The majority of people experience peer pressure at some point in their lives. The key is to build the skills necessary to appropriately handle the peer pressure when it is applied. I believe this is a 3 step process. First, a person needs to feel connected or a sense of belonging to a group or place. Second, a child needs to be resilient. Third, dealing with peer pressure can be planned and rehearsed.
Develop a Sense of Belonging
One "job" during this time in a child's development is to begin to develop an independent identity separate from their parents. Children that have an identity or activity they already love tend to find this "job" easier. For example, a child involved in soccer has the identity of a soccer player or athlete. A child that plays an instrument may identify with the band. So one thing we can do as parents is to encourage kids to find a niche or group where they feel they belong. Having a place to belong can buffer peer pressure. Our job is to guide our children to a safe group.
School connectedness or a sense of belonging at school has been linked to lower school drop-out rates, lower violence, and less risky behavior. Kids that feel connected to school have a higher self-esteem and self-efficacy. Kids with high self-esteem and self-efficacy are less likely to give in to negative peer pressure.
The good news is that even though peers become very important to our kids as they get older, parents still have a strong hold!! They may not show it but we do! Establish open communication when your kids are young. Talk about hard subjects like smoking, drinking, diversity, teasing, bullying and yes--sex. Get to know your kids friends. Just hang around when they are chatting. Sometimes they may ask your opinion.
By teaching your child what you believe in and what behaviors you accept then your child will develop confidence in refusing peer pressure that goes against your beliefs.
Life is not fair! We all face hardship and inequities throughout our lives. It is important to teach children how to deal with adversity while they are young enough to be in your protection so that they know how to handle adversity when they are older. Model coping skills and emotional reactions to different situations. Positive and negative! Kids will learn from you how to handle tough times and model their coping after you.
Slowly foster competency and independence. Our job as parents is to produce a fully functioning, independent adult. If we solve every problem for a child, they will not learn to solve them independently. Let kids fail at small tasks so they learn that mistakes are OK and they have a chance to fix their mistake. Allow a child to walk to school independently or go get the milk in the other isle at the store. Of course, you will only do this when you know your child is safe, ready for this level of independence and you can closely monitor the situation. Build on the child’s successes and allow more independence each time.
Say no to just say no!!
Kids need better responses to peer pressure than no. Saying no opens the door for the peer to put on more pressure.
Here are some strategies that can work:
These are the same types of assertive responses as when dealing with a bully. Just a different twist. These strategies take practice and should be role-played and practiced at home. Kids will experience different pressures at different times. So revisiting the strategies is important.
All kids will be tested by peer pressure. Focus on giving them the skills to be ready for the test and foster an environment of trust in case your child struggles with the test and needs your support.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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