The urge for children to conform to their peers is a normal stage in their pre-teenager and teenager years.
At this stage, children start looking to their peers to help them figure out what may feel like everything - from what clothes to wear to how serious to be about school.
You can play an important role in this process by helping your teenagers learn to make good choices when they're being influenced—for better or worse—by their peers.
The one thing that seems to make all adolescents vulnerable to peer pressure is simply being in this age range. They want to do what others are doing, and have what other young people in their peer group have. They especially don’t want to feel awkward or uncomfortable around their friends. They are afraid of being bullied, rejected or made fun of. They often act on impulse and do not realise the full consequences of their actions on themselves and others until it is too late and they don’t know how to get out of pressure situations. This can unfortunately this can lead to risky behaviour, such as anti-social behaviour, smoking, underage drinking or drug taking amongst other this.
What can parents do to help?
Do not take your teenagers challenging behaviour personally: As normal as it is for adolescents to go along with their peers, it can be just as normal for parents to take their children's challenging behaviour personally. Just try to remember that teenagers aren't so much rejecting you as they are trying to establish their own identity.
Support your teenager: Adolescents still need a parent's help to make good decisions—even if they don't act like it. Help them become the people you hope they can be by helping them learn to say “no” It can be hard to resist the pressure to engage in risky behaviour when other teenagers are doing it too. Before your teenager finds themselves in one of these situations, role-play with them. Help your kids figure out how to respond when someone says to them, “Come on and have a drink with us. It’s way more fun than studying. Or are you too chicken?” or “I really like you a lot. Let's text each other some pictures of ourselves naked. It's called sexting. Everybody's doing it.”
Develop good self-esteem. Take time to praise your child and celebrate his or her achievements. Children who feel good about themselves are more likely to resist negative peer pressure and make better choices.
Support your child to choose their friends wisely. This means online friends too. Lots of people (peers and adults) try to pressure teenagers to make bad choices. But if your children have friends with good values and good self-esteem, they can help your kids make sense of new technology, stay away from risky behaviour, and resist unwanted peer pressure.
Create special code words. These are special words your teenager can use when they want your help but don't want their friends to know they're asking you for it. For example, if they don't feel comfortable at a party, they can call or text you with an agreed-upon phrase like, “Mom, I have a really bad earache. Can you come get me?”
Use you as an excuse. Let your teenagers know that if they ever face peer pressure they don't know how to resist, they can always refuse by blaming you: “My parents will ground me for a month if I do that.”
This article was contributed by Hospital Family Resource Centre, a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations. For more information on this and other topics go to www.loveparenting.ie.