Peers are a powerful influence on your teen. They provide support, connection, and approval to her developing sense of self. They can be a positive or negative influence but rarely do they pressure. The notion of peer pressure typically invokes an image of a teen being cornered or threatened by friends to vape, take drugs, have sex, or try alcohol. A teen succumbs for fear of losing friendships or facing ridicule.
In reality, this is not how peer pressure works.
The teens I coach explain that the reason they choose to experiment or engage in risky behavior is that they feel internal pressure to fit in, not outside pressure from peers. They feel that in order to fit in, they need to say yes to what their peers are doing, even when they would rather say no.
While peers can influence teens to take dangerous risks, they can also influence positive behaviors like trying a new sport, stepping into a leadership role, or embracing an attitude of gratitude.
A teen is more likely to be negatively influenced by her peers when she does not have a strong sense of self and is unsure of her values.
How to support your teen:
- Strengthen her sense of self. A teen’s sense of self includes understanding her strengths, her values, and her future goals. Teens who are happy with themselves and connected to their values have the confidence to say no and understand that setting clear boundaries leads to a more positive outcome.
- Teach her how to say no to risky behavior. Brainstorm explicit ways she can say no in various social situations. For example, if everyone is drinking alcohol and asking her to join in, she may say, “No thanks, I need to be clear for a test tomorrow.” or “No, that’s not my thing. Thanks for asking though. I’m having a great time.” By saying no, she is not being mean or judgmental. She is actually inviting more respect.
- Focus on the behaviors, not the individuals. If you are worried about a negative influence of a certain friend, try to avoid blanket statements about the friend and instead, focus on what he or she does that you disapprove of or worry about. Your conversation may sound something like, “I know you and Mary are great friends and I’m sure she is a good friend to you in many ways. I am concerned about some of the choices she makes. She’s been caught vaping and drinking alcohol. This concerns me. I am not going to tell you who to be friends with, but I want to make my expectations clear and help you understand where I’m coming from.” Make your concerns and boundaries crystal clear.
- Get to know her friends. Encourage your teen to invite her friends to your house. Spend time with them. Get to know their parents. If your teen isn’t driving yet, offer to be the chauffeur and use that time to listen without judgment.
- Enhance the lines of communication. Reflect on how you listen to your teen. Do you judge? Do you problem solve? Do you listen with empathy and openness? The first step to effective communication with teens is listening to understand. When your teen feels understood, not judged or underestimated because you tell her what to do, she will be more likely to open up.
When to worry
If your teen has started listening to different music or trying a different style of clothing, do not fret. If she’s demonstrating an interest in a new activity or subject, encourage her to explore. These experiences can help her gain self-awareness and connect with her strengths and values.
However, if she is showing unusual behavior or consistently low moods for more than two or three weeks, it is time to have a heart to heart with your teen and get a professional opinion.