As adults, it can be difficult to understand the full weight of peer pressure on today’s children and teens. As people age, they develop a sense of autonomy, identify with their own set of morals and values, and learn to accept themselves as the individuals they have become. However, children and teens have not yet fully developed in this same manner. They long for acceptance from others as they struggle to discover who they are, in part by identifying with their peers. For this reason, peer pressure should not be under estimated. It can have a strong influence on the decisions that children and teens make, many of which are not for the best.
Peer pressure exists in more than one form. It can be direct, where the child or teen is verbally asked or persuaded to perform an action. An example of this might be when one is offered drugs and told that “everyone is doing it” or that they are “chicken” if they do not at least try it. In another instance, one might be encouraged to participate in an act of violence in order to be accepted as part of a group or gang of kids.
On the other hand, peer pressure also exists as an indirect force. While children and teens feel the need to fit in and adapt socially, every action of the people around them may influence their own behavior. Sometimes young girls participate in early sexual activity as the result of feeling isolated, and believing they are the only one who hasn’t done so yet. Or, teenage boys may drive recklessly with friends in the car because they feel pressured to have others believe they are “cool.” The bottom line is that peer pressure is everywhere and it can be a danger to kids who aren’t fully equipped to deal with it.
One of the best ways to help kids fight against peer pressure is to provide them with a structured and supportive environment. Studies show that the kids with the strongest support systems are those who are least likely to succumb to peer pressure. Also, children and teens who have a good self esteem and a positive self image are less likely to compromise their own standards to receive the approval of others. Positive parenting helps to build a child’s confidence in themselves and allows them to develop confidence in their decision making skills. In addition, talk to your kids about peer pressure. Make sure they know right from wrong, and help them practice ways to say “no” to their friends when they are asked to do something inappropriate or dangerous.