Thursday, 9 October 2014

One day your teenage girl comes home after school and makes a grand statement: “I want a cell phone”. You are left surprised as your quiet-natured girl has never raised such a demand before. You neglect that demand thinking that it was just a momentary outburst of her whim. But she repeats her demand the next day and the day after. She even lists a number of reasons why she needs a cell phone, all of which sound extremely unconvincing to you. She declares a hunger strike until her wish is granted. After repeated sessions of talking, cajoling and coaxing, she reveals the reason:

Teenage Peer Pressure Survey report from the Babyoye

All her friends have got cell phones and she feels embarrassed not to have one. Do you know what we are talking about here? Yes, teenage peer pressure.

What is peer pressure?

Simply put, peer pressure is the influence your teenager’s social group has on her, making her choose or do things which she wouldn’t have done otherwise. She succumbs to that pressure hoping that she will be accepted in that group and valued by its members. Peer pressure is not an exclusively teenage phenomenon. We experience it at different stages and different fields of our social life, be it in college, office, family or neighborhood. But teenage peer pressure is difficult to handle as there is a risk of your teen choosing or doing something without weighing its pros and cons.

What are the different forms of peer pressure?

Most parents identify peer pressure only when their children explicitly demand something, such as a cell phone, new gadget, video game or dress. But it can be manifested in different forms which you, as a parent, may leave unnoticed. Your teen kids may be undergoing peer pressure if they:

  • Choose to wear the same kind of clothes, jewellery or hairdos as their friends
  • Watch certain TV programs or listen to certain types of music which you haven’t seen them enjoying hitherto
  • Start using words which were alien to their vocabulary
  • Start breaking rules and doing things which you never thought they were capable of doing
  • Start working harder and spend the night studying
  • Start taking their studies less seriously
  • Develop new habits (such as smoking or drinking) and change their interests overnight
  • Start developing new hobbies and activities

Is peer pressure a bad thing?

No, there is positive and negative peer pressure. For example, your teen can be influenced by her friends to try out new hobbies, work harder at studies, become more social and outgoing, and develop new skills. But teens can also get influenced to try out not-so-desirable things which they normally wouldn’t have done otherwise. Some influences, even though they are harmless, might implicate that you spend money to buy stuff that is not really necessary.

How to help your teenager deal with negative peer pressure?

As a parent you should learn to identify which influences are positive and which are negative in order to help your teen deal with peer pressure. You may feel anxious about the new interests your child is developing simply because they are new. You have a good reason to worry whether she is compromising on her values and views. Always remember one thing: A teenager with strong values and a good sense of self-awareness will be able to resist negative peer pressure better. Building self-esteem and confidence in your child will help her enforce her own personality and opinions when she is faced with negative influences.

What to do when you are worried about your child’s peer group?

You start getting sleepless nights when your teen hangs out with a peer group that influences her negatively. You might be tempted to openly criticize the behavior of her friends. Withhold that impulse, however strong it might be. She is not going to like it if you criticize her friends using harsh words. She may even continue those friendships secretly even if your say no to them. Instead of focusing on particular friends, start focusing on generic behavior you disapprove. For example do not say “I don’t like your friend Anita because she doesn’t respect elders”. Instead talk to your child about the importance of showing respect to elders when we live in a society. Make your child see the potential dangers and consequences of such negative behaviors.

How much should you compromise?

Setting boundaries is necessary, but that doesn’t mean you should say no every time your teen acts on peer pressure. You may not be a great fan of sleeveless tops and slogan printed T-shirts. But letting your child wear clothes of her choice will help her connect with her friends. If you think compromising on a particular behavior of your teen is completely harmless, do it. Exercise your wisdom to arrive at a decision on what is negotiable and what is not.

When should you take external help?

Most behavioral problems related to peer pressure can easily be managed. If you notice major behavioral changes in your child and if you suspect that they are due to peer pressure, it is time you have an open conversation with her. Mood swings and behavioral changes are common in teenagers and they outgrow such changes quickly. However certain changes need to be handled with more care and seriousness. For example, if your teen develops tearfulness, hopelessness, aggression, anti-social behavior, lack of sleep, lack of appetite, reluctance to go to school, total withdrawal from her favorite activities etc., you may need help from an expert. Talk to a counselor or your family doctor if you notice major behavioral disorders in your teen.

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