“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you follow?”

Every teen has heard this line at least once. And then, they grow into parents and find themselves saying it too. Why? Because peer pressure is the one demon parents cannot control.

But here’s the thing about peer pressure: It’s not always the demon people make it out to be. Sometimes, it’s even a good thing.

How peer pressure helps your child

Imagine a world where your child is never influenced by anything but you. It may sound like paradise, but it’s not reality. Our kids are influenced by the world around them from the time they open their eyes. This perfect little being you created was born to become his or her own person. Peer pressure actually plays a role in this development.

Your kids need to learn how to make decisions for themselves, even when it’s difficult. What you really want as a parent is for your child to stand strong against peer pressure. But it’s always easier said than done.

Where peer pressure comes from

When you think peer pressure, you’re probably thinking about kids at school. That’s one of the main sources of peer pressure, but it’s not the only one. From infancy, we’re all exposed to popular music, television advertisements, and other media that play a role in our thoughts, whether we realize it or not.

Why even strong teens succumb to pressure

When you’re a teen, you think you’ve got it all figured out. You believe you know enough about the world to make all your own decisions. Well, science says that’s not quite true.

Science tells us that the human brain isn’t fully developed until somewhere in the mid-20s. In fact, a teenager’s brain is only about 80 percent developed.

And get this: The areas that aren’t fully developed affect judgment.

So, if you’re wondering why a teenager did something that you’d consider reckless, that’s the answer. Even the most responsible teens may have what seem to be lapses in judgment because the part of the brain responsible for judgment is still developing.

This is why 16-year-olds aren’t considered adults. And even 18-year-olds have some limited rights.  

It’s also why teenagers need parental guidance.

How bad decisions can impact a teen’s life

Peer pressure comes in so many forms. Some forms are relatively harmless while others lead to decisions that can follow a teen for the rest of his or her life. When a teen is pressured to take an illicit substance, for example, that choice may lead to addiction. And teens who use drugs and alcohol are more likely to develop addictions later in life. Other forms of negative peer pressure include stealing or other illegal actions, and sexual promiscuity.

Sometimes, teens are able to leave their bad decisions behind. Other times, they lead to lifelong problems or responsibilities.

What you can do about peer pressure

As a parent, there are a few things you can do to affect how your teen handles peer pressure. Here are some ideas to help you navigate this difficult time:

  • Stay involved – Even if your child seems to be pushing you away, stay involved in her life. Find out who she’s hanging out with and don’t stop asking about her day.
  • Speak up whenever you’re uncomfortable – If you suspect your teen is making bad choices, talk to him. Try to approach it from a calm and non-judgmental place, but don’t leave anything unsaid.
  • Share facts – It’s no secret that teens often think they know more than their parents. Prove them wrong. Share facts about risky behaviours that they probably don’t know. When they have all the facts, your teens may make better decisions. At the very least, they’ll know what they’re getting into.
  • Let them know about your disapproval – Let them know you disapprove of risky behaviour. As a parent, this sometimes seems redundant. Of course, you don’t approve of drug abuse. But don’t assume anything “goes without saying.” Say it. It may not seem like it at the time, but your kids are listening.

Peer pressure is all around us, and it can lead to decisions that impact the rest of someone’s life. But the lessons we learn as we make our own choices shape the people we will become. Good or bad, peer pressure is a natural part of life.

Article written by Trevor McDonald