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Peer Pressure During Back to School Season: How to Deal

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Updated on Sep 1, 2009

Young people worry tremendously about how they are perceived, especially with new people or in new situations. The start of a school year means your kids will face plenty of both, making back to school season prime time for negative peer pressure. Family therapist Sharon Scott, author of How to Say No and Keep Your Friends, says parents can help their teens avoid peer pressure with these six tactics.

Set age-appropriate boundaries– and stick to them. “Kids today have more unsupervised time than those of us who grew up with moms and neighbors at home,” Sharon points out. Establish clear boundaries for your kids, such as where they can and can’t go and what time they must be home. Talk about these before the first week of school. That way, you’ll be spared unpleasant surprises, and they’ll be spared calling you in front of new friends only to be told they can’t do something. Hint: Parents often face pressure from their own peers to let their kids do more with less supervision, since it seems that “every parent is doing it.” Stick to your guns about what you think is best. As Sharon points out, “If you’re the one parent who keeps a child out of a bad situation, good for you.”

Teach kids to recognize trouble situations. Most peer pressure isn’t blatant. It’s crafted to appeal to a young person’s interests or need for acceptance. For example, your child may never be told, “Let’s cheat.” Instead, a new friend in class may say to her at lunch time, “The classroom’s empty. You watch the door, and I’ll go find tomorrow’s quiz answers.” Talk to your kids about what to look and listen for.

Teach how to think logically in 30 seconds. Assessing messages quickly and logically helps your child stop trouble before it starts: the longer your child hesitates, the more time the tempter has to turn up the pressure, and the harder that pressure is to resist. But the real key is thinking logically. “Teach your kids to think about what they’re being pressured to do, and what the consequences will be,” Sharon instructs. You kid’s own smarts can be her best friend – but only if she uses them. “If she’s not thinking for herself, she’s just listening to trouble.”

Brainstorm what to say. Parents usually tell kids to just say no or walk away. Unfortunately, these are the least comfortable coping mechanisms for most kids – which means they might not be much help. Sharon has another suggestion. “Use your child’s personality to her advantage. Help her develop specific responses that suit her best.” For example, she can try a diplomatic approach. Instead of directly rejecting the suggestion for trouble, your daughter can say, “Let’s go to the cafeteria and get some frozen yogurt” – and then immediately start walking in that direction. “Not only does she present an appealing alternative,” Sharon points out, “but in that moment, your daughter becomes the leader.”

Role play with your kids. There’s no substitute for practicing with your kids, Sharon says. “That way, they’ll be ready and confident in the moment with a well-rehearsed response.”

Hold kids accountable for their actions. Despite the power of peer pressure, kids can still make choices. When they make bad ones, they must face the consequences.

Peer pressure confronts kids in many ways, threatening to lead them down the wrong paths. But when they’re protected with proper boundaries, armed with effective counter strategies, and trained with parental accountability, they’ll be well on their way down the road to success.

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