By Bev and Phil Haas
We have good kids, but like all kids they sometimes give in to the pressure of their peers and do something they shouldn’t. How can we help our kids say no to negative peer pressure?
You’re right, no child is immune to peer pressure. Every day we all make decisions based partly on what the people around us say and do. Of course parents hope their kids will make good decisions regardless of what those around them say or do. But sometimes kids will give in to the wrong crowd and do something they shouldn’t. So how can we help our kids deal with negative peer pressure?
Understand Peer Pressure
To answer your question, it may help to touch on some basics about peer pressure. When we talk about peer pressure we are referring to the effect that the people around your kids have on their decisions. Peer influence begins at an early age and increases through the teen years. Peers influence our lives just by spending time with us. We learn from them, and they learn from us. The reason kids give in to peer pressure is commonly because they want to be liked, to fit in, or because they worry that other kids might make fun of them if they don’t go along with the group. Occasionally it’s a matter of going along because they are curious to try something new that others are doing.
As you noted, peers can have a negative influence. They can encourage each other to skip classes, steal, cheat, use alcohol, or become involved in other risky behaviors. The majority of teens with substance abuse problems began using drugs or alcohol as a result of peer pressure. Peer pressure can also be a good thing. Peers can be positive and supportive. Peers can pressure each other into doing what’s right!
Help Kids Resist the Negative
The ability to resist negative peer pressure comes from a combination of factors, including self-esteem, respect for others, and life experience. While you won’t always be there to get your kids out of negative situations, you can help prepare them to make wise choices. Here are a few pointers from Dennis and Barbara Rainey, who are part of the ministry FamilyLife, on helping your kids handle peer pressure.
1. Help your kids anticipate the pressures. Talk to them about the challenges they will face from peers. For example, peers will pressure them to look at pornography, to use bad language, to drink, to rebel against parents, and more. Try coming up with a pressure situation that is relevant to their age and then ask, “What would you do?”
2. Affirm your child’s good choices and talk through the bad choices. When your child makes the right choice, put on your encouragement hat and go crazy. We often get excited about the wrong things. Affirm the choices your kids make that reveal their Christian convictions and character. Of course, there will be times when your kids will give in to negative pressure. As you deal with their mistakes, remember that some good testing of convictions is what you want to happen when your child is still at home—where you can provide coaching. Although correction and consequences may be required, balance it with forgiveness and encouragement. Remember, being a young person today is challenging and your kids need to know you are on their side.
In addition to the Raineys’ suggestions, we want to add the following pointers we found helpful. When our kids were growing up we tried to make our home the place to be. We encouraged them to invite their friends to our house. Bev and I laugh when we recall that we could tell how many teens had spent the night by the number of shoes piled at our entryway. On the flip side, be careful about where you allow your kids to spend the night. That is one setting where pressure can be intense. Our kids knew that when under pressure they could blame us to get out of an uncomfortable situation and we would always come and get them, no questions asked.
The Bible speaks pointedly about the power of the people we spend time with. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul wrote about the negative influence our peers can have: “Don’t fool yourselves. Bad friends will destroy you” (Contemporary English Vision). The bottom line is to do everything within your power to guide your kids toward peers who will have a positive influence upon them.
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and four grandkids. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (email@example.com). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.