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Teen Peer Pressure and How to Cope

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Humans like to think of themselves as individuals, capable of making their own decisions without consulting anyone else. They’re prized for their ability to stand out, blaze their own path, and create their own style. However, underneath this originality lies a deep-seated desire to fit in. That’s why teen peer pressure is so hard for kids to resist.

While peer pressure can come into play at almost any point in life, its influence might be strongest during adolescence. As teens are growing and experimenting with the concept of individuality, they may experience peer pressure to use alcohol or drugs, or engage in other risky behaviors. Managing teenage peer pressure can seem difficult, if not impossible. But with help from parents, most teens will learn to navigate these pressures with grace.

No matter how solid a teen’s friends may be, just about every adolescent will encounter negative teen peer pressure at some point. However, there are some things parents can do to help teens prepare for these pressure-filled moments.

Key Takeaways

  • Peer pressure is more intense for teenagers because the adolescent brain is less equipped to predict consequences and hardwired to connect with peers.
  • Social media magnifies the impact of peer pressure by providing more opportunities for social comparison.
  • Parents can teach teens how to say no to peers who are pressuring them into dangerous behaviors.
  • Teens in recovery from substance use disorder may need additional support to resist peer pressure to drink or use drugs.

Peer Pressure and Teenagers: The Role of Neurobiology

A study outlined in an article on Medline illustrates how peer pressure works. In the study, two-year-old children who observed other kids perform a specific action were likely to mimic it. When these same children saw only one other child perform an action, they were less apt to copy it. In other words, even tiny children have a tendency to go with the flow and do what others do, when enough peers model behavior.

During adolescence, as the brain develops, we are particularly prone to giving in to teen peer pressure. Specific portions of the brain that regulate decision-making abilities, impulsivity, and self-control aren’t yet mature at this age. This may help to explain why teens are so vulnerable to social pressure from their peers.

Where an adult, faced with peer pressure, might be able to weigh the costs of performing the action against the harm the act might cause in the future, teens may not have this capability. They’re less able to predict consequences and regulate impulses due to their neurobiology.

Peer Pressure from Friends

Children may face peer pressure from the time they’re toddlers, but studies suggest that peer pressure from a child’s friends becomes more significant during adolescence. The pressure grows greater, and the things teens are pressured to do become more dangerous.

In addition, teens are hardwired to connect with peers and strive for belonging. As they mature and gain independence from family, gaining the approval of others in their age group becomes increasingly important. Hence, they may make unwise choices in order to feel accepted by their peer group.

However, how much social pressure a teen feels depends on who they spend time with. A study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that teens who spent time with those who don’t engage in unhealthy behaviors are less likely to misbehave themselves. In other words, teens who surround themselves with friends who share their values and don’t behave in destructive ways are less likely to engage in destructive acts that can damage their bodies and their futures.


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Types and Examples of Peer Pressure in Teens

There are various types of peer pressure, including:

  • Spoken peer pressure: When a teen puts social pressure on a peer by verbally asking or pushing them to engage in a behavior.
  • Unspoken peer pressure: Acting in a way that makes others feel pressured to mimic the behavior.
  • Direct peer pressure: This is spoken or unspoken peer pressure that is clearly inviting or pushing someone to engage in a specific behavior or choice.
  • Indirect peer pressure: Teens exert indirect peer pressure through behaving in particular ways. They may not be directly pushing others to make a choice, but they behave in a certain way and others follow them as a role model.
  • Positive peer pressure: Spoken or unspoken peer pressure that supports others’ emotional health by encouraging healthy behaviors or choices. For example, teens can positively influence each other through being role models for behaviors like studying to get good grades, engaging in political activism, and practicing self-care.
  • Negative peer pressure: Influence that pushes teens in the direction of making unsafe or unhealthy choices. Negative peer pressure examples include exerting social pressure to drink alcohol, experiment with drugs, or skip school.

Teen Peer Pressure and Social Media

Social media has multiplied the impact of teen peer pressure. Teens report experiencing peer pressure to look a certain way when seeing how their friends look on social media sites. According to a Pew Research Center report on the negative effects of social media on teenagers, 26 percent of teens say these sites make them feel worse about their own life.

Research shows that teen peer pressure online also contributes to drug and alcohol use. A 2023 study published in Drug and Alcohol Review showed teens were more likely to drink alcohol and use marijuana if their friends posted about it on Instagram and Snapchat.

The Mental Health Impact of Adolescent Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can have either negative or positive impacts on teen mental health, depending what type it is. When teens see their peers being good role models, in real life or on social media, they can get motivated to be more involved in their community, do better in school, or take better care of themselves.

However, negative peer pressure has many worrisome effects on teens. It can lead to low self-esteem. Teens who feel they’re not able to be themselves due to social pressure can feel oppressed, angry, and lost. Furthermore, research shows that peer pressure can lead to depression and anxiety in adolescents. Moreover, teen peer pressure can result in young people using alcohol and substances at early ages, making them more vulnerable to substance use disorder.

Helping Teens Deal with Peer Pressure

While there are many things teens can do in order to reduce the impact of peer pressure, there are some actions parents can take as well.

Teach Teens How to Say No

According to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, the best way parents can help teens resist peer pressure is to engage in role-playing exercises with them. Parents can pretend to be peers who want to use drugs, and then ask the teen to come up with a series of reasonable responses to those pressures. It might sound corny, and the teen might even resist the exercise at first, but it does allow parents to provide teens with a series of phrases they can use when they face pressure, like the ones listed below.

5 Ways to Say ‘No’

  • “My parents would kill me if I5 Ways to Say ‘No’ used drugs.”
  • “Being around drugs makes me uncomfortable.”
  • “I can’t spend time with you when you use drugs.”
  • “I have a test tomorrow. No way I’ll use drugs today.”
  • “Sorry, that’s illegal. I don’t want to get in trouble with the police.”

Know Where Your Kids Are

Keep tabs on where your teens are and who they’re with. A study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that children who lived with parents who wanted to know their whereabouts at all times were less susceptible to peer pressure. This remained true even if the children spend a significant amount of time in unsupervised situations.

Create Agreements and Code Phrases

At one time or another, most teenagers find themselves in uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situations. It might be a party where everyone else is drinking and using drugs, or it could be a critical situation in which they’re being pressured to have sex or even break the law. Teens and parents can set up a “no punishment” zone and secret code that allows the teen to contact parents for help. For example, the X Plan is one way to help teens escape high-pressure situations: Teens text their parents the letter X, which activates a prearranged plan for the parent to pick them up.

Set Boundaries and Expectations

Parents might need to adjust their parenting styles to help their teens resist peer pressure. Adolescence isn’t a time to be lax with rules. Instead, parents need to create boundaries and limitations, especially concerning drug and alcohol use.

Be a Good Role Model

Similarly, parents who abuse drugs or alcohol in the presence of their teens might need to modify their behavior. Teens watch the actions of their parents, and they often model their behavior. As a result, parents can exert a form of social pressure on their children through their choices. If they consistently abuse substances, they normalize the behavior for their children. Consequently, teens may perceive drugs or alcohol as less dangerous than they actually are.

Let Your Teen Blame You

Allow your teen to use you as the “bad guy” to help them push back against social pressure. For example, when they’re experiencing negative peer pressure, they can say something like “My mom would kill me if I smoked weed” or “My dad will never let me use the car again if he finds out I’ve been drinking.”

Do Things Together as a Family

Parents may also look for activities the whole family can enjoy as a group. Many teens are drawn to drug and alcohol abuse out of sheer boredom and a lack of inspiration. When they cannot think of another way to have fun or experience something new, drugs and alcohol become more attractive choices. Parents can help by encouraging the family to do interesting things together. Taking hikes, signing up for classes or playing board games together can help increase a sense of community and reduce the teen’s temptation to experiment out of boredom.

Be Aware of What’s in the Medicine Cabinet

Many teens develop addictions due to experimentation with prescription drugs like Vicodin, Ritalin and codeine. Parents should ask the doctor about the addictive qualities of all medications that have been prescribed, and medications that are addictive should be kept in a cabinet that teens do not have access to. By removing these substances from easy reach, parents might help their children to resist the urge to give in to peer pressure and experiment with these common drugs of abuse.

How Does Peer Pressure Affect Teenagers in Recovery?

Teens in recovery from alcohol or drug addictions face special risks when it comes to peer pressure. In the early stages of recovery, their brains and bodies may still be craving the substances. And, teen peer pressure to use may build upon the significant amount of pressure the teen is already facing. Combatting this problem may be difficult, but the teen can follow a few simple steps when the pressure seems to build:

  • Look for an ally. Find and form a friendship with another student who also resists pressure.
  • Contact a support group. Many teens use the services of Alcohol Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous in their recovery. Attending a meeting after a day thick with pressure can help make a relapse less likely.
  • Call for help. Teens can call their sponsors, their parents or their counselors if they feel as though their sobriety is in jeopardy due to pressure. These reality checks can help teens avoid making a mistake.
  • Identify patterns and triggers. If the teen faces pressure each day while on the bus, perhaps riding a bike to school would be a better choice. By finding the triggers for peer pressure, the teen can learn to avoid those risky situations altogether.

How Newport Academy Can Help

At Newport Academy, we provide help for teens struggling with mental health concerns.  Our therapists are adept at helping families to understand the roots of  teen peer pressure, and helping teens to overcome the pressure to abuse drugs and alcohol.

If your teen is facing mounting peer pressure to use and has perhaps slipped into a daily habit as a result, we’re here to help. Our programs could help your teen turn a corner and build a life that doesn’t include substance abuse.

Please contact us today to find out more.

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