Teenagers know what pressure is!
Just try it, it will be fun. Are you really going to wear that? Hey, did you hear that Joe’s parents are out of town Saturday. OMG! We have to do that again! Do it, or I’ll tell everyone what a poser you are! You can’t say things like that if you are going to hang out with us.
Does any of this sound familiar? We were all teenagers at one time and have heard some variation of the statements above. When you really look, you may see that you still succumb to peer pressure at times. Ever show up to a formal party in casual dress? Ever say something and everyone silently stares at you like you are from Mars? Ever have someone ask you to do something that you really didn’t want to do?
The difference between you and your teenager is that you have developed some skills and strategies for navigating pressure. Your teen is learning and needs your help. Most teens will say that they feel pressure at varying degrees every day. Teens feel pressure to fit in with their peers, please their parents, do well in school, be active, have good manners, be popular, etc. Tumultuous as it is, it is part of growing up and something we all experience.
Pressure from parents and peers can be completely different beasts. While parents generally love their children unconditionally and truly want what’s best for them, peer groups are often unpredictable, fickle, and take on a personality of their own. At home, teens can feel pressure to perform, have manners, do chores, and generally be “good”. With friends, teens can feel pressure to be cool and fit in. What is normal behavior in one peer group may be unacceptable in another. Sometimes, these pressures conflict as your teen tries to navigate his/her way through the teen years.
Most people talk about peer pressure as the primary way in which teens influence one another. This is because the general definition of peer pressure is the influence that a group of peers exert on an individual within the group. Individual behaviors are an attempt to conform to what is expected of the group as a whole. In other words, teens do what they have to do to fit in. However, a closer look at the research reveals that there are at least 5 different ways that peers can have a positive or detrimental influence on one another.
5 Types of Peer Influence:
1. Peer Pressure: Directly and overtly persuading others to engage in a particular behavior.
For Example: “You can’t be seen with that guy anymore if you are going to hang out with us!”
2. Modeling: Exhibiting or demonstrating a particular attitude or behavior for others to imitate.
For Example: “All my friends are drinking at this party. Maybe I should try some…”
3. Opportunity: Being somewhere that provides opportunities for prosocial or antisocial behavior.
For Example: “Looks like we are all alone until your parents get home at 9:00.”
4. Reinforcement: Supporting behaviors that fit within the norms of the group.
For Example: “You look great today. I love your outfit!”
5. Aggression: Using intimidation, force, or bullying to control group norms, and enhance or maintain individual or group status.
For Example: “Give me your lunch or I’ll dunk your head in the toilet!”
As parents, we want to help our teen navigate these kinds of pressures and minimize negative influences. So, what can you do?
- Expand your understanding of peer pressure: Look for ways in which peer influence could be present in your teen’s life. Teens can be exposed to different kinds of influence depending on their interests, activities, hobbies, geographic location, etc.
- Help your teen understand the range of influences: A teen may or may not be conscious of influence. However, knowing what it can look like can make it more noticeable when it happens.
- Teach your teen to be prepared: Help your teen develop strategies that minimize or remove peer influence. For example, carrying a cup around at a party can reduce or remove invitations to drink.
- Create escape codes: Practice code words or phrases that your teen can use with you when he/she is in a bind. Make sure your teen knows that you, or another trusted adult, can provide a ride whenever one is needed.
- Teach your teen to trust his/her instincts: We’ve all had that pain in our gut when “something is wrong”. Communicate that this pain is a protective mechanism that should be trusted.
- Be the final scapegoat: If all else fails, tell your teen to blame you. “My parents won’t let me” or “We have family plans” work great!
- Teach your teen to think about IMPACT: Teens are quite capable of considering the “consequences” of their actions. However, teens usually see consequences as negative, personal, and close to home. For example, a teen may be more worried about being rejected than getting caught. Talking about the “impact” of their decisions creates an open conversation that carries less judgement and more awareness of how their behavior can effect themselves and others.
- Focus on your relationship: Lines of communication are created when you pay attention and show interest in your teen’s world. Not only will your teen tell you more about what is going on in their life, they will be more open to your advice. Be aware that advice seeking is not always overt. Sometimes the best guidance comes from modeling, and sharing personal experiences and stories when opportunities presents themselves. Remember, your teen is watching and listening to you more than you may think!