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Peer Pressure

Peer pressure takes place when a child does something he or she does not want to do as a result of being pressured by peers. Peer pressure is a part of almost all children's lives. All children experience peer pressure and give in to it at one time or another. While parents can't protect their children from experiencing peer pressure, there are steps they can take to minimize its effects.

Why is examining peer pressure so important?

Peer pressure is the cause of a lot of teenage smoking, drinking and drug use.  Those things alone are not good, but they also affect children’s education.  We know the affects of drugs and alcohol on the brain and learning that is why peer pressure studies are so important.

Peer influences have been found to be among the strongest predictors of drug use during adolescence. It has been argued that peers initiate youth into drugs, provide drugs, model drug-using behaviors, and shape attitudes about drugs. There was a study done to determine how much peer pressure affected adolescent drug use.  They also used the variable of family.  For example, were you more likely to give in to peer pressure if you were from a single parent home, with no father, over someone who came from a two-parent home? Or were you more likely to follow the crowd if you lived with a stepparent?

The results of this study indicated that peer pressure and peer drug models were related to drug use, but that the strength of this relationship was moderated by family structure and mother–adolescent distress. In particular, the relationship between peer pressure and reported drug use was weaker among adolescents living in homes with fathers or stepfathers than among those living without fathers or stepfathers; similar effects were not found for peer drug models. Among adolescents living with their fathers, father–adolescent distress was not related to overall drug use and did not moderate the influence of either peer variable. In contrast, mother–adolescent distress was significantly related to drug use, with adolescents who rated their relationships more positively reporting lower levels of drug use. Mother–adolescent distress also moderated the relationship between peer variables and drug use. However, for peer pressure this only occurred among adolescents living in homes without fathers or stepfathers. Among these adolescents, higher levels of mother–adolescent distress were associated with increasingly stronger relationships between peer pressure and drug use.  The strong relations between peer variables and the frequency of drug use found within this study replicated the findings of previous studies that have found peer variables to be among the strongest predictors of adolescents’ drug use.

If the negative effect of peer pressure is to be minimized, youth, parents, school and community leaders must come together to establish workable and effective strategies to guide teen behavior and to support their transition from children to mature, responsible adults. Here are several strategies to consider (Brown, 1990):

Relinquish the stereotype of peers as a uniformly negative influence on youth. Although some teenage peer groups encourage drug use, delinquent activities and poor school performance, others discourage deviant activity in favor of school achievement and involvement in sports or other extra-curricular activities (e.g., music, religious activities).

Nurture teenagers' abilities and self-esteem so they can forge positive peer relationships. The parent, schools and other agencies can be taught how to help develop the adolescent's self-concept and self-worth so he or she is a valued person.

Empower parents and educators to help teenagers pursue and maintain positive peer relationships. They can provide adolescents with the opportunity to succeed in constructive ways which are valued by the teen, the parent and the community alike.

Encourage cross-ethnic and "cross-class" peer interactions and guide teenagers in dealing positively with cultural diversity and individual differences. Parents, teachers, community leaders, and clergy can model appreciation for ethnic differences and support cross-class and cross-ethnic friendships. Schools and youth organizations can assist by encouraging youth from diverse backgrounds to work and play together.

Place sensible restraints on part-time teen employment. This could ease adolescents' compliance with peer pressures to "buy" acceptance into a peer group (i.e., to have enough money for the "right" clothes, the "right" shoes, the "right CDs, etc.). Increases in part-time employment among youth have had little impact on the time they spend with peers.

Support parent education programs for families with teenagers. Parents need to be better informed about the dynamics of adolescent peer groups and the demands and expectations teenagers face in peer relationships.

Establish intervention programs for preadolescents with low social skills or aggressive tendencies. Addressing these problems before adolescence will decrease the chances of these youth joining anti-social peer groups that will reinforce their problem behaviors.

Realizing how much impact peer pressure has on children's lives and their future, it is a must that we learn more about it and teach coping ways so that children will know how to deal with it. Yet, we need to acknowledge that children are not the only ones dealing with it, parents are too.  They have to worry about their children and what types of friends they have and who they are hanging around with.  The information above were suggestions I found throughout many articles for parents who need ways to help their children deal with peer pressure.

Advice For Parents

Sometimes parents tend to react before they think things through, when it comes to their children.  If they feel a set of friends are not who their children should be around they forbid them to ever hang with them again without coming up with the best solution.  Sometimes telling an adolescent that they cannot see a certain group of friends leads to rebellion or loss of communication between the parent and child, which is never good. Here is some advice for parents dealing with children with friends that they think are bad influences:

  • Get to know the friends of your teen.  Learn their names, invite them into your home so you can talk and listen to them, and introduce yourself to their parents.
  • Do not attack your child's friends.  Remember that criticizing your teen's choice of friends is like a personal attack.
  • Help your teen understand the difference between image (expressions of youth culture) and identity (who he or she is).
  • Keep the lines of communication open and find out why these friends are important to your teenager.
  • Check whether your concerns about their friends are real and important.
  • Talk to your teenager about behavior and choices -- not the friends. If you believe your concerns are serious.
  • Encourage your teen's independence by supporting decision-making based on principles and not other people.
  • Let your teen know of your concerns and feelings.
  • Encourage reflective thinking by helping your teen think about his or her actions in advance and discussing immediate and long-term consequences of risky behavior.
  • Remember that we all learn valuable lessons from mistakes.

Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS