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Peer Pressure

What is peer pressure?

Peer pressure is feeling pushed to be like other people. It plays a big role in how your child dresses, talks, and acts. The need to fit in and be respected by others can change the way your child behaves. Peer pressure can be hard to resist. Sometimes, children in groups do things and act in ways they'd never do on their own.

Peer pressure is often seen as something negative. However, peer pressure can also be a positive influence. For example, your child may want to join a sports group, a school club, or try to get better grades if one of his friends is doing the same.

Peer pressure happens at all ages, even with toddlers. They see playmates doing something they know they should not do, but they follow along. This may be something like jumping on the beds, digging in flower pots, or running in the house. As children enter grade school, peer pressure may affect more serious behaviors, such as shoplifting, breaking house rules, or breaking school rules. Middle school and high school students begin to deal with bigger issues such as skipping school, smoking, or using drugs. The behaviors affected by peer pressure become riskier as children grow older.

When is peer pressure a problem?

As early as age 3 or 4, your child may realize that there are other values, opinions, and rules besides those set by parents. It is normal for your child to start challenging you, testing the limits and rules to see how far he can bend or break them.

Peer pressure becomes a problem when your child's friends try to talk him into doing something that is dangerous or against the law. Examples include smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, cutting classes, damaging property, or stealing. Although your child may know something is harmful, he may choose to do it because he wants to be liked, to fit in, or to be accepted. He may go along because he is curious to try something "everyone else" is doing.

Your child may worry that other kids may make fun of him if he doesn't go along with the group. Peer pressure can be very strong and convince your child to ignore his common sense.

How can I help my child?

  • To help prevent problems, try to get to know your child's friends and their parents. Children and teens whose parents know who their friends are and what they do in their free time are less likely to get into trouble than their peers.
  • If you spend time talking and doing things with your child, he is more likely to come to you with concerns about peer pressure. If your child seems upset, don't let him stew. Try to get him to talk about it. Remind your child that you are there to listen to his worries and concerns.
  • Children who can resist negative peer pressure are those who have a strong sense of self and the confidence to say "No." Help your child be proud of who he is. Respect your child's unique qualities. Focus on things your child can do, things your child is good at, and things that make your child feel proud of himself. Don’t compare your child with friends, siblings, or yourself as a child.

Talk about what makes a good friend. Help your child understand that friends who pressure him to drink or use drugs aren't friends at all. Brainstorm with your child about ways that he or she might handle peer pressure. The more prepared your child is, the better able he or she will be to handle high-pressure situations. Role-play ways for your child to say no to drinking or drugs, for example:

  • Say, “no, thanks” and walk away.
  • Suggest something else to do, such as go play a video game.
  • Leave a party if he feels pressured, such as "I have a bad headache. I need to head home now."

Watch for signs of change in your child's normal behavior, particularly behaviors that go against the family's value system. If your child seems to be struggling with peer pressure, contact your child's school counselor or healthcare provider.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-30
Last reviewed: 2014-06-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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