by Shadra Bruce

We all want our children to be strong enough to say no. We encourage individuality, especially in our teens, as they are discovering who they are. Unfortunately, our teens are caught between the lessons we have taught them and the incredible desire to fit in with the popular crowd. How are we, as parents, supposed to compete with an entire school filled with peers ready to pressure our teens? It starts with developing (and it’s never too late to start) an open and honest relationship with your teen.

There are telltale signs that can help you determine if your teen is having issues with peer pressure. For example, if your teen is suddenly making excuses to stay home from school, feigning illness or even asking to be homeschooled, and there’s no sign of real illness, it’s worth having a conversation. Not wanting to go to school can be one of the main signs that teens are experiencing peer pressure. Other signs can include withdrawing from anything social, as well as depression or anger.

Peer pressure can lead to an increase in risky behaviors such as use of drugs and alcohol or participation in sexual activities. And even though most of us think about peer pressure as a teen thing that starts in high school, your kids may be bombarded with pressure to try things as early as elementary school and definitely in middle school or junior high.

What’s a parent to do?

The most effective barrier against peer pressure is your ongoing involvement, attention, and reassurance in your child’s life.

Peer pressure most often effects teens that have a low self esteem or no support system at home. Teens with high self esteem who are confident in themselves and their decisions are much less susceptible to the powers of peer pressure.

You may never be able to convince your child that being popular isn’t worth the trouble, but you can help your kids believe that they are perfect just the way they are. If they are accepted at home, regardless of the way they look, dress, or think, then it’s easier for them to be proud of who they are in the face of harsh judgment and pressure from peers.

The thing is, you can’t just tell your kids that it’s ok to say no. In order for kids to feel empowered (and have the chance to practice that power), you have to actually give your children the power to say no and express opinions at home. That’s what empowers them to be able to say no and be a leader at school and with peers.

Having regular meals around the dinner table with your family and being actively involved in your children’s lives gives them the perfect opportunity to open up about their lives at school and it gives you the chance to assist them with anything that might be causing problems. Your kids (particularly your teens and tweens) might tell you (in words or behavior) that you are the most annoying parent ever, but they really do appreciate the love and support you are giving them. By showing you care, you are encouraging them to make good decisions now and for the rest of their lives.