Sept. 10 — While peer pressure can technically start in early childhood with children trying to get other kids to play the games they want, it really becomes more of an issue in the preteen and teen years. It’s not always negative, but in some cases it can create problems for families. “Today” contributor Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York’s Presbyterian Hospital and she shares some advice on how parents can handle peer pressure with their kids.
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Starting in middle school, children tend to spend more time with their peers and less time with their parents. This often leads kids to look to those peers for opinions, reinforcement and acceptance. All of this is developmentally quite normal.
Peer pressure is not always negative. In fact friends often encourage each other to study, try out for sports or to try new interests in the arts. But these are years of experimentation and sometimes risk taking in an attempt to find their identity and feel “larger than life.” To that end, some kids may try to pressure your child to behave in a manner that is dangerous.
While in school your child will probably be pressured every day to do things like talk badly about peers, exclude or be hurtful to others, cheat, skip classes, break curfew and lie to you. In addition, kids are growing up faster than ever and will be pressured to do drugs, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and have sex.
It is especially hard for your child to turn down their closest friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, and the “cool” kids. Do not wait until you see the warning signs that your child is in trouble because by then it is too late. Deal ahead of time with the inevitable pressure your preteen will be under.
Here are some tips on talking to your preteens:
1. TELL THEM ABOUT PEER PRESSURE
You know they’ll be influenced by peer pressure, so tell them before anything happens: “One of your friends is going to tell you it’s cool to: smoke, cut class, dye your hair blue, but think about the consequences of your actions. You could get cancer if you smoke, you could get bad grades and not get into college, etc.”
Show them you are a source of information on this topic. You’ve been there, done that. Offer your opinion, but don’t lecture.
2. ROLE PLAY THE WORDS
Pretend you are your child, and have your child pretend they are the kid trying to influence them, “Just one beer, no one will know and it’s fun.” See what that sounds like?
Then give them the dialogue on what to say in response. You don’t want them to lose their friends, but just saying no often does not work. So show them how to use humor: “Beer tastes like dishwater. I’d rather have a coke.” Use flattery: “You are so cool. Can we shop for cool clothes instead I’d love your advice.” And be available so they can blame you: “My mom would kill me. It’s not worth it.”
3. ALWAYS BAIL THEM OUT
Tell them that no matter how awful the circumstances you will always bail them out without punishing them. Let them know that no matter how late it is, or how busy you are, you want to be called to get them out of a situation they know isn’t good.
4. MEET THEIR FRIENDS
If your child is in with good kids there will be a whole lot less peer pressure to worry about.
If they get in with the fast crowd, then it will be a constant battle for you. Steer them to kids with your same morals and values. Get to know their friends’ parents to see if they are in agreement with you on big issues and if they know what their kids are doing.
5. PICK YOUR BATTLES
If you fight over every article of clothing, every hairstyle and piercing, then chances are they will tune you out about the big stuff. If they need to express themselves and have some rebellion, let it be the things that won’t harm them in the long run.
So if they dye their hair green but would never drink or do drugs, consider yourself lucky. This way, they get to feel a sense of independence and their own identity, but have not done anything harmful in the longrun.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York’s Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.”
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