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Updated on January 23, 2017

All teenagers will encounter peer pressure at some point and this can be a positive experience for some. Sadly, for others no influence is greater than negative peer pressure. These kids are generally the ones who haven’t been a part of a popular group previously but aspire to belong to one. Such teens will likely go along with anything in the hope that it will bring acceptance and status. Unfortunately; if the group is one led by a strong and dominant personality who uses their influence to create trouble this can spell disaster.

What is negative peer pressure?

Negative peer pressure is pressure to do something harmful to themselves or hurtful to others.

5 Signs of trouble

  • They may have suddenly changed their style of appearance in a radical way
  • They stop working in school and teachers are expressing their concerns
  • They seem to take on a completely different persona with different mannerisms and ‘cool’ language
  • Their behaviour changes significantly and they do things they previously would never have done; for instance being cruel to animals
  • You suspect they are hanging around with a gang

Why is peer pressure so powerful for teenagers?

Adolescence brings with it lots of fear, uncertainty and awkwardness. Everything in their lives is changing at this time. Being a member of a gang or group gives them a feeling of self-worth and acceptance. They move away from their parents emotionally and use their friends as their support network looking to them for sympathy and camaraderie. If the group or gang is a bad one the teenager will take on board the opinions and behaviour of their ‘friends’. They can almost lose the ability to think for themselves and become so dependent on the group that they lose their individuality. Sadly they almost never recognize this.

Why does it affect some kids and not others?

All teenagers want to be accepted by their friends and will take steps to gain this acceptance. Most of them will have an inbuilt mechanism to recognize when a situation is dangerous, illegal or hurtful. Particularly, troubled teenagers appear not to have this mechanism, or are unable or unwilling to use it. They cast all caution to the wind and ignore good advice given them by their parents and positive peer group.

There are many reasons for a child to be troubled. They could feel unwanted due to being rejected by their families. Their parents may have been emotionally unavailable. They may have personality traits which made making friends in early childhood difficult. They have, by teenage years given up on trying to make themselves understood or accepted by their peers and yet they still crave these things. Any gang which will put up with them will be nirvana for them. If they have suffered long years of rejection and friendlessness they will undoubtedly be carrying lots of anger and frustration which can find an outlet in trouble causing gangs.

The child may have low self esteem due again to past rejection. They will be eager for acceptance and will do almost anything to please. The group gives them the support and acceptance they are unable to give themselves. They allow their friends to make decisions for them which can lead to their inability to assert themselves and to put a halt to things which compromise them.

One teenager was so desperate to be a popular part of the gang that he let all his friends into his house one afternoon before his parents got home and stood by and allowed them to empty the fridge, wine cellar and drinks cabinet of all the alcohol. There were some fine wines and vintage champagne as well as beer. This amounted to hundreds of pounds worth of booze. He just stood there and watched them.

So how can I shield them from this pressure?

  • Ensure sure that you know the up-to-date facts about drugs, alcohol and sexual health issues.

  • Make sure that your teen knows those facts too

  • Try to find out who your child’s friends are and where they hang out

  • Keep in contact with other parents and use any other resources available to keep abreast of what is going on in local teen culture

  • Invite their friends into your home. Hard I know but at least you know where they are

  • Try not to tell them they are not allowed to hang around with certain people as this will only make them seem more attractive.

  • Give attractive alternatives to spending time with undesirable friends

  • Contact their friend’s parents and inform them of what is happening. They may not know or care but you may end up with an important ally

  • Try to involve them in family activities

  • Try to introduce discussion about peer pressure and let them know that you understand about it.

  • Emphasise the importance of their own feelings being more important than what their friends think

  • Encourage them to remove themselves from a situation they are not happy with

  • Try to introduce them into positive peer groups. Use inducements if necessary, maybe offering to fund a trip to a theme park provided they bring along someone outside of the gang that you approve of.

  • Don’t try to be their best friend. You are their parent

  • Support and positively encourage any interest they have outside of the group or gang

  • Allow them to stay out later if they are with approved friends

  • Give out praise in abundance when they manage to stay at home rather than hang out with the gang

  • Steer them towards a part time job which will take up their time in the evenings and school holidays

  • Try to be home when you child returns in the evening and have a non-confrontational conversation with them
  • Let them play their horrendous music and wear their strange clothing. Basically; choose your battles carefully so that home seems more welcoming than the cold dark streets.

  • Tell them you care about them even when they are being vile

  • Try to find an activity which the whole family can enjoy together

  • Point out to your child these 10 facts about friendship:-

1. You can always be yourself with a true friend

2. Friends will try to bring out the best in you

3. Friends do not lie to you even if the truth is hurtful

4. True friends do not desert you in your hour of need

5. Friends will not try to make you do something which is harmful

6. A good friend will not encourage you to disobey your parents

7. Friends will talk to you about their problems and encourage you to do the same

8. True friends don’t try to influence you in negative ways

9. A friend will not steal from you or from your family members or mutual friends

10. A true friend will not encourage you to behave in an illegal or immoral way

Remember there is support out there via Social Services and Family Services (in the UK) and hundreds of internet support groups and forums if you are experiencing problems with your teenager. Below are just a few:

Parentline (UK)

Help4Troubled Teens

By parents for parents

© Susan Bailey 2008 All Rights Reserved


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