As your child gets older, she will become increasingly influenced by her peers. Sometimes this can be a good thing. For instance, your son might want to join certain school clubs or participate in extra-curricular activities because his friends are. Your daughter might want to read certain books because all her friends are reading them.
Other times, peer pressure can take a negative turn. Your child might be pressured by their peers to do things they wouldn’t normally want to do, like smoke cigarettes, cut class or exclude another student on purpose.
These situations can be hard to manage. Some kids will submit to peer pressure because they want their friends to like them. Joining the group, even in a questionable activity, can help them feel as though they’re fitting in. Sometimes, kids are afraid they’ll be made fun of if they use their better judgement and say “no.” At times, they just might be curious to have a new experience and understand what all the fuss is about.
As a parent, you’ll want to prepare your child to deal with difficult situations in which they might be pressured by their peer group to do something they know is wrong. How can you help? Here are a few tips.
1. Teach them to go with their gut
Your child will instinctively know what’s right and wrong. They’ll get that feeling in their stomach or hear the voice in their head telling them it’s wrong to lie to their parents, that it’s unhealthy to smoke and that they are hurting someone’s feelings by being a bully. Let them know how important it is to recognize these instincts. Reinforce positive values.
Make sure you tell your child how proud you are of good behaviour and healthy decisions. This will help build your child’s confidence as he or she grows older. It will also strengthen your relationship. When your child is faced with a problem, he will be more likely to communicate with you and reach out to you for advice if you already have a trusting bond.
2. Help manage friendships
Encourage your child to choose their friends wisely. If you notice that certain friends are a good influence, invite them over or suggest they join an activity together. Let your child know how much you like their friend and explain why.
You might need to tread carefully if you see your child spending more time with a friend who you know is likely to be a bad influence. Discouraging or banning the friendship outright might only bring them closer together. The best thing you can do is have an open and honest conversation with your child about your concerns.
Make sure you impress upon your child the importance of saying “no” if they are being pressured to do things they don’t want to do. Reinforce the idea they shouldn’t put negative peer pressure on others by goading them into doing something they don’t want to do. As much as they should know to say “no,” they must listen when others say “no,” too. Encourage your child to have lots of different friends and to be part of a variety of social circles so they have the opportunity to pick and choose the friends who share similar values and make them feel good about themselves.
3. Teach your child how to say “no”
It can be hard to say “no,” but if you give your child the tools they need, they will be able to steer clear of trouble. Sit down with your child and have a frank discussion. “What would you say if your friend told you to smoke a cigarette?” you might ask. Or “What would you do if your friend wanted you to shoplift?” See how your child responds. If they are unsure of what to say, this is your chance to guide them. Talk to them about why it’s wrong to smoke, do drugs or lie to their parents. Discuss the potential consequences to their health or safety.
Give them the facts and information they need to understand your point of view. While it’s great to be armed with information, sometimes, it can even be as simple as saying, “I’ve already told you ‘no’. Please don’t ask again.” Encourage them to back up a friend who is also being pressured to do something wrong.
Let them know it’s ok to walk away. You might want to role play various scenarios together. If that doesn’t appeal to your child, suggest practicing in the mirror. In future, they might want to spend more time with their other friends who don’t make them feel uncomfortable. You might also be pleasantly surprised when your child is able to confidently respond “no” to peer pressure.
If your child has made mistakes or is having trouble saying “no,” encourage them to talk to someone who can help. This might be you, a guidance counsellor, teacher or coach. It’s never too late to learn.