Talking to children about peer pressure 101 - A teacher's tips

Did you know that peer pressure can have some terribly damaging effects on your children? Read on to find out more about it and how you can go about talking to children about peer pressure.

I’ve been teaching pre-teens for some time now and if there’s one thing I cannot emphasise enough to parents, it is to never underestimate the importance of talking to children about peer pressure. 

The effects of peer pressure can be terribly damaging on young and impressionable teenagers, or pre-teens. Some of them end up doing things that they don’t enjoy, or that are completely uncharacteristic of them. Others don’t know how to deal with the situation and feel pressured and eventually slip into depression, or end up with school-refusal syndrome.

The worst-case scenario would be children harbouring suicidal thoughts as a result of peer pressure. Such things do happen and this is why talking to children about peer pressure is so important.

Teachers often talk to students about peer pressure, and schools hold numerous talks, exhibitions and just about anything to promote awareness about the dangers of peer pressure. However, parents have to do their part to ensure that their children are not succumbing to peer pressure.

There’s only so much that teachers can do, and students aren’t always comfortable with opening up to us. Also, given the number of students we have, we might at times miss out red flags that the children display.

So mums and dads, as much as you might think of peer pressure as silly, or something that your child should just dismiss, talking to children about peer pressure is important and you should start doing so right away, if you haven’t already been doing it. If you’re not sure how to go about it, here are some tips for you.

First off, let’s talk about setting the stage for talking to children about peer pressure.

talking to children about peer pressure

Before you actually talk about peer pressure, you must create a positive environment for discussion.

1. Be approachable

In my teaching experience, I’ve observed that communication is the biggest problem between parents and children. Talking to children about peer pressure is difficult for some parents whose conversations are usually one dimensional, and revolve around stating their rules and expectations to their children.

Consequently, children struggle to express themselves to their parents in fear of getting scolded, or dismissed.

Trust me when I say that you’d much rather hear what’s going on from your own children, then from someone else. And if you want your children to approach you, you must build a close relationship with them. You should have regular conversations with them and make it easy for them to talk to you about everything.

The key is to listen with empathy and understanding and to listen without judging.

Offer your empathy, sympathy, support and encouragement when your children bring their problems to you. Even if it seems trivial or silly, listen them out at least for them to know that they have an avenue for release.

Children who have such a relationship with their parents are much more likely to be able to handle peer pressure than those who have trouble communicating with their parents. 

2. Set realistic expectations

What do expectations have to do with talking to children about peer pressure, you might ask. Again, this is important in building a good relationship with your children and will avert them from seeking attention by succumbing to peer pressure.

If you set your standards too high and constantly pressure your children, you are likely to raise children who aren’t confident. Insecurity and an inferiority complex might set in, and this makes them more susceptible to giving in to peer pressure.

In addition, if you portray yourself as the unreasonable parent who expects the impossible out of your child, they are never going to turn to you when they have problems with their friends.

talking to children about peer pressure

If you’re an unreasonable parent, your children will never open up to you about their struggles.

3. Know what’s going on

Before talking to children about peer pressure, parents must first know something or the other about their children’s peers. There are two ways to go about this.

The first way is of course to be involved in your child’s life. Always know what your child is up to, where he spends his time (apart from school), who his friends are, if he belongs to any cliques, what he likes and dislikes and so on. This will make you understand your child as an individual, not just as what you want your child to be and this will help tremendously in identifying any behaviour that is out of the ordinary.

The second way is to know what’s going on without your child knowing. I don’t necessarily mean to spy on them, but to keep a close watch for things they do not share with you. For example, linger around for a bit after you drop your child off for his football training. Take a few moments to watch how he interacts with his friends. The bits of what they won’t tell you is just as important in understanding them and identifying any possible red flags in their behaviour.

Next up, let’s talk about how to talk about peer pressure and let me offer some crisis management strategies.

1. Define peer pressure

Now that you are all for talking to children about peer pressure, you have to start by making them understand what peer pressure is. Children swing in extremes. Some are completely victimised by peer pressure but don’t have the slightest clue that they are being victimised, and others are overreacting.

For example, tell your daughter this:

Sweetheart, it’s perfectly acceptable if your friend shares with you her liking for a new fashion trend. She can tell you all about it and how she spent the entire weekend shopping for clothes to follow the latest trend. She can even go so far as to suggest that you might look really good if you were to dress according to the trend.

talking to children about peer pressure

Teach your children to be discerning and tell real friends from fake ones.

But it stops there. If you friend tells you that you can’t hang out with her and the rest of her too cool for school bunch if you do not follow the latest trend, then that is peer pressure and you don’t need that kind of pressure in your life!

2. Teach them how to compromise

Let’s face it, when talking to children about peer pressure, we need to be really tactful. We don’t want our kids to think that we completely don’t empathise or offer ridiculous suggestions that are bound to leave them as loners with no friends. We don’t want our only solution to be, you don’t need those friends. 

Why do children give in to peer pressure? It’s usually because they don’t see any other option. Either they give in, or they lose their friends. And nobody wants to be a loner!

Tell them that it’s not always black or white, exploit the grey area! Let’s revisit the initial example of the latest fashion trend.

So if she refuses to follow the trend, they won’t hang out with her. Instead of blindly following, teach your daughter to suggest,

Look, I don’t completely want to follow the trend because it’s not me and I don’t want to change who I am. But I’m open to changing my fashion sense a little, maybe I’ll adapt some ideas from this new trend. Does that work? 

That would send a clear message that she is trying her best and not being set in her ways. More importantly, it would send a stronger message:

talking to children about peer pressure

Teach your children to make their stand, and to be confident in doing so.

I’m not a pushover and I’m not going to do something I’m uncomfortable with just because you want me to.

3. Talk about relationships and boundaries

Talking to children about peer pressure inevitably involves discussing relationships as well. When your children hit the pre-teen age, their relationships with those around them inevitably become more complex. This applies to both platonic and romantic relationships.

Mums, don’t go up in arms when I mention romantic relationships. While you would rather choose to believe that romantic relationships are not something you need to worry about just yet, let me warn you that they can begin sooner than you expect. And it’s best to address the topic before it starts.

Also, a lot of peer pressure occurs in romantic relationships as well. This is why it’s so important for you to talk to your children about relationships. Explain to them the difference between good, bad and toxic relationships. Even when it’s purely platonic, some relationships are completely toxic and you want your child to be discerning.

You also want to educate your child on setting boundaries in a relationship. Explain to them the idea of personal space and what is acceptable. If someone intrudes personal space, or places undue pressure on them, they must know that that person has no space in their life.

It may be an uncomfortable topic but talking to children about peer pressure involves talking about many other topics that are just as important as they are uncomfortable. So do what you have to!

Be their SOS!

Lastly, in the unfortunate event that your child is stuck in a sticky situation and needs help, you want to be the one rescuing your child. Maybe it’s a sleepover party but things were getting a bit too much. Your child wants to go home and wants to reach you without appearing to be telling on her friends. Create a code phrase or word when she calls.

talking to children about peer pressure

Have a secret code that you and your child share

For example, your child is in a party and calls you saying – pecan pie for supper.

What it really means– mum, I’ve gotten myself in a sticky situation. I want to get out of here without looking like a complete loser so can you come and pick me up now?

By acknowledging, here’s the message you are sending your child:

I know you’ve gotten yourself in a sticky situation, I’m not going to judge or scold you, I’m going to get you out of it first. We can talk about it later. And voila, you have successfully paved the way to rescue your child from a sticky situation! 

There you go mums, a complete guide to talking to children about peer pressure! Trust me, approaching this topic is not as hard as you think it is. Now you know what to talk about at the dinner table tonight. Good luck!