Peer pressure is tough for teens to deal with. While you can’t spare them from exposure to peer pressure, you can provide them with the skills to deal with it. Learning to deal with peer pressure will be an invaluable life skill for your teens to learn.
Why teens are less responsible
If you are frustrated that your teen doesn’t seem to think of the consequences of their actions, then you are not alone. Teens act in the heat of the moment for a very good reason; their prefrontal cortex has not completely developed. The prefrontal cortex is what we use to make responsible decisions and react in acceptable ways to peer pressure. From the US Department of health: “This brain region [prefrontal cortex] is responsible for cognitive analysis and abstract thought, and the moderation of “correct” behavior in social situations. The prefrontal cortex takes in information from all of the senses and orchestrates thoughts and actions to achieve specific goals. The prefrontal cortex is one of the last regions of the brain to reach maturation. This delay may help to explain why some adolescents act the way they do.”
While this medical fact does explain why teens take longer to be responsible, it doesn’t mean that they are incapable of thinking through their actions or considering the consequences. These are learned responses, so persevere in your attempts to instill a sense of responsibility and help your teens to consider the consequences of their actions for themselves and the people around them.
Start by helping your teen to identify their physical and natural reactions or ‘gut’ feelings. When they feel anxious or uncomfortable about a suggestion that a friend or classmate proposes, they should take a minute to think before acting. Learning to identify these triggers will help them to institute their 5-step program. Giving your teens tangible steps to avoiding trouble in the future is far more likely to have a positive outcome.
Count to 10: When a friend or classmate suggests something that your teen is not comfortable with, they should not answer right away but should take a minute to think about the idea before agreeing.
Consider consequences: Teach your teen to ask themselves questions like: What could go wrong? Will this hurt anyone? How will this affect me and my loved ones?
Suggest an alternative: Easier than refusing, suggesting a reasonable alternative will make it easier to switch the focus and move on to a less damaging activity.
Say no: This is tough, but if all else fails, help your student to find the words they need to say no. Role-play different scenarios with them so that they are ready when these situations present themselves. When they do mess up, be understanding and discuss ways in which they could have extricated themselves from the situation without losing face. Remind them that standing up for themselves is far more likely to earn respect.
Be the bad guy: Have a code word that your teen can text to you that tells you to call them. That way they can take a call from you and ask advice about situations that they are feeling uncomfortable about. You can also have a code word that lets you know they need help. You can pick them up and be the ‘bad guy’ while they save face with friends and avoid dangerous situations.