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You Can Survive Teen Peer Pressure

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Updated May 07, 2009

Teen Peer Pressure

When your teenager's friends influence your child's thoughts or behavior, that is peer pressure. This influence may be verbal, nonverbal or even unconscious on the part of your child's friends. This pressure can negatively or positively impact on your teen's behavior. Peer pressure is a powerful influence, one that you need to understand so that you can help protect your child from making harmful decisions done under it's sway.

How does teen peer pressure affect your child? Your teen suddenly discovers a love of working out at the gym after being a couch potato in the past. Your daughter who typically dressed conservatively now wants to dye her hair green. What is going on? Your teenagers may be feeling pressure from their friends to do what they are doing. Welcome to teen peer pressure.

Why is it So Powerful?

As humans, we all go through developmental phases. As an infant, your child needed to learn that you were trustworthy and would take care of all his needs. As a teenager, your child's task is to make a break from you and your influence and develop a separate sense of self. Part of this process is going from identifying with parents and their values and identifying with other peer's values. Friends become of utmost importance, and fitting in with a group of friends is a crucial task during this developmental stage. This is why your child's friend's are so influential –- they are “trying on” different thoughts, ideas and lifestyles that these friends offer. It's not you -- it's their destiny, developmentally speaking.

But Does it Have to be So Nerve Wracking?

Your teen daughter's friends may be earth-conscious and put pressure -- intentionally or not -- on your formerly wasteful daughter. When she starts to recycle and cut back on her spending sprees, peer pressure looks pretty good. Unfortunately, social pressure isn't always a positive influence. After finding cigarettes in your son's backpack, peer pressure looks like the enemy. Why can't he see how destructive this choice is?

He might be able to verbalize that smoking is harmful, but his brain might not be ready to harness his actions when compared to the consequences. An adolescent brain is still a work in progress. It constantly seeks new experiences but it doesn't have the ability to say, “Hey, smoking seems cool but I shouldn't because it's bad for me.” Additionally, the teen brain seems to have a higher need for new, exciting and intense stimulation than it does as we get older. Coincidentally, new, exciting and intense experiences many times translates into high-risk behavior. Because a teen's brain is seeking this new stimulation and can't always put the breaks on a bad idea, a friend's suggestion to “have fun” by painting graffiti on the high school is tempting, regardless of the consequences.

How to Deal with Negative Peer Pressure

A tactic that you might not have considered trying in the battle against harmful peer pressure is using a “normative” strategy. Many discussions of peer pressure include teaching your child refusal skills, like what to say if someone offers you drugs. There is some thought that teaching these refusal skills isn't as effective as using normative education. What this normative strategy includes is an honest discussion about the perceptions of the prevalence of risky behavior -- what your teen thinks is happening versus reality. Your teen daughter may feel like she is the absolute last virgin in her high school because all of her friends are talking about their sexual experiences. Statistics show year after year that only about half of teens in the United States have sex by the time they have left high school. Your daughter might be feeling indirect pressure from her peers regarding having sex, but much of what she is hearing is simply not true. Letting your teen know the truth about how often teens are avoiding these risky choices may let him know that he isn't alone –- something that he absolutely needs to hear.

You are one of the biggest influences on your teen. It may seem like they aren't listening, but they truly are. When parents stay involved in their childrens' lives, their kids tend to make better choices for themselves. Many studies have backed this claim, as unbelievable as it seems at this point. Stay interested and involved in what your teen is doing and continue to be aware of what he is up to. Be consistent with your message about your expectations. If you expect that he will not drink, smoke, do drugs or have sex, he is less likely to do so –- it's as simple as that.

Sources:

Adolescent Alcohol Prevention Trial. Child Trends. September 6, 2008. http://www.childtrends.org/lifecourse/programs/AdolescentAlcoholPreventionTrial.htm

Denscombe, Martyn. “Peer Group Pressure, Young People and Smoking: New Developments and Policy Implications.” Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy.2001 8(1):7-32.

Herrman, Judith W. “The Teen Brain as a Work in Progress: Implications for Pediatric Nurses.” Pediatric Nursing. 2005 31(2):144-148.

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