Let’s face it. We all want to fit in. We tell ourselves that we are individuals but we imitate what we see around us. For the most part, we dress alike, talk alike, work alike, and live many aspects of our lives just like our neighbors. So is it any wonder our kids want to be like their friends? This is where peer pressure starts.
The teen mind is more open to peer pressure because teens are motivated by the rewards of their behavior – attention from friends. Teens will say that they understand the risks of what they do but winning the admiration of their friends is far more powerful. So for peer pressure to be effective there needs to be peers involved in encouraging the recipient to engage in the behavior.
Often the “encourager’ kids see something that has been on television or the internet and they want to see someone do the same in person. Or, a weaker child might get caught up with the wrong group of kids and do something they otherwise would not do in order to be accepted into that group. For boys and girls alike, the desire to be seen as a daredevil, a risk taker, a tough guy, or something similar is strong. For teens without strong parental influence in the home, the likelihood of them stepping into this spotlight is high.
How can parents cope? What strategies can minimize the influence of peer pressure on teens? For starters, parents need to know their children’s friends and their parents. Parents need to set strict guidelines on where a child can go and high expectations that the child goes where they say. Say no when you feel that it is the right thing to do – remember that you are the parent. Curfews are a must, and penalties for either breaking curfew or being somewhere other than they say need to be enforced. These activities set boundaries for your teen, something that deep down inside they need and desire from their parents – even if they emphatically say NO!
At every turn, have discussions with your teen about actions and consequences from real-life situations. Talk to them about your own struggles with peer pressure and societal norms, and that you understand what they are going through. This might be the single-most important tool in the struggle against peer pressure. Make sure that your teen hears that you are happy and content with your life and that you aren’t unduly influenced by others and their standing in life. In other words, let them know that it is OK to be a little different.
Build their own self-esteem by letting your child know how special and unique they are. If you don’t compare them to others, then they are less likely to compare themselves to others. Let them know that a “friend” who makes their friendship conditional on an action, behavior, or some material item is no friend at all.
Remember: no matter what we do, we will never fully shelter our children from the effects of peer pressure. But they do need to know how to recognize it and cope with it now and throughout the rest of their lives. If they can learn contentedness at an early age, it will pay huge benefits to them later on in life. Through proactive, involved parenting and good communication you can put your child in the strongest possible position to fend off peer pressure.
~Karen Gibbons, Director of Programs
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