Parents and caregivers often cringe at the thought of peer pressure. It sparks visions of children being pushed by friends to do something dangerous, cruel, or just plain stupid. Peers are incredibly influential to school-age kids, but it’s important to remember that some of that persuasion can be positive. It’s up to parents to help kids learn how to resist negative peer pressure and lean into friendships that positively impact their lives.
What is Positive Peer Pressure?
Positive peer pressure is when individuals encourage others in the same age or societal group to behave or think in a positive or beneficial way. For example, positive peer pressure is when friends inspire your child to:
- Exercise and eat healthy.
- Focus on academics.
- Be kind to others.
- Make smart choices.
While many parenting and social psychology platforms call this positive peer “pressure,” it’s actually just a form of support, encouragement, and inspiration from peers in a healthy social circle.
What is Negative Peer Pressure?
Negative peer pressure is when peers prod and push kids to do something damaging or harmful to themselves or others. With negative peer pressure, children may be persuaded to:
- Tease or bully other kids at school.
- Ignore parents’ advice.
- Engage in dangerous activities, like trying drugs or alcohol.
- Act disrespectfully towards teachers or other adults.
Negative peer pressure can have lasting effects on a child’s development and isolate them from parents, teachers, and other social groups. That’s why it’s so important for parents and caregivers to help kids learn how to choose the right path with peers at an early age.
Tips for Helping Kids Manage Peer Pressure
Simply telling a child to not “hang out with the wrong crowd” seems like a solid approach to addressing peer pressure, but unfortunately, it’s not always that simple! You want to help your child develop the ability to set boundaries, make smart decisions, and stand up to negative social forces –and that takes time and lots of meaningful life lessons. Overall, teaching kids to manage negative peer pressure is a long journey, and it will shift and transform as they move from grade school to high school and even on to college.
Here are some ways to help your child begin to manage peer pressure:
Talk to Them About What It Means to Be a Good Friend
Friendships have a powerful impact on a child’s mental and physical health, self-esteem, and happiness. Because of this, you want your child to be able to identify what it means to be a good friend. This doesn’t only help them choose positive people; it also helps them be a great friend to others. Emphasize how a good friend can show support and be kind, even when you don’t see eye to eye. Friendship isn’t about always being on the same page but accepting one another through differences.
Let Them Know it’s Okay to Say No
Kids need guidance on how to stand up to social pressures, especially in situations that may be dangerous. Ask if they know what it feels like to be pressured to do something they don’t want to do, or if they’ve been in that type of situation in the past. It can also be helpful to practice role-playing various peer pressure scenarios to help them find the right words to bow out of a stressful or harmful situation.
Ask About Their Social Circles and Get to Know Their Friends
Remember that it’s not considered intrusive or “helicopter parenting” to ask about your child’s friends and get to know them. Understanding how their social circles work and the peers they gravitate to can help you guide them in the right direction. It’s just as important for parents to discuss their child’s friendships (e.g., who they are, how they’re doing, what activities they enjoy), as it is to talk about school subjects or homework.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Most importantly, you want your child to feel comfortable coming to you for guidance on navigating peer pressure. This involves keeping the lines of communication open, remaining calm in tense situations, acknowledging their hardships, and enabling them to find their own solutions.
When kids have strong and trusting relationships with their parents and caregivers and feel confident in themselves, they’re less likely to be susceptible to negative peer pressure.