Most children are greatly influenced by their parents and look to them for support and advice. As they get older and begin to widen out social networks, adolescents tend to rely less on their parents and seek advice from their peers.
This may be because they feel unable to communicate with their parents or perhaps they need to talk to someone who is closer to their own age. Whatever the reason, it is true to say that your child’s peers can exert a great influence on their behaviour.
This influence can be a good thing if their friends are mature and reliable. In some cases this influence is not good. Sometimes teenagers find themselves pressurised into doing things that they know are wrong. Their desire to be accepted by others can lead them to compromise their own beliefs and standards. Some teenagers may feel they are able to resist such influence, and as parents it is important that you know if this is a realistic expectation for your teenager.
Some teenagers may find it difficult to accept that, in certain circumstances, peer influence can be classed as bullying. However, if someone feels pressurised into doing something or acting in a certain way because of fear of rejection or ridicule, then it is a form of bullying. It is important to highlight to your teenager that we all have the right to make decisions for ourselves.
To explore this issue with your teenager you could explore the following questions with them:
- What is peer influence?
- What can peer influence lead to?
- Do they feel the need to ‘fit in’?
- How far would they go in order to be accepted by their peers?
- Do they hate to stand out as different from others?
Supporting your teenagers manage peer influence
Explore with them what a good friend is and does
This may limit their choice of friends, but remind them it is better to have only one or two reliable, trustworthy friends than a wide circle of ‘friends’ who are immature, reckless and irresponsible.
Support them to develop their own self-worth
Reinforce that they don’t need to seek the approval of others. Keep lines of communication open so that your teenager can confide in you and you won’t make any judgements. This is really hard when all you want to say is they are not a good friend for you!
With teenagers if you can ‘coach’ them to think things through rather than ‘tell’ them what to do, it can support them to trust their own judgements.
Support them to access and continue with positive activities
This will ensure that they are not at a loose end, giving them a purpose, interests and friendships.
Explore with them that compromising their standards will not make them happy or lead to anything worthwhile
Remind them that, while it is good to have friends, they should not feel forced to talk, dress or act in a way that they are not happy with. Recognise that it may be difficult for them to stand up for what they believe in, but that they will be a happier and stronger person if they do.
Finally and most importantly don’t judge them for any mistakes that they do make, we were all teenagers once!