Peer pressure may be defined as a stress, strain or support, that comes from friends (those regarded as having equal social standing) to act, behave, look and think in a certain way.
The following take you through spotting situations and some tips on how to deal with this area:
A peer group offers a teenager a strong belief structure, clearly defined sets of rules and the opportunity to enter into dialogue over subjects, which may not be discussed openly at home i.e. drugs, sex, alcohol, religion.
Teenagers have multiple peer relationships and they confront multiple “peer” cultures that have remarkably different norms and value systems.
Peer pressure can be positive. It keeps youths playing on sports teams, participating in religious activities and attending after school clubs. It keeps adults in faith groups, serving on committees, and supporting worthwhile causes. The peer group is a source of affection sympathy and understanding; a place for experimentation; and a supportive setting for achieving the two primary developmental tasks of adolescence.
These are (1) identity - finding the answer to the question “Who am I?” and (2) autonomy - discovering that self as separate and independent from parents. It is no wonder then that adolescents like to spend time with their peers.
“One of the hardest parts of growing up, is the same today as it has been for years, peer pressure. It is part of every teenager’s school years. Negative peer pressure, the kind we most commonly associate with the concept, can be devastatingly corruptive.” (Kathleen Mc Coy PhD)
Peer pressure can be positive if it provides the motivation for a young person to experiment with healthy new ideas, to try wholesome new experiences and discover safe new fields of interest.
Peer Pressure may become a problem when the young person on the receiving end believes:
- They have few alternative opportunities for effective communication,
- Feels misunderstood, or
- Lacks emotional support.
Teenagers are susceptible to peer pressure because their self-esteem may be lower at this age. They are questioning who they are and what they believe in. It is vital for parents to nurture high self-esteem in their children at every stage of development - but particularly through the teenage years.
The increase in strain upon the family in terms of increased working hours, mothers returning to full time employment and the incidences of family breakdown means that some adolescents depend more on their peer group for emotional support than on their family.
Conflict with parents’ increases during adolescence as boundaries and roles are renegotiated and independence increased - this is a normal stage of development. Where conflict goes unresolved for long periods and communication breaks down, peer pressure and risk-taking behaviour may be substituted for parental guidance.
- Try to get to know your children’s friends and speak positively about them even if they are not the ones you would have chosen for them. Do not be judgmental. Encourage your child to invite them home and if possible let them have somewhere they can be together. That way you can still have some influence over what they do.
- Set the example you want them to follow. Remember what you do is more important than what you say. If you struggle to stand by a decision you have made, allowing other people, and indeed your own children, to walk all over you, they will learn a lasting lesson!
- In order to keep the lines of communication open, learn to listen to your child and practise often. Don’t lecture. Don’t preach. Instead invite discussion, and provide opportunities for your child to voice an opinion. Affirm logical thought processes and well-expressed ideas even when you don’t agree or share their views. Take them seriously, no matter how ‘off the wall’ you think their ideas or plans may be.
- Step back, where appropriate, and let your children work things out for themselves. In this way you could be helping your children to take responsibility for their own lives.
- Make sure your child knows that you are there to help, that you will make time to listen to them. Find ways to show that you always care - no matter how angry you might sometimes become.
- Make a list of all the ‘issues’ that currently cause conflict between you and your child. How many of these really matter? Are there any areas, which are at best shutting down the lines of communication or at worst unnecessarily jeopardising your long-term relationship?
- Choose your battlegrounds carefully.
- Carry out a family ‘self-esteem audit’. Children will be less affected by negative peer pressure if they have high self-esteem. If it is low, decide what you are going to do to raise it. If it is high - keep it up!
- Alex (13) gives us some insight into what is going on inside a teenager’s head.
“Go on.” “Everybody’s doing it” “It’s only one drink” “You’re such a loser” I didn’t know what to do. All these voices were repeating themselves over and over in my head. I didn’t want to give in to them because I knew what I was doing was wrong. I didn’t want everyone to think I was scared. What if my parents found out? Why was I here? Are these people really my friends, if they are doing this to me? These were the vital questions that I didn’t know the answer to. I knew in my heart it was wrong. But I gave in.”
- Think about how you might prepare your child to face similar negative peer pressure.
- Identify the various peer groups with which your child is associated.