December 4, 2020 / By thadmin2
Many of us may have experienced seeing our teens try out something new or be involved in a new activity, as a result of the (new) friends they have made. Sometimes these changes can be drastic, such that it’s as if the child we thought we had known all these years has evolved into a completely new person. This is a common phenomenon occurring during the teenage years of our child – known as peer pressure, which has been found to evoke a stronger influence during the adolescent years than in adulthood (Steinberg & Monahan, 2007). Peer pressure, by default, is neither good nor bad. It simply refers to the internal and external pressure which compels an individual to act or think in certain ways. The external source of peer pressure typically arises from the teen’s social peers. On the other hand, the internal mechanisms involve a combination of emotional and psychological factors. The interplay between the external influences and internal impulses can thereby lead to conformity, as teens consequently engage in the same acts as their peers. While pressure may be a normal, albeit challenging part of life which everyone inevitably faces, the way we handle peer pressure varies widely across individuals, as the interplay of different factors can play a huge role in our decision-making.
What are the different types of peer pressure?
Peer pressure comes in different forms – spoken and unspoken, direct and indirect, positive and negative. With regards to spoken, unspoken, direct and indirect forms of peer pressure, its effects on adolescents are generally the same across all types – such that teens would feel pressured to conform to the actions and desires of their peers. The main distinction appears in the nature of the peer pressure a teen experiences – positive or negative peer pressure. As we are more familiar with, negative peer pressure is often associated with risky behaviours such as smoking, substance abuse, sexual behaviours, illegal acts, bullying, and so on. On the flipside, there are also positive forms of peer pressure, where the support from friends can provide teens with favourable outcomes – meaningful friendships and lasting bonds, acceptance, positive role models for character development, constructive feedback and advice to excel in different aspects of life, as well as encouragement and support. The peers your teen socializes with and the type of influence these peers provide is important since it inadvertently shapes the development of your child through powerful forces of (positive or negative) peer pressure.
The effects of peer pressure – why do teens succumb to it?
Peer pressure typically arises during the adolescent years when children start to venture out into the social world, building friendships with others and forming social groups. One key developmental milestone that occurs during adolescence is the formation of identity (see our previous blog article on ‘Tackling your Teen’s Changing Appearance’ for an elaboration on the formation of identity in adolescence). As teens start to gain autonomy from their parents and no longer depend on them to guide their thoughts, behaviours and actions, they seek to establish their independent identity and make sense of who they are in the social world. Peers often serve as guides for navigating the social world, greatly influencing this identity-shaping process. Engaging in the same behaviours or activities as their peers (which may or may not arise from peer pressure) can help teens create a form of identity for themselves, while strengthening the solidarity between them and their friends through their shared experience in doing these activities together.
Other internal factors that may result in teens succumbing to peer pressure include: having a low self-esteem, wanting to fit in with other peers, a desire to be liked, being afraid of rejection or mockery, or simply not knowing what they want (Kim et al., 2019). Since the social circle becomes an important aspect of a teen’s life as they meet new people and start making friends, the desire to fit in and be liked becomes a crucial aspect of decision-making when faced under peer pressure. In addition, peer pressure can sometimes appear to be blatant and coercive, making it tough for teens to get out of these situations. In such situations, they may be inept in handling such stressful situations or they may be more compelled to conform to their peers since the negative consequences of disconformity are unfavourable – such as being mocked or ostracised from the group. However, it is important to note that the effects of peer pressure manifests itself differently across teens, whereby it can play on the strengths and weaknesses each teen faces. For instance, having low self-esteem and few friends may cause teens to become more susceptible to the influence of peer pressure, whereas a confident teen who knows his/her boundaries may be more resistant against the effects of peer pressure. The interplay between various internal and external factors therefore highlight the complexities of peer pressure which teenagers face.
Helping your teen understand and deal with peer pressure
As parents, we may have experienced some form of peer pressure in our lives. It is thus crucial for us to empathise with our teens and help them resist against the negative influence of peer pressure, as they navigate the social world. Naturally, all parents seek to strive in ensuring their teen socializes with good company who contribute to their optimal development and positive outcomes in life. Here are some useful tips which you can adopt in helping your teen understand and deal with the influence of peer pressure.
- Setting limits and saying no to negative peer pressure
Helping your teen establish safe limits and learning to say “No” can go a long way in
strengthening their resilience against the influence of negative peer pressure. Talk with your teen and work together on setting their boundaries, such as not taking illegal drugs and getting into a car with their friend who has been drinking and is the driver. Explaining to them the negative consequences associated with each of these behaviours can help them understand and rationalize the need for these safe limits, and remain disciplined in staying committed to these safe limits regardless of the temptations involved in these situations. However, most teens still face difficulty in saying “No” in these situations, as they fear social rejection or are unable to deal with the immense pressure faced in the situation. Parents can thus also role-play with your teens, to teach them how they can appropriately react in these kinds of situations without getting themselves into any risk or harm. For example, if they are being pressured into smoking by their peers, one way to respond could be “No thanks. I feel sick from just smelling the smoke.” It is important to let them know that while they should be polite when turning down the offer, they should also remain firm and steadfast in their answer. This way, teens can stay safe and remain in control of themselves during these situations.
- Effective decision-making
Closely monitoring and making decisions for our teens inadvertently conveys the message that they are incapable of making right decisions on their own. Consequently, they may become unmotivated and/or unable to make the right decisions in pressing situations, or they may even choose to rebel against us for trying to take control of their lives. By making the decisions for them, they are unable to walk through the decision-making processes we undertake and understand the reasons behind our decisions. In the long run, this fuels ineffective decision-making skills in our teens since they were not given the opportunities to practice doing so from a young age.
A great way to start would be allowing teens to make daily decisions for themselves. This helps them to build confidence in their own decision-making. Seeing the positive outcomes of their decisions can also lead them to feel good about the decisions they make, thereby creating a positive feedback loop and eventually increasing the likelihood of choosing the right decisions in the event of peer-pressured situations. We can also encourage our child in their decision-making processes whenever they mention doing activities with their peers, by informing them of the potential outcomes and consequences which they may overlook. Placing our trust in their decision-making skills while informing them of the possible risks can help them find clarity in their decision-making and strengthen their resistance against peer pressure.
- Develop their self-esteem
Teens who have low self-esteem tend to be more afraid of social ostracism and may also have
a heightened desire to fit in and be liked by their peers. You can start to develop your teen’s self-esteem by taking the time to praise them and celebrate their achievements (Kim et al., 2019). This will in turn boost their confidence, which may consequently build up their resistance against peer pressure and their ability to make good decisions under situations of peer pressure.
- Listen and support them
Ultimately, it is important to build a trusting and supportive relationship between you and
your teen. This way, they will feel comfortable in confiding in you which will better enable you to guide your teen in making better choices in life. You can start by establishing an open communication between you and your child from an early age and let them know that you are there to listen without judgment and help them when they need it. By establishing this dynamic in your parent-child relationship, your teen would feel more secure in coming to you for advice. When you and your child have that open communication, look for opportunities to ask about their observations or experiences of peer pressure and ask them how they feel about it. Since we were all once teens who have been subjected under the influence of peer pressure, we can share our personal experiences and the appropriate strategies we had adopted to handle these situations. In addition, modelling healthy behaviours with your family and friends can also demonstrate to your teen what they can do to withstand negative forms of peer pressure.
As parents, what we can do is to stay informed of our teen’s lives and stay calm – by not overreacting if our child does something which we do not approve of. Resisting the urge to judge them or control them can shape their receptiveness towards our opinions and guidance. Though they may be in a phase of rebelliousness and defiance, our teens still listen to us as their parents. It is important to keep talking to them about their social lives, such as their interests, hobbies, and friends, and the things bothering them. This way, we can convey to them that we care about them, while also allowing us to set clear rules and boundaries which you trust them to follow. The parenting life is certainly tough – however if we build a relationship of trust and support with our teen, we will be better able to guide our children onto the right path in life.
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