More than 20 years ago, my husband and I were blessed to work in our church’s teen ministry. We wanted to help spiritually guide their thoughts as they attempted to navigate this thing called life. Back then, the challenges they faced were unlike anything even I had dealt with. School pressure, peer pressure, even internal pressure brought a realm of circumstances somewhat unfamiliar to me. In many ways, I didn’t think I could relate. But then I remembered a significant turning point in my own teenage life.
4 Powerful Skills to Help Your Teenager Handle Peer Pressure
- Firmly refuse negative group behavior
- Combat lies with the truth
- Walk away when provoked
- Communicate effectively with adults
I was an 18-year-old freshman at Michigan State University newly transplanted from my island home of St.Thomas. The only person I knew in the state was an old college friend of my aunt’s. Eager to make friends, I decided to join the school’s track team. One night after practice, my teammates decided to go out to a club. Doesn’t sound like a big deal right? Well, clubbing was not my thing. I simply had no interest. But the pressure from my teammates to be a part of the group along with my internal pressure to avoid being an outcast was powerful. I decided to go.
I reluctantly returned to my dorm room, got ready, and went to join my teammates who were already waiting in the cab. As they waved at me to hurry, I started running down the hall toward them. Every step was like dragging a block of lead and each felt heavier than the last. I got in the cab and off we went. Now, to this day, I think my cab driver was an angel because he started talking about making sure we had the proper ID or we couldn’t get into the club. Apparently, my student ID was insufficient. We had only driven a few blocks away from my dorm and I told him to stop. I got out, sent my teammates off and practically skipped back to my dormitory. I returned to my room that night and vowed never to do anything I don’t want to do ever again.
Firmly refuse negative group behavior
Fast forward 13 years later and I now have the chance to mentor teens facing pressures far worse than going to a club. Peer pressure tactics were a hundred times worse and it was all kids could do to make it through the school day unscathed. Interestingly, regardless of the issue, negative behavior started as the brainchild of one individual and worked its way through a community of students who feared being left out. Sound familiar. Whether it’s 1989, 2009, or 2019 the pressure to be a part of a group is markedly embedded in the minds of teenagers everywhere.
Working in the teen ministry, I realized it didn’t matter if you were a preacher’s kid or the son of the devil. Everyone wants to fit in. Twenty years ago, I served teenagers. Today, I have two teens of my own. Black ones. Male ones. Talk about pressure. Their demographic is constantly under attack. Teach your kids the importance of non-conformity. It gives them a strong sense of self and confidence in their own way of thinking. It won’t be enough to thwart off every negative group behavior, but it’s a great weapon to have in their arsenal when those moments arise.
Combat lies with the truth
One of the reasons kids easily conform is they have nothing else to stand on when faced with peer pressure tactics. If a dominant person says bullying is fun, others conform to that way of thinking because they don’t want to be the one being bullied. Peer pressure instigators usually apply heavy-handed tactics that start with a lie. Well, it’s either a lie or a fear.
- “No one will like you.”
- “Don’t be a party-pooper.”
- “This will be fun.”
- “You’re the only one…”
- “You won’t get in trouble.”
- “Everybody’s doing it.”
Whatever they think will break your resolve, they use it. Arm your kids with answers…truths…to all of these lies. Then teach them how to effectively, and firmly (see point one) refuse to participate under pressure.
Walk away when provoked
As a self thinker, your son or daughter may become a popular target. It’s sometimes hard for group thinkers to believe that someone would willingly remain outside the circle. As a parent of one or more teens, you will have many chances to demonstrate what it means to be patient and to walk away when provoked. Teens test you. If you are going to ask them to be patient and walk away, then you better teach them by example.
They want more than your lip service. When they see you practice what you preach, it makes them a believer. Even though it doesn’t always seem like they’re listening, they are observing.
Communicate effectively with adults
One of the most important elements of tackling peer pressure is teaching our kids how to effectively communicate with the adults in their sphere of influence, particularly you. Sometimes, when they can’t talk to you as a parent, they might seek a surrogate. It’s important to raise them in a village with adults whose values align with your own. Oftentimes, however, teens don’t quite know what to say or how to openly talk about the issues they are dealing with.
This too is a skill that is better off demonstrated than preached. Talk to your kids about age-appropriate issues you are dealing with. Ask their opinion. Get their thoughts on the challenges you face. When you share with them, they are more likely to share with you. If they can effectively communicate with you, their chances of bowing to peer pressure decrease a thousandfold.
As adults, when we are facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, we like to say “the struggle is real.” For teens, the “pressure” is real. For me, it was just going to a club. For your teen, it may be drugs, bullying, or sex. But, if you arm them with the right tools, they can make it through these intense years and onto adulthood with fewer scars than most.
BMWK, what methods do you use to help your kids handle peer pressure?