The Power of Peer Pressure on Teens
Teens’ lives can be very complicated. Not only are they facing the unchartered waters of transitioning from a child to an adult, but there are also a plethora of demands placed upon their young lives. There’s school, homework, worrying about grades, jobs, and household chores. Teens are also trying to discover ways to fit in with their friends, classmates, and pretty much anyone who is in their age group. At times, they make good choices that will benefit them in the long run, but on the other hand, they may be swayed into doing things that aren’t particularly wise. We know this more commonly as peer pressure
Facts About Peer Acceptance and Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is influence that comes from a peer group or observers, even a friend, who encourages others to change their attitude, values or behavior to conform to their way of thinking. When it comes down to it, no matter our age, we all feel the need to fit in to some degree and to be accepted by others, but the pull seems to be stronger for adolescents.
According to Kelli Blue Hill, LPC-S & RYT, owner of Blue Hill Counseling LLC in Walker, “Teenagers rely more heavily on peers than they do parents, simply because it’s part of their development. I think they want acceptance, and a quick way to get acceptance is to go along with what others want. Teenagers are more likely to look at the positive rewards than the negative consequences without giving it much thought."
Common Teen Pressures
Before the age of the Internet and personal electronics, teens experienced most of their contact with their friends and acquaintances at schools or public areas, like the mall, where they would often hang out. Pressure to have sex, use drugs, smoke cigarettes and leave the house without permission are topics that were prevalent before the information age, and they still do exist. According to Jamie Schuler, MSW, LCSW with Family Focus & Associates in Baton Rouge, vaping has become an issue as well.
Both professionals agree that since teens began using social media, a whole new level of subjects that teens may feel coerced into trying, such as sexting or cyberbullying, have been introduced.
“Through group chats and other forums, there’s the likelihood that teens are exposed to each other a whole lot more, so there are more opportunities for them to think not so clearly and get caught up in the moment,” Hill explains. “There’s the peer pressure of bullying. If they’re on a group chat being ugly, it’s easy to get caught up in that and contribute to that conversation. [However,] it might not be something they’d do when face to face with that person.”
Noticing a Change in Your Teen
According to Hill, irritability or crankiness are red flags that can signal that something is bothering the teen or causing them issues. “Irritability is the primary manifestation of depression in teenagers,” she says. “Parents often think that when a teen withdraws from them then that’s a sure sign there’s an issue, but withdrawing from parents is totally normal, so that’s not necessarily a sign,” she explains.
She goes on to say that if your teen seems depressed, it might be worthwhile to take him or her to a therapist or professional to explore what’s taking place in his or her life. Undue pressure from peers could be the underlying reason for this change in behavior.
Working with Teens to Avoid Peer Pressure Situations
“Communication, communication, communication,” Schuler says. “Having that open relationship with your kids, letting them know you’ve been there and dealt with these situations.”
Another piece of advice Schuler offers to parents is teaching assertive communication and showing your children how to stand up for themselves. “It’s okay to say ‘no’ and not have a reason,” she says.
Hill adds, “What I’m big on teaching in my practice is mindfulness. With mindfulness, they can do a self-check into their ‘gut feeling,’ and if something doesn’t feel good to them, they need to say ‘no’.”
Planning ahead is another way to avoid peer pressure situations. “Parents can talk to teens and develop a plan for what to do if they get caught in a bad situation–a plan that allows the parents to respond and not be judgmental,” Hill says. She goes on to explain that if teens think they’re going to be judged by not participating, then they’re not going to push that ‘escape button.’” Yet, if they can call or text their parents and know they’re going to get help without criticism, then they have a safe ‘out’ for an uncomfortable situation.
Both professionals suggest that teens should always concentrate on getting involved in positive, character-building pro-social activities that will help them in their futures. Extracurricular activities such as sports, music, art, or religion or spiritual involvement are the first step in turning your back to unhealthy peer pressure tactics.