In the role of social and emotional development in the life of children and adolescents peers play a very large part. Influence starts early and gains in strength and power through the teen years. It is natural, healthy and important for children to have and rely on friends as they grow and mature. Peers can be positive and supportive. They play a key part in developing social cues, increasing interests in music and the arts, encouraging participation in extracurricular activities, and stimulating a desire for books and music.
However, peers can also have a negative influence. They can encourage each other to skip classes, steal, cheat, use drugs or alcohol, or become involved in other risky behaviors. The majority of teens with substance abuse problems began using drugs or alcohol as a result of peer pressure.
Often, our children give in to peer pressure under desires to “fit in” or they worry they will be left out of activites, made fun of, or rejected. One of their strongest desires is that of wanting to be included and accepted. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers the following tips to improve both yours and your child’s ability to better cope with peer pressure.
Tips to help kids deal with peer pressure:
- Stay away from peers who pressure you to do things that seem wrong or dangerous.
- Learn how to say “no,” and practice how to avoid or get out of situations which feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
- Spend time with other kids who resist peer pressure. It helps to have at least one friend who is also willing to say “no.”
- If you have problems with peer pressure, talk to a grown up you trust, like a parent, teacher or school counselor.
Tips for parents to help your child deal with peer pressure:
- Encourage open and honest communication. Let kids know they can come to you if they’re feeling pressure to do things that seem wrong or risky.
- Teach your child to be assertive and to resist getting involved in dangerous or inappropriate situations or activities.
- Get to know your child’s friends. If issues or problems arise, share your concerns with their parents.
- Help your child develop self-confidence. Kids who feel good about themselves are less vulnerable to peer pressure.
- Develop backup plans to help kids get out of uncomfortable or dangerous situations. For example, let them know you’ll always come get them, no questions asked, if they feel worried or unsafe.
If your child has ongoing difficulties with peer pressure, speak out. Keeping silent, though it may be the requested action from your child, will not solve any problems nor promote healthy peer relationships in the future. Talk to your child. Discuss feelings and allow open suggestions of possible scenarios and solutions. Encourage open conversations with your child on a daily basis to stay informed and promote a closer relationship with your child. Talk to his or her teacher, principal, school counselor or family doctor. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s mood, self-esteem or behavior, consider a consultation with a trained and qualified mental health professional.