Sophie's favorite class, drama, comes right at the end of the day—just when her friends are ready to sneak out of school. Auditions for the school play are being held today, and she really wants to try out. But her friends are telling her to cut class and go to the city with them. She wants to be in the play, but she doesn't want to disappoint her friends. She's feeling peer pressure.
The urge to conform to their peers (kids the same age) is a normal stage for kids ranging in age from about 12 to 21. At this stage, children start looking to their peers—not their parents—to help them figure out everything from what clothes to wear to how serious to be about school. You can play an important role in this process by helping your kids learn to make good choices when they're being influenced—for better or worse—by their peers.
Is peer pressure always negative?
People tend to focus on the bad effects of peer pressure. But the desire to be like their peers can help your children too. On the positive side, peer pressure can provide kids this age with:
- Friendship, acceptance, and a chance to build lasting bonds.
- Positive examples of how to work hard and be honest, kind, and loyal.
- Feedback and advice as they try out new ideas, explore beliefs, and discuss problems.
- Opportunities to get to meet new people and work out differences.
- Encouragement to do their best, and someone to talk to when they feel like they've failed.
- Support to try new sports, clubs, activities, foods, and music.
Unfortunately, peer pressure can also lead to risky behavior, such as:
What makes kids vulnerable to peer pressure?
The one thing that seems to make all adolescents vulnerable to peer pressure is simply being in this age range. They're just doing what kids their age (middle school to high school) do. Research suggests that peer pressure can be especially difficult to resist because, at this stage of their lives, lots of kids:
- Want to fit in and be like the kids they admire.
- Want to do what other kids are doing, and have what other kids have.
- Don't want to feel awkward or uncomfortable.
- Are afraid of being rejected or made fun of.
- Don't know how to get out of a pressure situation.
- Aren't sure what they really want.
What can parents do to help?
As normal as it is for adolescents to go along with their peers, it can be just as normal for parents to take their children's challenging behavior personally. Just try to remember that kids aren't so much rejecting you as they are trying to establish their own identity.