March 18, 2014 —

We hear the term “peer pressure” being thrown around a lot these days. But what is peer pressure, really?  Depending on the age and maturity level of your teen, it can look very different. I highly recommend starting the conversation about peer pressure with your kids in late elementary or early middle school so that the topic becomes commonplace between the two of you by the teen years. This way, if a serious situation arises that they don’t know how to handle, they will hopefully come and talk to you. If you’ve never discussed the topic of peer pressure before, don’t expect them to seek your help or guidance after the fact. Take the proactive approach.

Firstly, start off by asking your kids, “Do you know what peer pressure is?” This can get the ball rolling. You can talk about the classic definition of peer pressure, you can ask them to explain in their own words what they think it is and you can ask them to share examples with you that they’ve seen at school, on TV or read about in book. Then, take those examples (that your teen shared) and directly apply them to your child’s life.  Create peer pressure scenarios using real people, names, locations and situations that are familiar to your child. See what your teen says or does once the example is REAL within the context of their own world and not just an external educational exercise. Create age-appropriate, but complex situations and see how your child handles them. This gives you the opportunity to witness how your child thinks through peer pressure and that will provide you with the perfect opportunity to give them the guidance and advice they may need.

I think the key here is context. As parents, we must prepare teens for different situations and environments. For example, your may child know how to say “No!” to drugs and alcohol from a stranger or a neighborhood bully because we’ve all heard those campaigns over and over. But, do they know how to say “No!” to a friend who wants them to do something that isn’t illegal, but can be just as damaging? They could be asked to hang out somewhere that seems fun (when it could actually be dangerous) or be pressured to take something from another friend’s house (without actually calling it stealing). And what about dating situations, which may be new to them, and they aren’t quite sure of the boundaries and expectations? 

You may be surprised to see what your child says and does in peer pressure scenarios involving a close friend, a neighbor or even a sibling. Pull together a bunch of peer pressure examples and put them on index cards. Have your child pick one on the drive home from school or after dinner. Make it a game and keep it light hearted. We all have a moral compass. It’s important for your child to understand yours because it will help them with shaping their own. If they get stuck, tell them how you would handle a particular peer pressure situation. Even better, share some personal experiences from when you were a kid where you made good choices and bad choices. Keep the examples age-appropriate, but use them to show your teen how all decisions have consequences and it’s up to them to determine whether those outcomes are good or bad. After all, isn’t it better for you to guide them before they find themselves in a tough situation?

Dr. Carol Langlois is a former University Associate Provost and Dean, trained therapist, researcher and author. Dr. Langlois hosts a blog, Girl Talk w/ Dr Carol, which offers practical advice and guidance on self-esteem issues as a tool for parents and teens. Check out her book trailer for Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image, which is a compilation of interviews with teen girls on the topic of self-esteem. You can also find Dr. Langlois on Twitter where she tweets information, articles and tips related to this very important topic.