“Hey, you have to try this,” your friends offer you a cigarette after school. You decline as you know smoking is bad. “Come on, man. Only this time. We’ve all just tried it.” Now you start to feel the pressure.

Have you faced this dilemma when you were young? You probably have, and now, your teenage kids may be facing it.

Defining peer pressure

Your teen’s peers are people around his age who have similar experiences or interests with him. They could be school friends, the neighbourhood kids, or his friends at tuition class. Peer influence is not necessarily a bad thing. It is normal to listen and learn from each other. Positive influences from peers can encourage your teen to be better, set a good example, expose him to new constructive experiences, and provide him with good advice or feedback.

However, his peers can also have a negative influence on your teen. Peer pressure occurs when he feels conflicted and pressured into doing something that he would not normally do, so that he will be liked, can fit in the group, or avoid being left out and mocked. Common negative peer pressures include having to smoke cigarettes when hanging out together, participating in bullying or dangerous dares, or even skipping classes/school. Peer pressure happens to people of all ages, but teens are the most affected, as puberty changes make them more aware and attentive of other’s perception of them.

Dealing with peer pressure

Your own experiences are useful to help your teen. Here are some additional pointers to help you tackle his peer pressure.

The right and wrong. Impress upon him that doing drugs, stealing or bike-racing are wrong. Late-night futsal is more acceptable. He needs to know what is right and wrong, and its consequences, regardless of the ‘cool’ factor. This will help him to stand on his principles and display strong integrity.

Do not judge. Respecting someone else’s choice will help them respect your teen’s choice. This is helpful for harmless activity, but if it involves dangerous and criminal activity, he should notify the authorities or trusted adults.

Know his friends. You need to be sure that he is in good company. Encourage him to find friends with similar values who will support each other in times of need. After all, good friends will stick by him in times of real trouble. You can easily share your concerns with their parents if you are already acquainted with them.

Self-confidence. Teens who feel good about themselves are less vulnerable to peer pressure and, are more assertive to resist getting involved in dangerous or inappropriate situations or activities.

Agree to disagree. Friends do not have to agree on everything. Disagreeing on something does not make him an inadequate friend. Understanding that everyone is entitled to their own opinion will help him to feel less defensive, and he will not be forced to do things that he does not like.

Pursue his interests. If he is interested in music, send him to music class. Apart from learning music, he can meet people with the same interest. He will face less peer pressure when hanging out with likeminded friends.

Encourage communication. Be open and nurture honesty in your teen. Assure him that he can always come to you if he is being pressured to do things that seem wrong or risky.

Being different is alright. He should know that being different can mean being true to himself. He does not always have to go along with what everyone else is doing just to fit in.

The escape plan. Advise him how to get away from uncomfortable or dangerous situations. For example, he can prepare an excuse to leave when offered cigarettes, or you can assure him that you will always come to get him if he feels unsafe.

Saying ‘no’. Tell him that ‘no’ can also be an acceptable answer. If he feels uncomfortable, he needs to learn to calmly explain why something is not for him. Good friends will respect your teen’s decision.

Talk to your teen’s teachers or counsellor to know if he has a peer pressure problem, and consult mental health professionals if you are concerned about his behaviour or mood. Remind him that he should not force himself to conform to anything that is disagreeable. Make him understand that it is better to join the wise than being in the company of fools.

An educational collaboration with Malaysian Mental Health Association.

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