Counseling Corner: Help teens deal with peer pressure

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As parents we like to think we’re the most important influence in our children’s lives. And that’s probably true up to a certain age but then the outside world, in the form of school and friends, intrudes. By the time your child is a teenager it’s almost a certainty that the opinions and actions of other teens are playing a large role in decisions about everything from clothing choices to hair styles to academic efforts.

Peer pressure is natural and, in many cases, can be a positive thing. But it can also be a negative, especially for a teen lacking in self-confidence and self-esteem who is anxious to be accepted by others.

As a parent you can’t control the pressures your teen is going to be experiencing, but you can play a big role in helping him or her overcome negative peer pressure.

Your starting point is to try and build confidence and self-esteem for your teen. A child who is self-confident and has high self-esteem is much more able to say no to harmful behaviors.

Help build that self-esteem by looking for positive accomplishments and praising work that is being well done. At the same time, try to limit criticism when a teen’s efforts fall short.

You want to take a genuine interest in your teen’s life. Ask questions about what he or she is doing and feeling. Learn to respect your teen’s thinking even when it’s counter to your own. Try to be respectful of your teen’s decisions in friends, music and appearance. Getting your teen to really talk to you can often be difficult, but showing a real interest in your teen’s life can produce results.

This doesn’t mean that everything and everyone your teen values gets your approval. You are still the parent and need to sometimes set rules and boundaries. While “forbidding” certain friends seldom works, if you build a respectful relationship with your teen you should be able to express your concerns and work together to set reasonable limits.

Strengthening the family relationships also helps. Insist on homework and chores being done. Set curfews and stick to them. Spend time with your teen, have family dinners together and find quiet times when you really can talk to each other.

Not all peer pressure is negative but as a parent, part of your job is to help your teen learn how to evaluate friendships.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association.

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