Peer Pressure and Teens
Do you know who is influencing your teenager?
The Undesirable Best Friend!
Your 11 year old daughter’s new best friend is your worst nightmare as she was the reason that your daughter decided to cut off all her beautiful long hair! Do you:
- Put the friend down at every available opportunity so that your daughter will realise just how awful she is?
- Keep quiet but make offhand, dismissive remarks whenever the friend is mentioned?
- Invite the friend for tea and take them both on an outing, so you can get to know her and for her to get to know you?
You and your 13 year old daughter have previously spent a lot of time hanging out together but recently she has wanted to spend more and more time with her friends and has begun to resent any requests from you to do things together. Do you:
- Tell her how much you miss the time together and that you think she is being selfish and not considering you?
- Get more and more depressed and lament the loss of your little girl whilst taking every opportunity to question her about where she has been, with whom and doing what?
- Go out and join that singing group you’ve been meaning to join for the last few years?
The Local 'Bad Boys'!
Your 14 year old son has started going out all the time and has become very secretive. One day he leaves his mobile phone at home with a text from one of his friends open that reads: ‘Get the drugs and the money you owe me by 12, or else!’ – or text-speak to that effect. Do you:
- Laugh about it with your best friend when she calls you later that evening and then forget about it?
- Lie in bed every night worrying and anxious and making yourself ill?
- Tell him what you’ve seen, apologise for the accidental invasion of his privacy but express your concerns and your hope that he can talk to you if he is in any trouble?
Of course, you know the corrrect answers to these, but sometimes it is not always so easy to deal with.
What is Peer Pressure?
Most children are drawn to other children from a young age; even a 10 month old baby in a pushchair will show great interest and delight when there are other children around. When they go to school children quickly begin to learn how to make friends, to care what others think of them and how to fit in. However, it is from about age 11 that what we generally understand as ‘Peer Pressure’ begins.
There’s a very fine line between peer pressure that we tend to view as a negative thing and the natural need for young people to move away from dependence on their parents and family to work on their own identity and sense of independence. It may seem a contradiction but young people explore identity through their need to fit in with their chosen peer group and be accepted.
Parents' experience of peer pressure
Perhaps it seems that your daughter only cut her hair because her best friend persuaded her to, but it is only through making these kinds of choices that she learns about her own boundaries, needs, values and beliefs.
This need for experimentation and independence in young people usually involves putting distance between themselves and their parents. This can be a challenge for parents, particularly for single parents, and even more so if you only have one child or it is your youngest child. As a single parent it can be scary when you realise that the influence you have on your daughter or son is rapidly decreasing and being replaced by that of friends, some of whom you may actively dislike and disapprove of. It may bring up feelings of rejection and abandonment and fear because of loss of control.
When being with friends is preferable to being with parents
If parents aren’t able to give young people the space they need, then very often teenagers react by creating it for themselves and the most effective means of doing this is through conflict. A negative parental response to a teenager’s attempts to assert their separateness is likely to create tension and a potential battleground. When your teenager knows you disapprove of something or someone in their life it generally fuels their determination to do it, or be with that person, more!
Once a young person has come to the conclusion that it is uncomfortable being at home with their parent because of the growing tensions, and that being with their friends is comfortable and easy, then they become vulnerable to agreeing to take part in risky behaviour that can be far worse that just dressing in black or dyeing their hair.
Surviving peer pressure - Finding the balance
Research suggests that teenagers who receive little support at home are the most likely to be influenced to take part in unhealthy behaviour by their support group.
As young people move out in to the world of their peers, as well as needing to fit in, they need to know that the security and safety of their parent is there. They need to have a parental safety net, even if they can’t voice this need. Feeling secure can make the difference between your child stepping over the line when pushed by their friends or having the strength and confidence to say no.
The reality of peer pressure, negative and positive, is that it is an important part of growing up. For parents it is about finding the balance between being supportive and letting go. Perhaps it’s time to take up tightrope lessons…