We’re all influenced by the people around us. It’s natural for us to change how we behave to fit in with our friends and family. But peer pressure goes further. It’s the feeling you have to do something you’d prefer not to do.
Younger children may experience peer pressure to play a particular game or act in a certain way. It can be hard for them to express their views and opinions if they’re different from their more confident friends.
Peer pressure with older children
Older children and young adults often desperately want to fit in with the crowd. They’re longing to be accepted and feel they fit in.
The peer pressure they experience doesn’t have to be blatant. It can be indirect and subtle. They may not even realise they’re being influenced.
Peer pressure can lead young people to:
- Break rules, like staying out past a curfew, writing graffiti, or skipping school
- Dangerous behaviour, such as taking alcohol, trying drugs, or stealing
- Sexual behaviour, like sharing intimate photos, or feeling pressured into sex
Your older child or teenager might give into peer pressure because they’re embarrassed about standing out, feel everyone’s doing it, want to be liked, or are just curious about trying something new.
How to help your child with peer pressure
It’s hard for even the most confident children to stand up for themselves. No one likes to say no to their friends. But there are a range of ways you can support your child if they are feeling pressured.
1: Say “no” and walk away
Remind your child it’s okay to say “no” if they don’t feel comfortable with something. Rather than putting up with the pressure, they may find it easier to make an excuse and leave.
2: Suggest something else
Giving an alternative suggestion is often easier than an outright “no”. For example, your child could say, “Why don’t we have a movie night rather than hanging round the park?”
3: Practise what they’ll say
Practice makes perfect – the more they say it, the easier it becomes. Rehearsing what your child could say when they’re feeling pressured can help give them confidence and feel prepared to say no.
4: Plan a get out
You want your child to have the confidence to speak their mind, but they may find this too difficult. Having a “get out” reason to leave makes it easier for them to walk away.
For older teens, you could agree on a code word they could message if they want you to call and tell them to come home immediately.
5: Talk about what makes a good friend
Talking about friendship helps teach your child what real friends should look like. You can remind them, “Good friends let you have your own opinions and they still stay friends.”
But it doesn’t just work one way. Your child might not realise they’re putting their friends under pressure. Remind them that when a friend says no, they should respect that and not try to persuade or ridicule them for their decision.
Talking about peer pressure
If your child tells you about a situation in which they’ve felt pressured, thank them for telling you. Stay calm even if you feel upset or angry. This shows them they did the right thing by telling you.
Listen carefully to them. You can repeat back what you think you’ve heard to check you fully understand. Trust them to suggest solutions, with a bit of your help, rather than telling them what they must do.
Peer pressure is an inevitable part of growing up, but with the right support, your child will know what to do when they face it.