior has on you. If you are upset at the fact that your child snuck into a movie with their friends, let them know it disappointed you.
- Work to create an environment where your child knows you are available and able to talk whenever they might be feeling pressure. Keep an open mind, listen without judging and help your child form their own opinions regarding what’s best for them.
- Let your child decide for themself. It’s difficult when you feel you know the “right” answer, but it’s more important to let your child figure it out (with your support) if they're willing and it's safe to do so.
Ultimately, you can’t be there to influence every decision for your child (nor should you want to), but here are 2 ways you can help your child make the right decision on their own:
- Identify and evaluate goals. According to Hill, “It’s important to help your teen identify what their goals are. Then ask them if the current behavior of their peers will help or hurt their chances of making those goals happen. Show them the connection between their current behavior and their long-term goals. This kind of reasoning will help them think about the situation with less of an emotional connection and hopefully consider the consequences.” It’s important not to tell your child how to think or feel but to ask questions that get them to reason it out for themself.
- Encourage independence. Baumstein says, “One of the best things parents can do is encourage their child to find their own path and to make choices they are proud of—even if it doesn’t make them popular. A child with low self-esteem or who doesn’t know ‘who they really are' is more likely to give into peer pressure, so the more you can do to build resilience (the ability to handle life’s ups and downs) and promote independence, the better.”
Despite your best efforts to be the “perfect parent” who raises the “perfect child,” it’s impossible. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. So, even if you do everything “right,” and you raise your kids according to plan, there will be missteps along the way. Allowing for opportunities for forgiveness, understanding and connection (for both you and your child) is a wonderful foundation for growth.