We’ve all seen those public service announcements that depict a teenager trying to convince another teenager to do something against their moral fiber. For the most part, there’s some name calling and daring and a simple look of disgust when the “good” teen won’t fall for it. Occasionally, peer pressure comes in this obvious and recognizable form. However more often than not peer pressure is actually so well disguised that teenagers don’t really even see it as peer pressure. In fact, it’s so well disguised that those exerting the pressure don’t realize they are a culprit of peer pressure.
Peer pressure is most often a factor of who your child chooses to hang out with. They think well of their friends, otherwise they wouldn’t be friends to begin with. Peer pressure is disguised behind a myriad of other behaviors that seem like good behaviors. Your son’s best friend taught him how to achieve a stronger lay up or your daughter’s new friend helped her pull her algebra grade out of the gutter. These are good kids.
And they are good kids. You’ve met them, had them around at dinner time and the have earned your stamp of approval. In fact, your stamp of approval is a factor in this hidden peer pressure. You think these are good friends for your child, so they must be.
And therein lies the basis of peer pressure. It is easy for a teenager to overlook one negative behavior in the face of so many positive behaviors and justify the behavior to themselves. Knowing that he trains so hard or understanding how much pressure she’s been under makes it possible for an adolescent to excuse the behavior, especially if it doesn’t happen often.
At the first exposure to the negative behavior, it is just as easy for the offending teen to justify the action to dissuade any initial discomfort. Using excuses like they only do it every now and then or it’s just for now because they need the stress relief leaves the impression that they are under control of their negative behavior and they aren’t running any of the taught risks.
Over time, the behavior can begin to appear acceptable and even throw into question all that the kid’s been taught because all those bad things that they were told were going to happen aren’t happening. At least that they have witnessed. Adults tend to make a big deal out things that really aren’t a big deal in the eyes of an adolescent, and maybe this isn’t any different.
This is why it’s important to continuously talk to teenagers about the dangers of all those things that can get them into trouble. Whether the negative behavior is smoking, drugs, drinking, sexual promiscuity, huffing, body mutilation, or behaviors that can harm other people, chronically discussing the dangerous effects of these behaviors and checking in with them about their friends gives them an opportunity to clue you in to the potential hazards they are flirting with.
Adolescents are not exactly the most forthcoming individuals. No matter how many times we let them know we are here to listen to their concerns, very few actually seek out parental advice when it comes to peer pressure they can’t recognize as such. While they may be uncomfortable with the behavior, they are not witnessing anything that is out of control or presenting a danger, so why would they want to blow a good friendship and rat out their buddy over an abstract potential? Asking questions and really listening to the answers is a parent’s best defense.
As they’ve grown accustomed to their friend’s negative behavior and have not witnessed any ill effects, what is there to keep them from joining their friend, especially if it isn’t being drilled into their head? Not only do they have a chance to be bold and try something new, but there is an exhilaration in the notion of being even moderately rebellious and “adult.”
Now there’s a problem. All of the objections have been removed and your teenager is out there doing something that is potentially dangerous and you aren’t going to suspect anything because there’s someone to guide them through the process of not getting caught. By the time you notice any behavioral changes they will be well involved in their activity and resisting it in the future will become harder.
There wasn’t anyone there shoving a joint or a cigarette or a beer in their face telling them to step up and grow up. It just seemed like everybody was making a big deal out of nothing and since Johnny was doing it and nothing bad was happening, what was the harm?
The harm will come later, and unfortunately it’s typically not something that kids get over easily. Someone will crash their car in a drunken stupor or smack their girlfriend around while they’re high.
How do we as parents prevent this? There is no one answer fits all prototype, but there is a great benefit in teaching children to recognize this type of silent and even innocent peer pressure. Teaching them that while the consequences may be hidden in a future act, they are still out there is one of the few steps we can take in protecting them from their own naiveté.
Our children are naïve. We can not afford to be naïve ourselves. We trust our children, and that’s a good thing. We can’t expect that they will never do something wrong or something out of character just because they are good kids and they come from good homes. Everyone is tempted from time to time and it is our job to know what kinds of temptations are being laid in front of them.