One of the defining characteristics of adolescence is the way social relationships become front and center in a teen’s life. While staying connected to the family was of great importance throughout childhood, now teen’s are slowly pulling away from the family unit. They are exploring the world around them, putting their friends first, and testing the limits their parents place before them. It’s not family; it’s friends that are most meaningful for teens.
For all of these reasons, peer pressure can be a great force of influence on a teen. Parents may be concerned about what happens if the pressure teens feel from their peers is pushing them in the wrong direction, such as towards drugs, drinking, or dating. Part of the balancing act for parents is to help their teen mature while at the same time making sure their teen does so safely and securely. This article will provide parents with tools to help teens identify a risky situation and suggest ways parents can help their teen say “No” when feeling pressured to do something they don’t want to do.
Why Teens Might Say Yes
There is so much a teen yearns for during adolescence. They want to be liked, accepted, and welcomed by their friends. They want to be seen as mature and independent by their parents. They want to be seen as intelligent by their teachers. Teens may have these desires whether they actually possess these traits or not. So, when given an opportunity to be seen as smart or mature or cool, often teens will go for it. This frequently plays a role in a teen’s decision to say yes to something that might feel a little uncertain. Here are some additional reasons teens might give in to the pressure they get from their friends:
- Teens may not know how to say “No”.
- They may not know the best way to get out of a situation.
- Teens may not understand what’s being asked of them.
- They want to appear that they are in control.
- They want to appear cool or worthy of acceptance by friends.
- Teens may not want to lose a friendship or social relationship.
- They may not want to be made fun of or teased by friends or peers.
- Teens don’t want to be rejected by their peers.
- Teens may not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
- They may want to be seen as grown up, mature, or independent.
- They may feel the event or environment calls for what they’re being asked to do (going out at night means having a drink).
How to Help Teens Say No to Peer Pressure
Despite the pressures to say yes, there are many ways to help a teen not give in to peer pressure. If you are a parent or caregiver of an adolescent, consider the following suggestions to help your teen with peer pressure:
Help your teen find their own “No”. In fact, it’s important to help a teen find the “No” in them versus simply telling them to say “No”. Helping a teen understand and see for themselves why saying “No” to drugs or alcohol is in their best interest will empower them to say “No” when faced with peer pressure.
Discuss the many ways your teen can say “No”. Saying “No” can be more or less difficult for some teens, depending on their comfort level. It may be important for parents to talk about all the ways that a teen can say “No” so that they can identify one or two that will work for them. For instance, some teens might not find that walking away is what they feel most comfortable with, while other teens might be okay with saying “No” clearly and assertively. Below are suggestions for ways teens might let their peers know they are not interested:
- Walk away
- Suggest another activity
- Find friends that don’t engage in risk-taking activities
- Say no assertively.
- Physically keep distance from peers who are engaging in risk-taking activities.
- Say “No thanks. I’m not into that.”
- Say “”Hey, thanks but I’d rather not.”
- Blame it on parents and say “I will get into trouble if my parents find out.”
Talk about how to communicate assertively. Your teen might not have a problem with saying “No”, but you might find that they need help with being assertive. Saying
“No” quietly might not work with some peers. They might only try to be more convincing. If teens know how to speak clearly, assertively, and firmly, they might find their peers responding appropriately to their “No’s”.
Reflect on your own ability to say “No”. If as a parent you have a hard time saying “No” (to the request of friends, additional obligations at work, etc.) you might find that your teen struggles with maintaining firm boundaries as well. Facing peer pressure is a good time for teens to learn how to have firm boundaries. However, they will tend to learn firm boundaries from their parents. Also, if parents are not firm about the limits they have about their teen’s drug use, drinking, sexual activity, and other risky behavior, then it will be all that much harder for your teen to know and enforce those limits for themselves. Be sure to communicate to your teen exactly what you expect of your teen when faced with pressure to engage in risky activities.
Be there for your teen. When parents let their teen know that they are there for them, teens will tend to feel more comfortable with talking to their parents before making a poor decision. Parents can let their teen know that they are available emotionally for their teen by not only telling them so but also by spending time with them. Make time for your teen each day to get to know what they are involved in, who they are spending time with, and the challenges they are facing. If parents already have some information about what’s going on for their teen, teens may be more inclined to say, “Dad, you know the friend I sit next to in Math class, well…” Being involved in your teen’s life helps to keep the door of communication open.
These are suggestions for helping your teen avoid peer pressure as well as supporting them through it. If peer pressure has led your teen to drugs, drinking, and other risky behavior, you may need the support of a mental health provider. Intervening early can help ensure your teen’s physical, emotional, and psychological safety.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.