April 06, 2015 —

Teens often go to great lengths to be popular, and unfortunately peer pressure is one of the strongest contributors to underage drinking and drug abuse. The glamorization of drug and alcohol in movies, television and advertising is also a powerful influencer.

Social media adds another layer of social pressure. As reported in a 2012 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), 75 percent of teens surveyed admitted that seeing pictures on Facebook of other students using drugs and alcohol encouraged them to do the same.

It’s scary, but we aren’t helpless. Indeed, the most effective and positive peer pressure teens can benefit from comes from communication with you, the parent! It might seem intimidating at first (like having the “sex talk”), but if you approach your teen with an open mind and have a conversation instead of a confrontation, the result can have a long-lasting positive outcome.

Teens often have trouble knowing what to say to get out of a situation and sometimes end up surrendering to peer pressure as a result. One way you can help is to act out different scenarios of what your teen can do if he or she is approached and pressured to do drugs. This empowers your teen to learn to make decisions that go against what others are doing. Role playing also opens a line of communication that allows you both to talk over difficult situations together. Always remain calm, even if the conversation becomes stressful. Openly listen and communicate that you value your teen’s honesty in explaining how he or she feels about a situation. And make sure to avoid being defensive or bossy.

Here are a few things you can encourage your teen to say when pressured from others to use and abuse substances, such as prescription or over-the-counter drugs:

  • “No thanks, I’m good.”
  • “I can’t, I have to get up early in the morning.”
  • “I’m not interested. That stuff makes me feel sick.”
  • “I have a big game this weekend and I don’t want to get suspended from the team.”
  • “No thanks, I heard in the news that a kid died from doing that!”
  • “I can’t, I have to drive and I don’t want to risk crashing the car or getting arrested.”

If peer pressure continues, your teen can try stalling or changing the subject. They can also turn the tables and ask the perpetrator, “Why do you care if I don’t join you?” One of the best, if all else fails, solutions is for them to remove themselves from the situation entirely by just walking away.

Positive family dynamics can have a strong influence on the way teens see themselves, others and the world, and influence relationships, behaviors and overall wellbeing. Affirmative parental reinforcement can go a long way when teens are faced with difficult situations. Remind your teen about what makes him or her special. Make sure your teen understands that you are doing this because you care and want him or her to be safe. Doing so will open up the doors to better family communication and, hopefully, a drug-free existence in the future.

Cynthia Lieberman, co-founder of CyberWise.org, the go-to-to source for busy adults and parents who want to learn how to embrace digital media fearlessly. Cynthia has an M.A. in Media Psychology and Social Change and also consults for a diverse range of companies in marketing, social media and professional online profiling. You can connect with Cynthia on Twitter or LinkedIn.