Teaching Your Child to Resist Peer Pressure

No child is immune to peer pressure.
—Kathi Hudson, author

Every day, your children make decisions based on what the kids around them say and do. Sometimes they make good decisions. They go along with positive peer pressure and make good choices, which helps them become better individuals. But, sometimes, they give in and do something bad that they typically wouldn’t do. How can you help your kids say yes to positive peer pressure and no to negative peer pressure? Try these ideas.

For more information on peer pressure, see Peer Pressure.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Know your children’s friends—and their enemies. Even if you haven’t met them all in person, find out their names and what your children like (or don’t like) about them. Find out what kind of influence they have on your kids.
    • Talk about values. What’s important to you? Do you want your child to succeed in school; be caring and helpful toward others; not use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs; and not have sex? Be clear about your values and why you have the values that you do. Kids can’t resist negative peer pressure if they don’t know what’s right—and what’s wrong.
    • A key part of growing up well is learning how to resist and make up your own mind. The first place your child gets to practice this is at home. So when your child wants to make a decision that’s different from yours, respect that choice (as long as it’s not harmful). If your child can gradually learn to stand up to you, he or she will learn to stand up to others.
    • Starting at the early elementary ages, talk about the cost of saying no. (And continue to talk about this issue as kids get older.) It is hard to say no most of the time because it costs kids something: a friendship, social status, or something else that means a lot to them. Talk about how you don’t really have values until they’re tested, you’re willing to stand up for them, and you’re willing to deal with the costs. Take the costs seriously so your child knows you understand how big a deal it can be. It is not as easy as adults sometimes think to say no to all the things we want kids to say no to.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • When your child starts making a bad choice or is influenced negatively by another child, distract your child with another activity that’s more positive.
    • If your child will not be distracted, give short explanations as to why something is harmful and what’s a better choice instead. For example, “We don’t use swear words. When we’re angry, we say that we’re mad.” Then find out where your child is learning the swear words.
    • Read aloud the picture book No, David! by David Shannon and talk about why David always seems to get into too much trouble.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Periodically invite your child’s friends over to play. Get to know your child’s friends and observe how they influence each other. Intervene if behaviors get out of hand.
    • Get to know the parents of your child’s friends as well. Get to know the adults in your neighborhood and tell all these adults the values you want reinforced for your child. Download the free 12-page summary of the Grading Grownups research report.
    • Point out when your child is making good decisions regarding friendships and positive choices.
    • Ask your children which kids they admire at school (and why) and who they don’t (and why). This helps them discern which traits are admirable and which are less desirable. When you do this, focus more on the behaviors than on individual children.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • This is the age when peer pressure gets intense and more difficult for even the most resistant child to deal with. Talk at least weekly about the pressures your children witness (and experience) at school. At this age, some kids will be more likely to talk about what they see than what they may be experiencing, so be patient.
    • Teach (or continue to teach) your child to think and speak in terms of “I messages,” which is a way to help kids state what they are feeling and what they want to have happen as a result. For example, “I am angry. I don’t like it when Billy swipes my cell phone and won’t give it back. I want Billy to stop doing that.”
    • Talk about the pressures of parties, sex, alcohol, and drug use, which start at earlier and earlier ages for kids today. Be clear that your young teenager should not be having sex, using alcohol, drugs, or attending parties that are unsupervised or have alcohol or drugs.
    • Role-play different ways to say no. Sometimes just walking away (and not saying anything) can be even more effective than using words.
    • Teach your children a bailout signal for times when it’s hard to say no. For example, if they’re with friends who start pressuring them to do something they don’t want to do, tell them that they can say they’re getting a headache or stomachache and that they need to go home right away. Or say they can blame you by saying, “My parents would kill me if I did that. So I can’t.” Make sure you’re always accessible (or know another adult who is) so that you can pluck them out of a high-pressure situation.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Continue talking about your values and your concerns for this age group. During the high school years, some teenagers think they’re now old enough for sex, alcohol, or drugs. Be clear about why you think they should wait until they’re older, since every year they wait, the more likely they’ll succeed as individuals and not develop addictions.
    • If possible, subscribe to the high school’s school newspaper. (Contact the high school office for information on how to do this.) Pay extra to have the newspaper mailed to your home. Whenever you get an issue, read it thoroughly and ask your teenager about hot topics that are happening at school. (You’ll often find out more from the school newspaper than you do from your own teenager.)
    • Be clear about acceptable behaviors for riding in and driving cars. Many young people drive with their mp3 players playing loudly (and while constantly searching for other songs). Others use cell phones and text message. Still others, having a big heart to help out, will stuff the car with too many kids to make sure they all get a ride home. Have frequent discussions about car use that’s acceptable and not acceptable—and why.
  • Affirm your teenagers when they make good choices. They need to hear what they’re doing right.

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