Merriam-Webster defines peer pressure as: “A feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one's age and social group in order to be liked or respected by them.”
Children of all ages experience peer pressure. Most people think peer pressure is a bad thing (stealing, smoking, taking drugs, drinking alcohol). Some peer pressure can be good. It can be just the push your child needs to join a new club at school, try a new sport, study for better grades, or attend college. Good and bad peer pressure is common. Your child wants to be liked and to do the right thing. As a parent, you can help your child deal with peer pressure and make good choices at every age and stage.
Path to improved health
Welcome positive peer pressure. If another child is pushing your child toward something better, that is a good thing. It might help your child socially or academically. For example, it might encourage your child to participate in the school talent show or science fair.
Understand negative peer pressure. Your child wants to fit in, doesn’t want to feel rejected or teased, and isn’t sure how to get out of a bad situation. Start early by preparing your young child for peer pressure. When they are in preschool, tell them not to copy silly or bad behavior. For example, if a friend or classmate pressures them to take something that doesn’t belong to them, teach them how to say “no” and walk away.
As your child goes through elementary school, talk with them about smoking, drugs, and alcohol. Peers pressure kids to sneak out of the house, cut school, drive without a license (or ride with an underage driver), steal, vandalize property, and cheat, too. It’s never too early to prepare. Give your child ideas of what to say when pressured. Practice this “role playing” often. This helps your child get out of a bad situation. Tell your child they can blame you if they need to get out of a bad situation. Give your child a special code word to say or text you if they can’t get out of a situation on their own. This will signal that they need help.
Share your family values. Children learn from their parents. It’s important to let your child know how you feel about stealing, cheating, bullying, and more. When a child knows something is wrong, they will think twice before agreeing to do it.
Encourage your child to feel good about him or herself. Celebrate their achievements and praise them when they make good choices. Children who feel good about themselves are more likely to resist negative peer pressure. The same is true with friendships. Children who have friends whose families share your values are more likely to resist negative peer pressure. Monitor your child’s friendships (in-person and online). Don’t be afraid to talk with other parents, even when your child is in high school and seems independent.
There may be a day when your child makes a bad choice because peer pressure. When this happens, remain calm. It’s a good opportunity to teach your child about choices and having the courage to say no.
Things to consider
Negative peer pressure can have a downward spiral effect. This means that pressure to commit small wrongs can lead to more serious bad behavior. For example, if your child is easily pressured to take things that don’t belong to him, he or she might one day agree to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, chemical dependency takes over after repeated use.
Don’t forget that the media and internet are forms of peer pressure. What your children hear and see on TV and online can influence your child’s choices. Monitor these influences by:
- Limiting your child’s exposure to TV and the internet. Consider your child’s age and other responsibilities (homework, job, family time) to decide on how much time he or she should be allowed to watch TV or explore the internet.
- Monitoring what your child watches or views on the internet. Ratings are available for TV, movies, and video games. You can see your child’s internet search history on a computer. You also can check your child’s phone to see what apps he or she has downloaded. Require your child to provide his or her passwords in return for the privilege of accessing TV and digital media.
- Learning more about the music your child listens to. Some song lyrics can send powerful, negative messages.
- Watching TV or searching the internet together. This gives you an opportunity to discuss what you’ve just seen or read with your child. It will be a good time to reinforce your family values. It also gives you an opportunity to sort out fact from fiction on certain things (drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, etc.).
- Securing your home’s TV and online devices. Most cable, internet, and cell phone providers have parent control settings that restrict inappropriate material from children. Be sure to find out what’s available in your home and with your child’s phone.
- Monitoring your child’s electronic use at their friend’s homes or when friends bring electronic devices to your home (laptops, tablets, phones). Talk with their parents. Tell your child what is and what is not allowed.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What are the signs that my child is experiencing negative peer pressure?
- What can I do if my child is susceptible to negative peer pressure even after we provide many lessons and talks?
- Should I talk to my child’s teacher about the friends who are pressuring my child?
- Are there certain risk factors that increase negative peer pressure?
- What if positive peer pressure pushes my child into something that I don’t agree with, such as a contact sport (football)?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.