How to Help Your Teen Handle Peer Pressure

Preparing for Peer Pressure is Never Easy

Students passing notes in class
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Peer pressure is an ever-growing part of middle and high school, and just about all teens will deal with it for better or worse at some point. For parents, it can be difficult to watch your child try to navigate these very unfamiliar waters. When is it appropriate to be involved and when should parents take a step back and let teens ​handle peer pressure themselves? Here are a few guidelines for parents of teens.

The Basics of Peer Pressure

The Difference Between Negative and Positive Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is not always a bad thing. We all are influenced by our peers, both negatively and positively. It helps define who we are in many ways. Teens, like adults, are influenced by their peer group. This is normal social behavior and is modeled for them by the adults around them; all conform to social mores.

What do you do when you don't like your teen's friends?
This is a difficult area for parents; a rebellious teen might decide that a friend who mom and dad don't like is more appealing. If your teen’s friend is influencing him/her to behave in an inappropriate manner or helping them get into dangerous situations, obviously a parent needs to step in. Your teen is likely to have many friends whose personalities don't mesh with yours, but there's no need for you to voice your preference if that's all it is.

They're your teen's friends, after all, not yours.

Discuss Peer Pressure Before it Becomes a Problem

When your preteen first starts middle school they may be facing real peer pressure for the first time. Experimenting with smoking, drugs, and skipping school starts at this age. This is because these recently elementary school graduates want to fit in with the older crowd and they think "bad" behavior is a way to do it.

As a parent, you can help your teen prepare for these situations in a few ways. First, let them know they can say "no" and not worry about hurting someone's feelings. Second, encourage them to use you as the reason "my mom/dad would ground me (or other punishment), it's not worth it."

You also could try role-playing a peer pressure situation (have your teen play the "bad" kid), and let your teen see how to react in a real-time situation. Whatever you do, don't be passive. Assuming your teen won't be faced with peer pressure to drink or do drugs at some point is sadly naive. Take a proactive approach and bring up the subject (hopefully) before it happens.

When Your Teen Is Being Influenced by Negative Peer Pressure

When teens get involved in risk-taking behaviors such as drug use, truancy, or other problem behaviors with a group of friends, parents are then faced with a dilemma. How do you handle the problem behavior and the negative peer pressure at the same time?

If a teen is getting involved in risky behavior because of a peer group, talk to other parents and to school administrators.

It may surprise them to learn the extent of the problem. Talk to your teen about the situation and warn them of consequences. Whatever punishment you decide on, stick to it.

If there's a situation affecting your teen's performance in school (and that's usually the first sign of a deeper problem), don't expect it to go away on its own. Talk to your teen about what the problems are. Talk to his teacher or principal, and find out what they're seeing in class. If there's evidence of a learning disability or other such issue, it's likely a teacher will notice it first. The teacher may not be aware of bullying issues, and your teen may be reluctant or embarrassed to discuss it, so ask careful questions and make sure your teen knows you are their advocate and want to help them however you can.

But if it's just a teen doing poorly or acting up in class to impress classmates, or otherwise getting distracted from school work, this is the time to buckle down and get serious. Privileges should be taken away with the very clear message that school performance is your teen's number one priority, not being in with the "in crowd."

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