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.
A study outlined in an article on Medline illustrates this fact. 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 likely 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. Consequently, teen peer pressure is real and kids manage it every day.
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 a severe amount of pressure to dabble with alcohol, drugs or 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.
Understanding Teen Peer Pressure
During adolescence, the brain is developing remarkably quickly. As the brain grows and changes, specific portions of the brain that regulate decision-making abilities, impulsivity and self-control aren’t functioning at an optimal level. The brain needs to conserve energy as it changes and builds connections, and these centers seem to go offline until the growth spurt is complete. This may help to explain why teens might be vulnerable to pressure from their peers. Where an adult, faced with teen 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 due to their decreased capacity from brain changes. They’re unable to make these complex sorts of decisions due to their biology.
Peer Pressure From Friends
Children may face peer pressure from the time they’re toddlers, but studies suggest that peer pressure does become more significant during adolescence. The pressure grows greater, and the things teens are pressured to do become more dangerous.
Where younger students reported pressure to spend time with friends and behave in ways that were similar to the behavior of people in the group, older students reported pressure to misbehave.
Teens are resilient creatures and they do have the ability to adapt to the pressures they face. For example, a study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that teens who spent time with those who don’t misbehave experience less pressure 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. It’s a good coping mechanism that some teens use to good effect.
Helping Teens Prepare
No matter how solid a teen’s friends may be, it’s likely that the teen will encounter negative teen peer pressure at least once. They might spend time with one circle of friends in class, another circle outside of class and yet another circle on the weekends. Some of these groups may pressure the teen to make terrible decisions.
There are some things parents can do to help teens prepare for these pressure-filled moments.
Ways to Say ‘NO’
Good options include:
- “My parents would kill me if I 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.”
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 the teen. 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.
Advice for Teens
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.
- Find the patterns. 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.
Advice for Parents
While there are many things teens can do in order to reduce the impact of peer pressure, there are some changes parents can make as well. For example, 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. 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 do their part to craft boundaries and limitations, especially concerning drug and alcohol use.
Similarly, parents who abuse drugs or alcohol in the presence of their teens, might also need to modify their behavior. Teens watch the actions of their parents, and they often model their behavior. As a result, the parents can exert peer pressure on their children through their choices. If they consistently abuse substances, they normalize the behavior for their children. It’s best to avoid these behaviors so children will grow up understanding the benefits of a sober lifestyle.
Develop Healthy Habits 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.
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 locked cabinet that teens do not have access to. Parents should also count those pills periodically to ensure that none are missing. 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 We 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, addiction, 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.
Image courtesy of Mario Purisic via Unsplash.