The pressing issue of peer pressure

Parents have been pressing me to give them some tips to help their children deal with peer pressure. Let me see if I can decompress some of their concerns and provide some information on this topic.

Peer pressure can have both positive and negative effects on your child. If a peer of your child’s teaches your child how to play a sport better, or learn to be better at a subject they are having difficulty within school, then that is a positive benefit of having peers. Sometimes, however, peers can have a negative influence, and despite this, children will go along with that influence to be liked, to fit in or to prevent being made fun of.

So what can you do to help your child deal with peer pressure? First, you can talk about it openly with your child and continue to do so as they get older. Tell your child to listen to their gut: If they feel uncomfortable, then they shouldn’t go further into that situation, even if their friends are OK with what’s going on.

Give your children some strategies to say no to peers such as telling them to try changing the subject, changing the plan (saying, “Let’s go play basketball,” instead of doing something that your child knows is wrong) or even blaming you as parents by saying, “I’ll be grounded for life.” You could also tell your child to simply say they are “in training” if they play a sport. If they’re told, “Everybody does it,” teach them to say, “I don’t care. I’m not everybody, and not everybody does it.”

A great idea is to arrange a bail-out code phrase that will prevent your child from losing face, such as calling home to say they are not feeling well (and probably aren’t due to the stress of peer pressure).

Another idea is for your child to find a friend who believes in standing up to peer pressure as well, since two can resist pressure more easily than one.

Finally, if your child considers dangerous the situation proposed by peers, remind your child to seek adult help before anyone gets hurt.

Hopefully these tips will help, so your child or teen is not pressured when it comes to dealing with peer pressure.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9 FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.uvmhealth.org/medcenterfirstwithkids.