Peer Pressure and Risky Behavior in Teens

By Neil D. Brown, LCSW Posted October 31, 2019 under Guest Authors, Talking to Your Teen

Risky behavior is not unusual for teenagers. But you may sometimes wonder, why is this the case? There are several reasons and, more importantly, there are several things you can do to make sure your teen safely grows through this important and challenging developmental period.

Here’s why teens are far more likely to succumb to peer pressure and make potentially self-destructive decisions, such as opting to abuse medicine:

  1. Teenagers’ self-esteem is strongly tied to social acceptance – so their desire for social acceptance can be stronger than their common sense. Prior to middle school, children form friendships based on their classrooms, their activities, their families, and the neighborhoods they live in. Children make friends from the social groupings that parents arrange. As our children move into adolescence, they choose and are chosen into their own social groupings based on interests, identity, and social hierarchy.
  2. Often teens’ desire for excitement will overshadow considerations about the potential negative consequences of an activity. Neurological changes are taking place during adolescence, and one of these changes is a heightened release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that drives the desire for excitement. So, if one teen has an exciting idea, just the thought of it can give their peers a dopamine reward and incline them to go along with it as well.
  3. Teens are just learning about the impacts of their decisions. It takes experience and time to clarify one’s identity and values. By learning and growing through experience – which includes mistakes, failures and bad decisions – we come to understand what is important to us and to recognize the potential positive and negative impacts of our behavior on ourselves, as well as on others. Teenagers and even young adults have a pretty steep learning curve.

The good news? There are some things parents can do to reduce the negative impacts of peer pressure and, in turn, some of the risky behaviors of their teenagers. Here are four ideas to consider:

  1. Create a dedicated space in your house for teens to hang out. Video and Wi-Fi are a must of course, but pool tables, ping-pong tables, musical instruments, etc. are great. That way teens will hang out close to home, where you know where they are, and where there are things to do while enjoying being together.
  2. Encourage your teen to participate in exciting, modified risk activities, and maybe even participate with them. Skiing, surfing, mountain bike riding, skateboard parks, and amusement parks are great adrenaline-pumping options.
  3. Talk with your teen about values and how to treat others. Don’t lecture. Invite them to talk about their opinions about characters in movies and about situations at school. Be sure to talk about appropriate and inappropriate use of texting and social media.
  4. Even if your teenager tends to stay out of trouble and follow the rules, don’t be lulled into believing they are immune to peer pressure. If you’re planning to let them be on their own for an extended time, discuss the do’s and don’ts in detail and check in with them regularly.

When things go wrong, which they inevitably will at some point, use it as a teaching and learning opportunity for your teen. Remember, adolescence is that amazing transformation from childhood to young adulthood and it’s all about learning and growing. Try to avoid a lot of negative interactions, punishments and unnecessary controls. Tie privileges to responsibilities and even when things are rough, be sure they know you’re on their side.

Keep these tips in mind, stay focused and enjoy the teen years. It’s a rich and rewarding time for both parent and teen when you stay involved in a healthy way.

Neil D. Brown, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, podcast host of the popular Healthy Family Connections, and author of Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle. He has worked with families, couples, and individuals for more than thirty years. Deeply steeped in the theory and practice of family therapy, Brown uses a systemic approach that allows him to understand the system, or context, in which problems are both formed and are healed. This approach has revealed a simple yet profound method of empowering parents and their adolescent youth to put an end to destructive control battles for good. Brown is also a trainer of parents and mental health professionals. Additionally, Brown works in the industry with teams and workgroups to increase organizational effectiveness. You can learn more about his work by going to and following him on Twitter @NeilDBrownLCSW.

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