Combating Peer Pressure

True happiness for a teenager begins and ends with friends. Dr. Anthony Wolf, a clinical psychologist and author of Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?, notes that peers play dramatically different roles in the lives of girls and boys. A girl’s life is run by the clique she is associated with. Friends are everything. The basic purpose of these cliques is to give each member a sense of self-worth by excluding others. Every minute of every day, a girl will be insecure about remaining “in” with her clique and wondering if the other members still like her. If her friends accept her, she considers herself worthwhile.

Processes to Overcome Peer Pressure

  • Build self-esteem in your child: Adolescents who like themselves are less likely to give in to negative peer pressure because they want to be liked by others, state Steinberg and Levine in the book You and Your Adolescent. The desire to be popular may override the need to be unique, but your teen still needs to know that her parents think she is special.

  • Encourage your teen to form alliances with peers who share the same values: This does not mean that you should push your adolescent to make friends with someone you consider to be a model citizen, advise Steinberg and Levine. Pushing her will probably backfire. But if a strong, positive friendship is developing, suggest that she invite the friend over to hang out, or take her with you on family outings.

  • Help your adolescent to anticipate difficult situations and plan ahead: Talk about situations he might encounter and how he would handle them. Let your teen know where you stand on certain issues, and help them ask the question, “What will help and what will hurt myself and others?” Encourage moral behavior.

  • Know your adolescent’s friends: Your teenager’s selection of friends says a lot about who he is and what he is likely to be doing. Without pressing, try to get to know his friends as individuals. This doesn’t mean you should try to be one of the gang. Simply show genuine interest in each of them. 

  • Remain close to your teenager: Some parents unconsciously see the adolescent’s blossoming interests in peers as a rejection of them and pull back. Other parents are secretly relieved that the adolescent doesn’t need them so much any more and disappear psychologically. According to Steinberg and Levine, all of these are making a mistake. A close relationship with parents is the best insurance that your adolescent will choose friends you like and that she will resist negative pressure.

  • Talk about situations in which people have to choose between competing pressures and demands: Adolescents are not the only ones who feel peer pressure—so do you, in your social life and your work. Share some of your own experiences, past and present, with your teen. Discuss ways you overcame certain pressures.