Peer Pressure

No matter how old they are, people care what others think about them. When youth are just starting to make decisions for themselves, the influence of their friends and people their age-their peers-can be powerful. As most parents are aware, it can affect how youth feel, dress and act. Peer pressure is when friends try to influence them to say or do something, even if they don't want to. They feel they need to do it so they can stay friendly with their peers, "fit in", or belong to a particular group.

Peer pressure can be positive or negative. Positive pressure from peers might lead a youth to play sports, study hard or join clubs. But there are often negative pressures too-to make fun of someone, to tell a lie or to cheat on a test. Sometimes the pressure may be about actions that have more serious results, such as skipping school, using drugs or alcohol, shoplifting, having sex before they are ready, or joining gangs.

It is important to let youth know that you understand their need to have friends and feel like they fit in. At the same time, it is important to discuss the possible problems/consequences that going along with the crowd can cause. Encourage them to think about the possible consequences prior to joining in and reinforce their right to say to peers "that's not what I want to do". Young people who feel good about themselves are more confident about disagreeing with peers, and making up their own minds.

There are different kinds of peer pressure for youth. It can come across as friendly teasing or it can be more forceful. Help your child or youth to come up with a list of behaviors they can try to use to handle peer pressure. Some possible suggestions may include:

  • Change the subject.
  • Avoid the situation.
  • Have something else to do.
  • Leave, or make it clear that you do not have to go along with other people to have a good time.

Let youth know that when peers see them stand by their decisions, it may help their friends to better deal with peer pressure.

If you believe your child is having a problem dealing with peer pressure and you're not sure what else to try, see Counseling.

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