As children grow up and begin to socialize with their peers, they will inevitably face situations where they feel pressured to conform to the expectations of their friends. This is commonly referred to as peer pressure, and it can be a challenging issue for many children to manage on their own.
While it is critical that we protect our children – As a parent, there are several things you can do to help your child navigate these situations and make healthy decisions. Here are some tips and strategies for helping your child manage peer pressure.
Start the conversation early
Be proactive: having a conversation about how to manage peer pressure is an important step in helping your child learn how to navigate social situations effectively. By having these conversations with your child, you can help them develop a strong foundation for making healthy decisions and navigating social situations with confidence
It’s never too early to have the talk about peer pressure. Even young children can be influenced by the opinions and behaviours of their friends. As your child grows, these influences can become more significant, and it’s essential to have an ongoing dialogue about how to handle them. Encourage your child to come to you with any concerns or questions they may have about their social interactions.
There are several key topics you can cover when talking to your child about how to manage peer pressure:
What is peer pressure?
Start by helping your child understand what peer pressure is and how it can influence their behaviour. Explain that peer pressure is the influence that their friends and peers can have on their choices, opinions, and behaviours.
Different types of peer pressure
Explain different types of peer pressure your child may encounter, such as positive and negative peer pressure. Positive peer pressure can encourage your child to engage in positive behaviours, such as studying hard, being kind to others, and participating in extracurricular activities. Negative peer pressure, on the other hand, can lead your child to engage in risky or harmful behaviours, such as experimenting with drugs, skipping school, or engaging in bullying.
Another type of peer pressure is conformity pressure in which children feel like they don’t have everything that everyone else seems to have. This type of peer pressure can be especially challenging for children and teens, as they are at a stage in life where they are trying to fit in and establish their identity. Conformity pressure can come in many forms, such as feeling pressured to wear certain clothing brands, have the latest gadgets or toys, or participate in certain activities.
The pressure to conform can be particularly strong in school environments, where social hierarchies and cliques can form around shared interests, clothing styles, and other factors. Children and teens may feel like they need to conform to fit in with a particular group, even if it means sacrificing their own preferences or values.
How to recognize peer pressure
Help your child recognize when they are experiencing peer pressure. Talk about how to identify when their friends are trying to influence their choices or behaviours, and how to tell the difference between positive and negative peer pressure.
Consequences of peer pressure
Discuss the potential consequences of giving in to negative peer pressure. Ask open-ended questions to get them thinking about problematic consequences peer pressure can have, like how engaging in harmful or risky behaviours can have negative effects on their health, relationships, and future opportunities.
Strategies for saying no
Practice different strategies with your child that they can use to say no to manage peer pressure in various situations. Encourage them to be assertive, to stand up for themselves, and to express their opinions and feelings confidently. Role-play different scenarios with your child, so they feel prepared to respond in real-life situations.
How to seek help
Teach your child to seek help when they feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to handle a situation involving peer pressure. Encourage them to talk to a trusted adult, such as a teacher, coach, or family member, if they need guidance or support.
Build your child’s self-confidence
Children who feel confident and self-assured are more likely to resist and manage peer pressure effectively. Help your child build their self-esteem by praising their efforts, encouraging them to try new things, and supporting their interests. When your child feels good about themselves, they are less likely to feel the need to conform to their peers.
Encourage their interests
Encourage your child to pursue their interests and hobbies. When they are engaged in activities they enjoy, they will feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in their abilities.
Provide Opportunities for Success
Create lots of opportunities for your child to succeed and experience a sense of accomplishment. Ensure they can watch themselves succeed with the effort they put into tasks. Celebrate their successes – even keep a success journal they can help remember past successes – and let them know that you are proud of their efforts.
Help them set achievable goals
Encourage your child to set achievable goals and work towards them. Setting and achieving goals will help them build self-confidence and a sense of control over their lives.
Provide positive feedback
Provide your child with positive feedback when they do something well. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts. Be specific in your praise so that they know exactly what they did well.
Teach problem-solving skills
When they are faced with a difficult situation, help your children brainstorm solutions and encourage them to take action. When they are successful in solving a problem, they will feel more confident in their abilities to handle future challenges.
Encourage your child to be independent and take responsibility for their actions. When they feel capable and self-reliant, they will be more confident in their abilities to make good decisions.
Be a positive role model for your child by demonstrating self-confidence in your own life. When you model self-assurance and assertiveness, your child will learn that it is okay to be confident in themselves and their abilities
Teach your child to say no
One of the most critical skills your child can develop to manage peer pressure is the ability to say no. Practice with your child ways to say no without being confrontational or aggressive. Encourage them to be assertive and to stand up for themselves when they feel uncomfortable or pressured.
Role-play different scenarios
Role-playing can be a useful tool to help your child learn how to say no in different situations. Practice different scenarios with your child, where they may face pressure from peers to engage in risky or harmful behaviours. Role-play different responses, including saying “no” confidently and assertively. This practice can help your child feel more prepared and confident to manage peer pressure in real-life situations.
Teach assertive body language
Teach your child to use assertive body language, such as maintaining eye contact, standing up straight, and speaking in a clear, firm voice. Encourage them to use open body language, such as facing the person they are speaking to and using hand gestures that emphasize their message.
Help them identify their boundaries
Help your child identify their personal boundaries, including their values, beliefs, and limits. Encourage them to communicate their boundaries clearly and assertively to their peers.
Validate their feelings
Validate your child’s feelings and let them know that it is okay to say “no” when they feel uncomfortable or unsure about a situation. Encourage them to trust their instincts and listen to their inner voice.
Provide positive reinforcement
Reinforce assertive behaviours, including when your child says “no” confidently. Let them know that you are proud of them and recognize their efforts to resist negative peer pressure.
Model assertiveness in your own life, and demonstrate how to say “no” confidently and respectfully. When your child sees you being assertive, they will be more likely to model that behavior themselves.
Encourage positive friendships
Encourage your child to make friends with children who share their values and interests. Positive friendships can provide a supportive environment for your child to explore their interests and develop their sense of self. When your child has friends who share their values, they are less likely to be influenced by negative peer pressure.
Model positive relationships
Parents can model positive relationships in their own lives, both with their children and with others. This means being respectful, kind, and empathetic in their interactions with others, including their spouse, friends, and colleagues.
Encouraging empathy is important for helping your child understand the perspectives and feelings of others. This can be done by discussing how their actions affect others, asking them to imagine how they would feel in another person’s shoes, and encouraging them to help others when they are in need.
Encourage healthy conflict resolution
Teaching your child healthy conflict resolution skills can help them navigate disagreements and difficult situations with their peers. This can include teaching them how to express their needs and feelings assertively, listening actively, and compromising when appropriate.
Foster a positive school environment
Parents can work with their child’s school to create a positive school environment. This can include participating in parent-teacher conferences, volunteering at school events, and advocating for policies that promote inclusion, diversity, and respect.
Encourage extracurricular activities
Encouraging your child to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports, clubs, or music lessons, can help them develop positive relationships outside of their peer group and create a sense of connection and belonging in school. These activities can also provide opportunities for your child to develop new skills and interests.
Monitor social media use
Monitoring your child’s social media use can help you identify any negative interactions or behaviors and address them with your child. It can also provide an opportunity to discuss healthy social media habits, such as avoiding cyberbullying and limiting screen time.
Set clear boundaries
Establish clear boundaries with your child and reinforce them consistently. Let your child know what is expected of them and what behaviours are not acceptable. When your child understands your expectations, they are more likely to make choices that align with their values and beliefs.
Get on the same page with your partner
It is first essential to get on the same page with your partner about values and boundaries for your children.
Identify your core values. Sit down with your partner and identify your core values. Make a list of the values that you want to instill in your children, such as honesty, kindness, and respect.
Discuss your parenting styles. Discuss your parenting styles with your partner. Talk about your strengths and weaknesses as parents, and how you can work together to support each other’s parenting style.
Create a plan. Create a plan for how you will instill these values in your children. This could include setting clear boundaries around behaviour or implementing consequences for negative behaviour.
Establish a consistent approach to discipline. Consistency is key when it comes to parenting. Agree on a consistent approach to discipline and stick to it.
Keep communication open. Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Regularly check in with each other to ensure that you are both on the same page when it comes to parenting and that you are meeting your goals.
Discuss values and beliefs
Have conversations with your child about their values and beliefs, and help them understand why these are important to them. This will help your child establish clear boundaries around what they are and are not willing to do.
Define specific behaviours
It is important to define specific behaviours that are acceptable or unacceptable. For example, your child may have a boundary around using drugs or alcohol, or they may have a boundary around engaging in sexual activity. Make sure your child understands what these behaviors are and why they are important.
In terms of what boundaries to set, this will depend on your child’s age and maturity level, as well as your family’s values and beliefs. Here are some examples of common boundaries that parents may set for their children:
- No drugs or alcohol use
- No smoking or vaping
- No engaging in sexual activity
- No bullying or aggressive behavior
- No lying or stealing
- No excessive screen time or social media use
Consistency is key when it comes to setting boundaries. If you allow your child to engage in a behavior one day, but not the next, it can be confusing for them. Be clear and consistent in your expectations.
It is important to communicate the consequences of crossing boundaries clearly and proactively, before the problem behaviour happens. This can include consequences such as loss of privileges or a loss of trust. Let your child know that these consequences are in place to help keep them safe and healthy.
Encourage your child to be assertive in communicating their boundaries with their peers. Teach them to say “no” confidently and respectfully, and to stand up for themselves if their boundaries are being pushed.
Model healthy boundaries
Modelling healthy boundaries is important for children to learn by example. Make sure that you are modelling clear boundaries and healthy decisions in your own life, and that your child sees you standing up for yourself when your boundaries are being pushed. Talk openly with your child about your own experiences with peer pressure and how you handled them. When your child sees you making healthy choices and resisting negative peer pressure, they are more likely to follow your lead.
Teach them to follow their gut
Teaching children to follow their gut instincts is an important skill that can help them stay safe and make good decisions in uncomfortable situations.
Teach them to recognize their body’s signals
Help your child recognize the physical sensations they experience when they feel uncomfortable or uneasy. These may include a racing heart, sweaty palms, or a churning stomach. Encourage them to pay attention to these signals and take them seriously. It can be helpful to regularly get in touch with how they are feeling, where they feel that feeling in their body the strongest, and describe how it feels. Doing this can help build interoceptive awareness and, ultimately, listen to their gut. Use emotions cards or wheel to help them get in tune.
Discuss the importance of listening to their inner voice
Encourage your child to trust their instincts and listen to their inner voice. Let them know that their intuition is a powerful tool that can help them stay safe and make good decisions.
Role-play different scenarios with your child, where they may feel uncomfortable or unsure. Encourage them to listen to their gut instincts and practice ways to assert themselves or get help if they feel unsafe.
Teach your child mindfulness to stay present and aware of what is going on for them, even in uncomfortable situations. Staying present will allow them to recognize what their intuition is trying to tell them.
Model following your own instincts
Be a positive role model for your child by demonstrating how to follow your own instincts and trust your inner voice.
When children want something that “all the kids have,” like a phone, but parents don’t want to give access, it can be challenging for both parties. In addition to the points above about how to manage peer pressure, consider the following:
Listen to your child’s perspective
First and foremost, it is important to listen to your child’s perspective and understand why they want the item. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know that you understand their desire to fit in with their peers.
BRIEFLY explain your perspective
Explain your perspective to your child, in a sentence or two. Otherwise, it goes into nagging/lecture territory where they won’t listen to anything you have to say. Continue to acknowledge your child’s perspective as you do. Be honest and transparent about your reasons for not giving access, and explain any concerns you may have about safety or other issues.
Offer alternatives that may meet your child’s needs in other ways. For example, you may suggest setting up a regular time for your child to talk with friends on a family computer or arrange for your child to use a family member’s phone during specific times.
Encourage your child to embrace their unique interests, strengths, and preferences, rather than conforming to the expectations of others. Help them explore their passions and encourage them to pursue activities and hobbies that align with their values and interests.
Foster a positive self-image
Help your child develop a positive self-image by emphasizing their strengths and qualities, and reminding them that it’s okay to be different. Encourage them to focus on their own growth and development, rather than comparing themselves to others.
Discuss the pressures of conformity
Talk to your child about the pressures of conformity and help them understand that it’s natural to feel the need to fit in, but that it’s important to stay true to their values and beliefs. Discuss the importance of individuality and help them understand that being unique is something to be celebrated.
Build a supportive network
Help your child build a supportive network of friends and family members who share similar interests and values. Encourage them to develop meaningful relationships with peers who support and respect them for who they are.
Be a good role model
Model healthy behaviour by embracing your own individuality and values, and by encouraging healthy relationships with others. Help your child understand the importance of staying true to their beliefs and values by modelling this behaviour in your own life
Be open to revisiting the decision
Be open to revisiting the decision in the future, as your child grows and matures. As your child gets older and demonstrates increased responsibility, you may consider revisiting the decision and reevaluating whether the item is appropriate.
One thing you may want to do is create a chart about what topics you are willing to address at what age. For example, under 14-16 you might include topics like having a cell phone or dating. Be clear that you are willing to have the discussion at this age, not that you are necessarily agreeing to these things. Then, when the topic comes up, you don’t need to say anything at all, you can look at the chart and see when the topic is open to discussion.
Determining appropriate ages for different privileges can be hard. Things to consider include:
- Maturity level. Some children may be ready for certain privileges at a younger age, while others may not be ready until they are older. Consider what you think your child can handle.
- Responsibility level. If your child has consistently demonstrated responsibility in other areas of their life, they may be ready for more privileges.
- Safety concerns. Some privileges, such as using the internet or driving a car, may have safety concerns that need to be taken into account. Make sure your child is aware of the risks and has demonstrated the ability to handle the responsibility that comes with the privilege.
- Family values. Your family values may also play a role in determining what privileges are appropriate for your child. For example, if you value academic achievement, you may set a higher age for privileges such as staying up late or watching TV during the week.
Be consistent in your decision and follow through with the boundaries you have set so your child understands that the decision is final, that the topic is closed until a set time, and that they need to find alternative solutions.
When they make a bad decision
It can be tough when our kids make a bad decision and succumb to peer pressure. When they do, it is important to:
Stay calm and supportive. Avoid criticizing or judging them, and instead focus on understanding why they made the decision they did.
Validate their feelings. Validate your child’s feelings and let them know that it’s normal to feel pressured by their peers. Help them understand that they have the power to make their own decisions, even when it feels hard.
Encourage them to take responsibility for their actions. Ask them to reflect on what they could have done differently and how they can make better choices in the future.
Discuss the consequences of their actions. Help them understand the impact their decisions have on themselves and others, and how they can make amends if necessary.
Focus on the positive. Focus on the positive and praise your child for the times when they’ve made good decisions in the face of peer pressure. This will help build their confidence and reinforce positive behaviour.
Use it as a teachable moment. Discuss ways your child can resist and manage peer pressure in the future, and provide them with the tools they need to make healthy decisions.
Still having trouble?
If you and your partner are struggling to get on the same page and/or are unsure of how to best help your child manage peer pressure, consider seeking support from one of our expert psychologists. We can provide an objective perspective and help you work through any challenges that arise.
And finally, if you want to hear more from real parents, Check out Caroline and Andrew’s podcast episode on this topic on Parents of the Year!