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Teens & Peer Pressure

Hi Mark,

I read your book about a year ago and have been referring back to it when I have needed it. My communication with my daughter has improved greatly. Unfortunately, she is still making bad choices. As far as I know, it is only occasionally, but could be more and I am just not aware of it. A few months ago we pulled her out of traditional school and enrolled her in Independent Studies. She goes to school (which is a class at her regular school) once a week, receives work, checks in her homework and takes her tests. Her grades and homework have improved significantly. When I took her to school on Monday, I was supposed to pick her up around 10-11, she was supposed to call (she had her cell phone taken away at the time.) I called the teacher around 12 and she informed me she had checked out at 11:30. To make a long story short, she finally called me at 3:00 (I was at the school looking for her) and was there. I did not talk to her because I was too angry. She proceeded to come home, eat one thing after another for over an hour then went up stairs to bed. I told her Dad he needed to drug test her (we are divorced.) He called last night and said when he told her she needed to take the test, she admitted to smoking pot a few weeks ago. My problem is her low self esteem and wanting to fit in. She was on the school volleyball team until she got kicked off for bad grades. I have offered for her to do ANY other activity and she refuses. It seems she only wants to fit in doing bad things, which I assume makes her feel “cool.” How do I get her to do things that are positive when she only WANTS to do destructive things?

Thanks!

W.

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Hi W.,

Peer pressure is more than just a phase that adolescents go through. Whether it leads to extreme hair and clothing, tattoos, or body piercing, peer pressure is a powerful reality and many adults do not realize its effects. It can be a negative force in the lives of kids and adolescents, often resulting in their experimenting with tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.

Adolescents want to be with people their own age. Kids, especially during adolescence, begin to spend a lot more time with their friends, and less time with their family. This makes them more susceptible to the influences of their peers. It is important to remember that teenage friends can have a positive influence on a youth. During teenage years, adolescents are more accepting of their peers feelings and thoughts. Peers can and do act as positive role models.

Parents, teachers, and other adults should encourage adolescents to find friends that have similar interests and views as you a parent, educator, religious and community leader are trying to develop in the teen. The critical adult views including doing well in school, having respect for others, avoiding drug use, smoking, drinking and other risky behaviors.

Adolescents put into practice risk-taking behaviors as they are trying to find their own identity and become more independent. This makes them very vulnerable to experimenting or becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, sexual activity, and defiance of authority, especially if there is peer pressure to do so. Adolescents who use drugs are also more likely to become involved in gang activity, have low self-esteem, behavior problems, school performance problems, and depression.

Parents, teachers, religious and community leaders want to promote positive peer pressure among teens. Parents and other adults often believe that adolescents do not value their opinions. In reality, studies suggest that parents have tremendous influence over their kids, especially adolescents. No matter the age of their kids, parents, caregivers and other adult role models should never feel helpless about countering the negative effects of peer pressure.

What parents can do:
  • Ask questions and enjoy listening to adolescents as he or she talks
  • Avoid attacking the teen’s friends- criticizing an adolescents choice of friend can be perceived by a teen as a personal attack
  • Avoid criticism that takes the form of ridicule or shame
  • Be an involved parent
  • Establish and maintain good communications
  • Get adolescents involved in youth groups, community activities and peer monitoring programs
  • Help the teen understand the difference between image (expressions of youth culture) and identity (who he or she is)
  • Monitor your teen’s activities
  • Nurture strong self-esteem
  • Role-play peer pressure situations
  • Talk openly and honestly about stealing, alcohol, illegal drugs, and sex

Peer pressure during childhood and adolescence equips adolescents to develop healthy friendships, self-identity, self-esteem, and self-reliance. It is healthy for everyone to talk about how they feel what they need, desire and want. Parents mistakenly assume that their teen does not want to talk to them, but it may just be that the teenager does not want to talk about his or her bad grades, their bad behavior and how much trouble they are in. Usually adolescents are more willing to talk about something they are interested in or something positive that is about them.

Develop a habit of talking with your teen every day. Building a strong close open relationship with him or her while they are young will make it easier for your teen to discuss problems, concerns and other sensitive issues associated with school, relationships, and other life stressors.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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