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Peer Pressure

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KEY POINTS

  • Peer pressure is feeling pushed to be like other people. It plays a big role in how your child dresses, talks, and acts.
  • Children 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.
  • 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 understand that friends who pressure them to drink or use drugs aren't friends at all.

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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 act in ways and do things 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 their friends is doing the same.

Peer pressure happens at all ages, even with toddlers. They see playmates playing with dolls or building a tower with blocks and they want to do the same. Toddlers can also see them do 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, positive peer pressure can prompt them to study harder for tests, behave well in class, or join a team. Peer pressure may also shape negative behaviors, such as shoplifting, breaking house rules, or breaking school rules.

Middle school and high school students deal with riskier issues. Peer pressure is positive if it helps your child make good choices about dating, college, and drugs. Negative peer pressure can lead to poor choices about cheating, smoking, drinking, or sex.

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 and begin to test the limits and rules to see how far they can bend or break them.

Peer pressure becomes a problem when your child's friends try to talk them 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, they may choose to do it because they want to be liked, fit in, or be accepted. Your child may go along because they are curious to try something everyone else is doing.

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

How can I help my child?

  • To help prevent problems, get to know your child's friends and their parents. Welcome them into your home or meet them at school or at the park. Children and teens whose parents know who their friends are and what they do in their free time are more likely to have positive peer experiences and less likely to get into trouble.
  • Talk with your child about your family’s values and teach them right from wrong. Praise your child when they make good choices and let them know that you trust them to do the right thing.
  • If you spend time talking with, listening to, and doing things with your child, they are more likely to come to you with concerns about peer pressure. If your child seems upset, don't let them stew. Try to get your child to talk about it. Remind them that you are there to listen to their 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 they are. Respect their unique qualities. Focus on things your child can do, things they are good at, and things that make them feel proud. Don’t compare your child with friends, siblings, or yourself as a child.
  • Peer pressure can also happen on social media sites. Monitor the sites your child visits and how they interact with friends and others online. Talk openly with your child about safe internet and social media use.
  • Talk about what makes a good friend. Help your child understand that friends who pressure them to drink or use drugs aren't friends at all. Brainstorm with your child about ways that they might handle peer pressure. The more prepared your child is, the better able they will be at handling high-pressure situations. Role-play ways for your child to say no to drinking, sex, drugs, and other harmful situations. For example:
    • Say, “no, thanks” and walk away.
    • Suggest something else to do, such as go play a video game.
    • Leave a party if they feel pressured. Let them know that you will come get them if they feel worried or unsafe – and you will not scold or punish them.

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

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-05-16
Last reviewed: 2019-05-16
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.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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