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How To Guide Teens In Coping With Peer Pressure

Peer pressure, Teen mental health,

To better understand how to help your child cope with peer pressure, let’s start by defining “peer.” A peer is anyone close in age to your child. Given the proximity in age, peers often have similar experiences or interests. These shared elements make peers a considerable influence on your child at all stages–from elementary school through college. 

Peers enrich our children’s social lives, inspire them, and influence their behaviors, perspectives, and goals in the following areas: 

  • Friendship formation and socialization
  • Group bonding 
  • Academic performance
  • Hobbies and skills 
  • Experiencing new things and places
  • Giving and receiving encouragement, compliments, and feedback

Of course, peer influence is not always positive. Some of your child’s peers may pressure them to experiment with alcohol, substances, sex, and general risk-taking. These negative influences will have varying levels of impact depending on your relationship with your child, their mental health, and the positive influences in their lives.   

Understanding The Adolescent Brain and Why It’s Drawn to Risk

An adolescent is any person who falls between early puberty and roughly 20-22 years of age. It’s well understood that the adolescent brain is capable of perceiving and processing risks. We know that adolescents already have enough knowledge, value system formation, and cognitive processing abilities to move through the world almost as safely as adults. 

Teens can analyze and detect risky behavior as well as any average adult—when they are acting individually or in isolation. But in a group dynamic, everything changes. 

From a neurological standpoint, if your child is presented with the choice between a risky short-term reward and a safe decision that promises long-term gratification, they’ll choose the short-term reward in the presence of their peers. Alone or in isolation your child is more likely to choose the safer route. This is science. It doesn’t automatically reflect a personality flaw in your child or a misstep in your parenting.  

In positive peer pressure situations—school clubs, athletics, academic ventures, travel—short-term rewards and long-term gratification are always present. The stakes are lower.

In negative peer pressure situations—parties with illegal substances, sexual scenarios, or dangerous environments—the stakes are much higher. Coping skills and strategies become more necessary.  

What Are The Best Coping Strategies For Dealing with Negative Peer Pressure?

Every family, child, parent, and peer pressure situation varies. However, here at Miramont Behavioral Health, we have a team of experts who specialize in adolescent mental health who can provide a few pointers.

  1. Explain to your child how their brain works. Let them know what the science says about their brain and their peers’ brains. Introduce and discuss the concept of following your gut or trusting your instincts. Encourage the child to trust that they know what your values are and what their values are. Explain that they never have to perform something that doesn’t feel authentic or doesn’t align with their values. 
  2. Encourage them to plan for potential peer pressure tactics. If they’re going to a party where there are drugs and alcohol, suggest that they create a reason to abstain from those substances in case their peers are pressuring them. You can also openly encourage them to blame you when they’re with their friends (e.g., “No, my parents would ‘kill’ me if I did that.”). Whether or not you would punish the behavior isn’t the peers’ business. 
  3. Safe words are great for kids. Establish a phrase or word between the two of you. If they text or call and use the word, know that they are in distress or need to be picked up. 
  4. Explain that no means no and that if they have friends who don’t respect that—they are not true friends. 
  5. Reinforce that your child can call you at any time of day or night if they’re in trouble. Let them know that you’re there for them. Make it clear that your priority is to protect them. 

Visit Miramont Behavioral Health Center in Wisconsin For Adolescent Mental Health Support

If you fear that your child is dealing with anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our locations in Middleton and Waukesha, Wisconsin, are well-equipped to support you and your child through the marvelous and often rocky adolescent years with a range of mental health services

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