Peers and Parenting: Dealing with Bad Influences

“Everybody’s doing it, so why can’t I?”
“I don’t want my friends to call me a chicken. I want to look cool.”
“This is what everyone wears in school. I don’t want to look like a dork.”

Oftentimes, many a child is caught in trouble at the prodding or encouragement of peers, or based on the example these peers set. This is especially true for teens, where they are dealing with a confusing time in their lives, even as they struggle to discover who they are as an adult, the need for acceptance among peers becomes more intense.

The teenage years is the time when one starts experimenting. This may include skipping classes, trying on alcohol and even drugs, engaging in sex and other risky behavior. A study published in the journal Child Development conducted by the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and University of Colorado (Boulder) indicated that teenagers who are concerned about acceptance are more vulnerable to peer pressure. Also, if a certain risky behavior or attitude is endorsed by popular teenagers, a teen is more likely to hold on to these behaviors and attitudes, even when he is not in the presence of his peers.

That is not to say that peers or your child’s circle of friends only provide a negative influence. Peers can also be an influence for the good. However, it is important for a teen to get the support he needs, particularly from his parents. Here are some of the things parents can do:

– Build a loving and close relationship with your kids. When your kids feel secure in your love, they will tend to also be more secure about themselves and thus less vulnerable to giving in to peer pressure. And it’s good to start early – program activities for your family while your children are young.  Doing so will develop a relationship that will serve you well as your children grow up (and by that time, they may not be as easy to invite to family activities). Have family camping trips, picnics in the park, or indulge in a sports activity together. Even regular, everyday activities such as doing the dishes, walking the dog or watching some television can be opportunities to bond with your child.
– Encourage your child to indulge in positive activities he is good at and enjoys. Is he good in basketball? Encourage him to try out for the school team. Is she good in arts or likes to perform? Why not encourage her to join the local arts or the theater club. The key is the word “encourage”.  It is also not advisable for you to push your child into doing something he does not want. However, when your child is occupied with these activities, it not only means that he’s not out there indulging in risky behavior, it also improves your child’s confidence levels and provides him with positive role models and occupy his time.
– Help your child understand that peer pressure is normal. Realizing that peer pressure is a normal part of teenage life will empower your child say, “no” when necessary. It will help for a teenager to understand that other people went through the same thing and how they dealt with the peer pressure they faced.
– Know your teen’s peer group and friends.  Get to know who your child hangs out with. Invite your teen’s friends over and take the effort to get to know their parents as well. Better yet, turn your house into the favorite hang-out of your child and his friends. The good thing about having them hang out in your house is that you know where they are and that they are not trying out drugs or drinking alcohol.
– Communicate with your child. Don’t just lecture about peer pressure – listen to what your child has to say. Our goal is to help our child be more self-confident and to be able to make wise decisions. Being willing to listen to what your child has to say sends the message that you respect his thoughts and opinions.
– Be there for your child. Sometimes saying “no” to peers will put your child in a difficult situation (having no ride home, needing to be picked up from a party). Your child needs to know that in these situations, he can count on you for your help.  Some families develop a code phrase that, when spoken, means that the parents need to fetch the child, no questions asked.
– Avoid criticizing your child’s friends. Even when you don’t think that you child’s friends provide a positive influence, keep from making criticisms about them. This may put your child on the defensive. Rather than criticizing, point out specific behaviors about your child that need to be corrected.
– Help your child know how to respond to peer pressure. Discuss the usual situations leading to peer pressure and role play your child’s possible responses. Help your child think of alternatives when friends are prodding him to do something inappropriate. Also, help your child anticipate potential trouble and learning how to avoid it.
– Seek help.  If your child seems to chronically have trouble with saying “no” to peers, it may help to consult with a family therapist in Provo. It may be that your child finds peer pressure too overwhelming and he needs some family counseling to boost his self-esteem and know how not to look towards what their peers think for them to measure his self-worth. A teen may also need to get some Utah substance abuse counseling if he has already succumbed to the pressure and tried drugs and alcohol.

Peer Pressure Help in Provo, Utah

It is important for your child to build his self-confidence, to be comfortable with whom he is so that he does not feel the need for other people’s acceptance to define him. This is where Utah family therapy can help. Parents can also get tools for them to understand what their child is feeling and how they can support their child. Dr. Triston Morgan in Provo, Utah can provide such counseling for your family. Dr. Morgan has experience in guiding families through the challenges of the teenage years. He is a marriage and family therapist licensed to practice in Utah.

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