girl resisting peer pressureI was driving in the car the other day with my daughter and I asked what she thought a good topic to write about would be. She thought for a moment and said she thought I should write about that thing when your friends make you do something you don’t want to do. “You know, Mom,” she said, “peer pressure.”

Peer pressure refers to the influence exerted by a peer group in encouraging someone to change his or her attitudes, behaviours or values in order to be part of a group. Your friends, or peers, influence your life even if you don’t realize it. Just by spending time with them, you learn from your friends, you listen to them and you often value their opinions. Peer pressure is one thing that all kids have in common. It’s everywhere and no matter how popular and self-assured your child is it is likely that they have, at one time or another, felt pressure to conform or act in a certain way. How successful your child is in dealing with peer pressure, however, depends a great deal on how they feel about themselves and their place in their peer group.

There are certain risk factors that make a child or teen more susceptible to peer pressure and at a higher risk for conforming to group behaviours, whether positive or negative.

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  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Uncertain of place within peer group
  • Feeling isolated from peers and family
  • Lack of strong ties to friends
  • Poor academic performance
  • Fear of one’s peers
  • Lack of interests or hobbies
  • The need to “fit in”

It’s hard to say no when you are tempted by peer pressure. We all want to fit in and be liked. We all have a desire to be part of a group that makes us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. There are, however, healthy and unhealthy ways of fitting in and giving in to peer pressure can have long-term consequences. So how can we, as parents, ensure that our children are armed with the right tools to combat harmful peer pressure?

  • Get them involved: In activities with peers whose values are in line with your family values
  • Prepare them: By giving them the tools to handle peer pressure. Make sure they know your stance on drugs, alcohol and sex
  • Talk to your child: Keep the lines of communication open and make time to sit down and talk to your child about issues that they are dealing with

The Rule of Ten

In order to prepare your child or teen with the social skills needed to deal with peer pressure, try to encourage them to ask themselves these ten questions when confronted with a decision they are unsure about.

  1. Is this something I really want to do?
  2. Do I know it’s wrong?
  3. Can I get hurt?
  4. Could this hurt someone else?
  5. What would my parents say?
  6. Could I get suspended from school?
  7. Will I get grounded
  8. What would the consequences be if I do this?
  9. Is it against the law?
  10. Could I go to jail?

It’s hard to stand up against your friends. It takes courage and strength and family support. Telling them to avoid places where they feel uncomfortable may work but it is still worthwhile to give them the tools to know what to do when they do encounter peer pressure.

Prepare your child by encouraging them to think through situations before they happen. Help them plan out what they would say ahead of time. They can practice what to say with you or in front of a mirror. Arrange a “code-word” with your child or teen, a phrase they can use when they feel they are in a risky situation. Teach them they can call home, use the phrase and you will come get them, no questions asked. Be the bad guy by letting your child or teen blame you for not doing something. By saying “My mom would kill me” is an easier way out then just saying no.

It’s not easy resisting negative peer pressure and even when your child or teen has a positive group of friends, it is likely that they end up in a tricky peer pressure situation at some point. By making sure your child or teen has the skills to successfully navigate these situations, you will increase the likelihood that he or she will come out of the situation stronger and more self-assured knowing that he or she has made the right choice.