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Peer Pressure

What is peer pressure?
Peer pressure is feeling pushed to be like other people. It plays a big role in determining who you are and how you dress and talk and act. The need to fit in and be respected by others can change the way people normally behave. Peer pressure can be hard to resist. Sometimes, people in groups act differently and do things they'd never do on their own.

Peer pressure is often seen as something negative. However, peer pressure can also have a positive influence on someone. For example, your child may want to join a sports group, a school club, or try to get better grades because one of his or her friends might be doing the same.

Peer pressure can occur at all ages. Even toddlers are influenced by peer pressure. They see playmates doing something they know they should not do, but they follow along. This may be something like jumping on the beds, digging in flower pots, or running in the house. As children enter grade school, peer pressure may affect more serious behaviors, such as shoplifting, breaking house rules, or breaking school rules. Middle school and high school students begin to deal with bigger issues such as skipping school, smoking cigarettes, or using drugs. The behaviors affected by peer pressure become riskier as children grow older.

When is peer pressure a problem?
Most parents and youngsters think of peer pressure as one friend using words to persuade another. For example:

  • "Here have a cigarette."
  • "Just try one - it won't hurt you."
  • "Are you scared - you're a wimp."
  • "Try it - no one will know."

Parents have legitimate concerns about this type of peer pressure. It happens at school, at the mall, at friends' houses, and even in your house. However, there is an equally dangerous form of peer pressure. This is a much more subtle type of peer pressure that does not use words. It is peer pressure that happens by spending time with friends who behave in certain ways. If "everyone" is smoking cigarettes or using drugs, your child may be influenced and follow along.

Sometimes children or teenagers will say, for example, "My friend smokes cigarettes, but it doesn't bother me. I don't want to smoke cigarettes. I'm OK." However, as time passes and a child or teenager continues to spend time with friends who engage in certain behaviors, they start to accept these behaviors as OK. They may begin to adopt these behaviors as their own.

How can I help my child?
Watch for signs of change in your child's normal behavior, particularly behaviors that go against the family's value system. To help prevent problems, try to get to know your child's friends and their parents. Children who are most successful at resisting negative peer pressure are those who develop a strong self-concept and have the confidence to say "No." Help your child be proud of who they are by being supportive and maintaining positive family relationships.

If your child seems to be struggling with peer pressure, contact your child's school counselor. School counselors can help you, the parent, understand what your child is dealing with and will be able to suggest coping strategies for you and your child.