About peer influence and peer pressure
Peer influence is when you choose to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do, because you want to feel accepted and valued by your friends. It isn’t just or always about doing something against your will.
You might hear the term ‘peer pressure’ used a lot. But peer influence is a better way to describe how teenagers’ behaviour is shaped by wanting to feel they belong to a group of friends or peers.
Peer pressure and influence can be positive. For example, your child might be influenced to become more assertive, try new activities or get more involved with school.
But it can be negative too. Some teenagers might choose to try things they normally wouldn’t be interested in, like smoking or behaving in antisocial ways.
Peer pressure and influence might result in teenagers:
- choosing the same clothes, hairstyle or jewellery as their friends
- listening to the same music or watching the same TV shows as their friends
- changing the way they talk or the words they use
- doing risky things or breaking rules
- working harder at school or not working as hard
- dating or taking part in sexual activities
- smoking or using alcohol or other drugs.
Being yourself: a balance for peer pressure and peer influence
It’s normal to worry that your child is being influenced too much by their peers, or that they’re compromising on their values (or yours) to fit in with their friends. It’s also normal to worry that your child won’t be able to say no if they get pressure to try risky things, like wagging school or smoking.
But listening to the same music and dressing in the same way as friends doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will also do antisocial or risky things.
If your child is happy with who they are and their choices and values, they’re less likely to be influenced by other people. Your child might choose to do some things that their friends do, but not others. And your influence is important here – it’s the biggest factor shaping your child’s values and long-term choices.
With your influence and a strong sense of themselves, it’s more likely your child will know where to draw the line when it comes to peer pressure and influence.
Helping pre-teens and teenagers manage peer pressure and peer influence
Coping well with peer influence is about getting the balance right between being yourself and fitting in with your group. Here are some ideas to help your child with this.
Build teenage confidence
Confidence can help teenagers resist negative peer influence. That’s because confident teenagers can make safe, informed decisions and avoid people and situations that aren’t right for them.
You can build your child’s confidence by encouraging them to try new things that give them a chance of success, and to keep trying even when things are hard. Praising your child for trying hard is important for building confidence too.
You can also be a role model for confidence, and show your child how to act confident as the first step towards feeling confident.
Build teenage self-compassion
Self-compassion is being kind to yourself and treating yourself with the same warmth, care and understanding you’d give to someone you care about. When teenagers have self-compassion, it can help them handle any stress and anxiety related to peer influence.
A strong relationship with you helps your child feel loved, accepted and secure. It’s important for teenage self-compassion.
Keep the lines of communication open
You can do this by staying connected to your child. This helps your child feel they can come to you to talk if they’re feeling pressured to do something they’re uncomfortable with.
Suggest ways to say no
Your child might need to have some face-saving ways to say no if they’re feeling influenced to do something they don’t want to do. For example, friends might be encouraging your child to try smoking. Rather than simply saying ‘No, thanks’, your child could say something like, ‘No, it makes my asthma worse’, or ‘No, I don’t like the way it makes me smell’.
Give teenagers a way out
If your child feels they’re in a risky situation, it might help if they can text or phone you for back-up. You and your child could agree on a coded message for those times when your child doesn’t want to feel embarrassed in front of friends. For example, they could say that they’re checking on a sick grandparent, but you’ll know that it really means they need your help.
If your child does call you, it’s important to focus on your child’s positive choice to ask you for help, rather than on the risky situation your child is in. Your child is more likely to ask for help if they know they won’t get into trouble.
Encourage a wide social network
If your child has the chance to develop friendships from many sources, including sport, family activities or clubs, it will mean they’ve got plenty of options and sources of support if a friendship goes wrong.
When you’re worried about peer pressure and peer influence
Encouraging your child to have friends over and giving them space in your home can help you get to know your child’s friends. This also gives you the chance to check on whether negative peer pressure and influence is an issue for your child.
Good communication and a positive relationship with your child might also encourage your child to talk to you if they’re feeling negative influence from peers.
If you’re worried your child’s friends are a negative influence, being critical of them might push your child into seeing them behind your back. If your child thinks you don’t approve of their friends, they might even want to see more of them. So it’s important to talk and listen without judging, and gently help your child see the influence their peers are having.
This might mean talking with your child about behaviour you don’t like rather than the people you don’t like. For example, you might say, ‘When you’re with your friends, you often get into fights’. This can be better than saying, ‘You need to find new friends’.
It can help to compromise with your child. For example, letting your child wear certain clothes or have their hair cut in a particular way can help them feel connected to their peers, even if you’re not keen on blue hair or ripped jeans. Letting your child have some independence can reduce the chance of more risky choices.
Having friends and feeling connected to a group gives teenagers a sense of belonging and being valued, which helps them develop confidence. Friendships also help teenagers learn important social and emotional skills, like being sensitive to other people’s thoughts, feelings and wellbeing.
When to be concerned about peer influence and peer pressure
If you notice changes in your child’s mood, behaviour, eating or sleeping patterns, which you think are because of their friends, it might be time to have a talk with your child.
Some mood and behaviour changes are normal in pre-teens and teenagers. But if your child seems to be in a low mood for more than 2 weeks, or their low mood gets in the way of things they normally enjoy, they might need support for their mental health.
Warning signs include:
- low moods, tearfulness or feelings of hopelessness
- aggression or antisocial behaviour that’s not usual for your child
- sudden changes in behaviour, often for no obvious reason
- trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking early
- loss of appetite or over-eating
- reluctance to go to school
- withdrawal from activities your child used to like
- statements about wanting to give up, or life not being worth living.
If you’re concerned, start by talking with your child. The next step is to talk to your GP, who can put you in contact with your local child and adolescent health team or another appropriate professional.