July 21, 2014 —

Parents fear peer pressure. Peer pressure is, we're told, what pushes good kids into bad choices. We shake our heads about it, tell kids to resist it and generally hope our children are strong enough to withstand it. Parents look at their children's friends, wondering who will exert the peer pressure and what it will lead their precious teen to do. Often we feel powerless against this unseen force.

But here’s the kicker: Peer pressure does not need to be our enemy, or our kids' enemy. Peer pressure just means "direction by members of one's social group to take a certain action, adopt certain values or otherwise conform." 

Teens love their friends. These peers are the receivers of our teens’ hopes and dreams, fears and passions. Of course these people are going to influence our kids' decisions!
So what can parents do to make sure this power is used for good?

  1. Know your teens’ friends. If someone is mentioned more than once, learn more. Encourage your teen to include their friends in your family time or outings. Invite them over.
  2. Be "the house." Make your home teen-friendly. That means a space to hang out and some snacks. Make sure this space does not have its own entrance - kids should have to walk past you and say hello and goodbye.
  3. Drive carpool. Often a ride is your biggest immediate value to your teen and their friends. Sometimes, they may get in the car and completely forget you're there.  Just listen. This is a great way to understand the dynamics and know what topics are hot at the moment and on your teen’s mind.
  4. Keep your (teen's) friends close... and your enemies closer. If there is someone's influence that concerns you, encourage your teen to hang out with him or her at your home rather than elsewhere.
  5. Ask your teen. "What do you admire about..." "What do you wish.... wouldn't do?" or "What worries you about..." Your child likely has a clear understanding of his or her friends' strengths and weaknesses. Nonjudgmental conversations can help your teen process those thoughts. When bad choices are made in your teen's social circle, ask questions. "Can you help me understand what happened?" 
  6. Keep your eye on the news. You won't have to look far to find some examples of social time gone wrong. Let your teen walk you through the probable path those kids took from hanging out - to substance use - to even bigger risk-taking or promiscuity.

The best way to encourage positive peer pressure is to notice all the times your teen and his or her friends are not involved in bad situations. Praise your teen’s good judgment and ask what motivated it. Often you'll hear "Oh, my friends and I just aren't into that."


Doctor G (Deborah Gilboa, MD) - Family Physician, international speaker, author and mom of four – is a regular contributor to CBS’ Pittsburgh Today Live and ABC’s Windy City Live. From one minute videos on making your life easier while building kids’ character to her downloadable guides (chores at every age, boundaries for tech use and more) Doctor G makes parenting more simple and more effective. Author of Get the Behavior You Want... Without Being the Parent You Hate! Find her on Facebook or Twitter!