What parents need to know about peer pressure

Peer pressure is defined as influence a group of individuals has over others which tends to change other’s opinion, behavior, or values in order to conform to group norms. To a certain degree and in various forms, this type of human behavior is present throughout our life. From early childhood all the way to old age, people tend to succumb to the majority’s point of view.

Peer pressure can be a very positive thing; peers influence each other’s lives just by spending time with each other, often without even realizing it. It’s human nature to listen and learn from others. Research shows youth achieve the best results by studying and keeping away from problematic behavior such as tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse – if such thinking and acting is supported by their peers. Positive peer influence is also one of the most productive ways of dealing with bullying and bullies in schools. When peers discourage bullying behavior, most forms of bullying will decrease or stop completely.

Unfortunately, peer pressure is often associated with negative influence rather than positive. While kids who are socially accepted often have the best opportunities to experience the most positive achievements, being a member of a popular group is also a risk factor. Frequently, teens are accepted into popular groups only for the sheer fact that they’ve conformed to teen culture norms, regardless if they are good or bad. Effects of peer pressure vary and teenagers who find themselves among the wrong peers can be influenced into making all kinds of very bad decisions they wouldn’t normally make. Group influence is strong and “everybody else is doing it” is often reason enough for some children to forget about their own better judgment. According to ParentFurther – Search Institute’s resource for families: only 10% of children say they have never experienced peer pressure, 50% of children said they started bulling someone else only after they saw a friend doing it, and the smoking rate in children whose peers smoke is 10 times higher than those who say none of their friends smoke. Teens whose peers are using alcohol and drugs are more likely to start doing the same. When asked to explain reasons why they started using drugs; alcohol; or tobacco, the most frequent answer in children age 12 to 17 yrs was “my friends were doing it” and “I thought it was cool”. Under peer pressure, teens are more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol or ride in a car driven by drunk driver. Adolescents are also under peer pressure to have sex. Around one third of male and female teenagers say they are under pressure from their friends to start having sexual intercourse. Although 44% percent of teens express desire to understand how to handle peer pressure to have sex and how to know when are they ready to start having sexual relations, a stunning 46% of parents have never discussed this subject with their teen children.

Here are few useful tips for parents or caregivers in order to prepare children in how to deal with peer pressure:

Teach children to feel comfortable with making their own decisions. Create a role play with children simulating peer pressure and guide them how to take a stand and say no if someone offers them alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs.

Demystify reasons why kids succumb to peer pressure. Explain there are ways to be liked among peers other than blindly following someone else’s bad choices. Make sure a child understands most of their friends who succumb to peer pressure do so not because they like it but because they are afraid other kids will make fun of them if they speak their minds. Remind a child about strength in numbers. A group of friends who also don’t like being pressured into doing bad things can encourage positive behavior.

Always encourage and nurture self-esteem in children. Strong self-esteem in children who feel good about themselves helps them make and follow personal decisions and these children are less vulnerable to peer pressure.

Know your child’s friends. Encourage honest discussion with your child about their friends’ behaviors and if problems arise, share your concerns with their friends’ parents.

It’s OK for children to seek adult’s advice. Building a relationship with your child so (s)he will know you’ll be there for them any time they feel troubled or unsafe is one of the key steps of successful parenting. Besides their parents, children can also seek help from trained professionals – teachers or psychologists.

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