Any parent of a pre-teen or teenager is all too familiar with the term “peer pressure.” It seems to cover all the negative areas of concern parents have for their child during the teenage years. Society offers numerous temptations for our teens to choose risky behaviors, which will threaten their physical and emotional wellbeing.
So what is a parent to do?
Families are always the first educators in moral development. Parents are the ones who listen and guide. This is a time in your teen’s life when choosing friends is important. Adolescents need to surround themselves with friends who provide positive peer pressure. These are the kind of friends who will give each other support to make those hard decisions. Often, these will become lifelong friendships rooted in shared experiences, mutual love and respect.
But you do not need to do this alone. You have important, powerful allies in your schools, churches and youth groups. This month schools across the nation will emphasize reduction in bully behavior. This has become part of the core curriculum yearlong, not just October. Similar programs are offered in school curriculum for young people to understand the consequences of surrendering to negative peer pressure by drinking, smoking and drug abuse.
Communication with family and choosing the right friends prepare teens to escape the serious consequences of risky behavior, even though it may mean losing some friends. It takes courage and confidence to resist doing something they know they shouldn’t.
1. Help them choose friends wisely.
Students moving from elementary to secondary schools will meet many kinds of people and encounter opportunities for new friendships. Listen as they share their new friendships with you. Encourage them when they make good choices. Positive peer relationships are created when they find others with whom they share common interests, goals and activities. Offer them opportunities to have these friends visit your home and share activities with your family.
2. Guide older teens to date wisely.
During dating years, parents tend to get less feedback from their children. Of course, that is natural. Before teens reach that stage, help them recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Who do they see as having loving relationships? What do those couples share in common? In contrast, do they have friends who are in relationships experiencing emotional and/or physical abuse? Consider with your teen what happens when positive relationships change. When do people decide it is time to pull back and take a break from a relationship?
3. Build core values.
Experience is a great teacher, but adolescents have very little experience on which to base their decisions. What they have are the core values you have guided them to develop. There will be times when something does not seem quite right. If children of any age sense something is not right, teach them to trust their instincts based on core values. Many parents make a pact with their teens: if they are in an uncomfortable situation, they can call home for help.
From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources:
“Even though parents can’t control teen relationships, they have a lot of influence on their teens’ friendship choices and the quality of those relationships, including romantic relationships. Through both your modeling and your actions, you can guide your teens toward the kinds of positive peer relationships that help them make better choices and grow up successfully.”
More tips for parents:
Ellen Mooney is a retired principal and teacher with more than 45 years of experience in K-12 education.