By Laurie Herrick, Preventionist
When children are young, they seek approval from their parents. As they get older, around 12 years of age, they begin to care more about how their peers see them. There can be a fear of rejection, not fitting in, or being left out. This can have a big effect on young adolescents who desperately want to be accepted by their peers. For adolescents, the need to “fit in” may be a powerful motivator that can lead them to inappropriate behavior.
I think it is helpful if we look at the definition of peer pressure. The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines peer pressure as “a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one’s age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them.” When working with children, I explain peer pressure more simply by telling them that it is “when someone around our age tries to get us to do something we don’t want to do”. I emphasize that it is important that we do not use the word “force” because ultimately, we are responsible for our own actions and therefore, any of the consequences that may follow those actions.
Examples of peer pressure children experience
Often, we think of peer pressure in relation to alcohol or other drugs. However, there can be good and bad peer pressure. An example of good peer pressure could be encouraging someone to study more so they can improve their grades. Adults are subject to peer pressure too. For example, buying products that we do not need or giving into unhealthy behaviors can be forms of peer pressure.
Peer pressure is a powerful force that can influence the behavior of children in a school setting. While many parents and educators are aware of the negative effects of peer pressure, recognize that this phenomenon also has positive aspects. In this context, it is useful to examine some common examples of good and bad peer pressure that children may face at school.
One of the most common examples of good peer pressure is when students encourage their peers to work hard and do well in their studies. When children see their classmates striving for excellence, they may be motivated to put in more effort themselves. This can create a positive feedback loop, where students push each other to achieve their best. Additionally, students may also encourage their peers to participate in extracurricular activities or take on leadership roles. This can help build a sense of community and encourage students to develop new skills and interests.
On the other hand, bad peer pressure can be damaging and lead to negative outcomes. For example, students may pressure their peers to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use, skipping school, or cheating on tests. This type of pressure can be particularly difficult for students who are trying to fit in or establish their social identity. Children who feel the need to conform to the group may engage in these risky behaviors to avoid being ostracized or excluded.
Another example of negative peer pressure is when students bully or tease their peers. This can be particularly damaging for children who are already struggling with self-esteem or social anxiety. In some cases, bullying can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.
Peer pressure is a complex phenomenon that can have both positive and negative effects on children’s behavior. While good peer pressure can encourage students to work hard and achieve their best, bad peer pressure can lead to risky behaviors, bullying, and negative outcomes. Parents and educators should be aware of the different forms of peer pressure and work to create a safe and supportive environment where children feel empowered to make positive choices.
14 Ways You Can Help Your Child Combat Peer Pressure
There are a few ways parents can help kids combat peer pressure:
1. Listen to your child
It is one of the most important things parents can do. When your child comes to you and wants to talk, make time for them and give them your full attention. It is important to not interrupt them, even if they tell you something that upsets you. You want to be their safe space. If they feel they cannot talk to you, it may discourage future conversations. If you need a few minutes to get your thoughts together, it is acceptable to tell your child, “I hear what you said to me and I am happy that you came to me, but I need a few minutes to think about the best way to respond to you or the best way to help you”. It is okay for parents to not have all the answers. However, make sure you circle back to your child and address their questions and needs.
2. Be involved in your child’s life
Get to know their friends, keep track of what they are involved in while at school, what their favorite and least favorite subjects are, what they are doing after school, who they talk to, etc. Be sure to ask open-ended questions about their day, not only questions that require a yes or no answer. For example, “What was the best part of your day in school?” It is crucial that you monitor your child’s activities on social media or the internet and address any concerns with them.
3. Talk about independence with your child
Have conversations with them that focus on how to choose friends, how to make healthy choices, and who is in their support system if they need someone to talk to.
4. Teach them to say “no”
Practice refusal skills and role-play different scenarios with them. Explain to them that it will be difficult at times to resist peer pressure or to go against the group. Nevertheless, they need to be prepared in knowing what to say or what to do. Come up with a code word or sentence that your child can use if they find themselves in a bad situation. An example could be, “I want pizza for dinner tonight” and this could be a signal that you need to pick up your child as soon as possible or that your child feels they are in a dangerous situation.
5. Tell your child it is okay to say no and walk away
Educate your child so they understand that they need to stop and think before they make a decision. They will need to evaluate the consequences of their actions. Sometimes, we want to protect our children from hearing about things that may scare or harm them, but ultimately, parents need to make it their responsibility to educate kids about dangerous situations.
6. Set clear family rules and stick to them
If there are family rituals that are important to you, make sure your child understands them. For some families, eating dinner together is a part of their everyday routine and each person is expected to be there. Set clear limits regarding electronics or screen time and stick to them. Establish age-appropriate chores to promote responsibility. Emphasize your family values and work to provide a safe and secure environment for your child.
7. Celebrate your child’s achievements
Teach them to be proud of themselves and to shower others with kindness. Remind them that they want to treat others the way they want to be treated. It might be beneficial to promote your child’s involvement in sports, theater, dance, or academic activity. Also, find ways to have your child involved in the community. This leads to a sense of community pride and respectfulness of neighbors. There will be a time when your child will make the wrong choice or a bad decision. When that happens, love and support your child and help them understand that a bad decision does not make them a bad person.
8. Build self-esteem
Helping children develop a healthy sense of self-worth can make them less susceptible to the negative influence of peers. This could involve teaching them positive self-talk, encouraging them to pursue their interests and passions, and providing them with opportunities for success and achievement.
9. Develop social skills
Along with independence, children can benefit from learning how to communicate effectively, make friends, and handle conflicts in healthy ways. These skills can help them navigate social situations with greater confidence and autonomy.
10. Address bullying
Peer pressure can sometimes take the form of bullying, which can be emotionally damaging and potentially dangerous. Parents can teach their children strategies for responding to bullying, such as speaking up, seeking help from adults, and standing up for others who are being bullied.
11. Encourage open communication
Creating a safe and supportive environment where children feel comfortable talking about their experiences and feelings can help parents stay informed about any potential issues with peer pressure. Encouraging children to be honest and open can also help them build trust and develop strong relationships with their parents.
12. Balance independence and supervision
While children need some level of independence to develop autonomy and decision-making skills, parents also have a responsibility to monitor their child’s behavior and ensure their safety. Finding the right balance between independence and supervision can help children feel supported while also giving them room to grow.
13. Model positive behavior
Parents can set a positive example for their children by demonstrating healthy behaviors and relationships. This can include modeling good communication, treating others with respect, and making healthy choices regarding substance use, screen time, and other behaviors.
14. Seek professional help
In some cases, children may need additional support to address peer pressure and related issues. Parents can seek help from a school counselor, therapist, or other professional who can provide guidance and resources for navigating these challenges.
I want to add that even though many schools have virtual or hybrid models in place, it does not mean that the risk of peer pressure will necessarily decrease. Kids are expressing that they are encountering peer pressure through video games, computer games, and social media, so it is important to stay vigilant.
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