Junior high school was the first place where I learned about peer pressure, both from firsthand experiences and watching others go through it. One valuable lesson not only taught me about dealing with peer pressure but showed me that it was possible to say no and to be a champion and stand up to it.
We had one phone line in our house in those days — a very different experience than everyone having a cell phone. We had several phones at home that tied into that single phone line. One afternoon, the phone rang. I was in the back of the house near one phone, while my twin brother Jeff was in the kitchen near the other one. We both picked up the phone at the same moment.
“Hello?” Jeff said before I could speak, not knowing I was listening on the other line.
“Hey, Jeff, this is Willie.”
“What’s up?” Jeff asked.
“We’re having a sleepover tomorrow night, and we want you to come.”
“One more thing,” Willie continued. “The guys and I were talking, and we only want you to come. Don’t bring your brother, John.”
There was a long pause.
That’s a lot of pressure for a junior high kid. These weren’t just any guys inviting Jeff over for a sleepover; they were the cool guys. But he was also being pressured to do something that would hurt another person — in this case, his brother. There are many people, siblings or not, who would have given in to the crowd and who would have put their need for acceptance over doing what’s right for someone else. Not everyone would risk being shamed or cut off.
My heart raced as I listened. Jeff finally spoke. “No way, Willie. If you want me to come, then John is coming too. You get both of us or neither of us.”
“Uh… Well, okay.” Willie started backtracking like crazy. “It was just going to be kind of crowded. But no problem. He can come too.”
Years later, I told Jeff that I had been on the other line during that conversation and how much his saying no had meant to me. His decision to stand up to peer pressure was something I’ve never forgotten.
Kids and Peer Pressure
You may have a child who, like Jeff, seems to have been born resistant to peer pressure. Your child is someone who the crowd can try to push all day, but they don’t budge. They have a firm sense of right and wrong, plus a sense of independence that doesn’t seem to care about what the crowd wants.
However, it’s just as likely that you have the opposite type of child — one more like me.
Because of their personality, desire to be popular, or a long list of other reasons, these kids can struggle with peer pressure. These kids need to know and learn that they can become peer pressure champions. It just takes a little bit of help and a parent who is willing to work with them.
Whichever child God has given you, here are three things that can help them deal with peer pressure.
1. Help Your Kids Learn How to Spot Peer Pressure
As your child moves into adolescence, they need to see what peer pressure is in real-life situations. At StrongFamilies.com, we use a definition of peer pressure that helps kids to understand the reality behind the term:
Peer pressure is when someone, like a friend or a group of friends, wants you to move a boundary and cross a line you know you shouldn’t cross. These people do that by pushing you with their words: pressuring you with threats of cutting ties or wearing you down by continually nudging you to do something. But in your heart of hearts, you know that you’re not okay with it. From the moment they bring it up, you know it isn’t good for you. It isn’t the right thing. It’s probably going to hurt someone else. By giving in, it could also damage your future, harm your relationships, impair your standing in your family, and your life as a follower of Jesus.
The Two Sides of Peer Pressure
Once you’ve shared this definition with your kids, it’s time to narrow it down. Help your child to realize that the time is coming when they will face the two sides of peer pressure:
1) I can’t miss it, and
2) It’s not going to hurt anyone.
The “I can’t miss it” side of peer pressure comes when someone flat out asks your child to erase or ignore a boundary. For instance, they may ask them to take drugs or do something illegal or harmful. Often, when a child says no to this thing they can’t miss, the person pressuring them may move to a sneakier tactic.
Here is where, like Satan in the Garden of Eden, someone tries to water down the consequences and make it look more attractive. “Did God really say…?” Or, in your child’s case, they may say, “Come on. It’s not going to hurt anyone.” Perhaps they’ll use the phrase, “Everyone is doing it.”
2. Teach Your Kids How to Deal With Peer Pressure
Once you’ve shared what peer pressure is, give your kids some tools to use when the challenge is real. Here are four tools that we gave to our kids. We encourage you to sit down with some older, top-notch parents and determine which things helped their children. Come up with a list of tools for your kids as well. Chances are, you’ll create your own list of tools for your kids to choose from when they need them most.
A. Give Your Kids Permission to Make You the Bad Guy
We permitted our daughters to make us the bad guys anytime they needed to get out of doing something wrong. For example, a friend at school once asked them to go to a party they knew they shouldn’t attend. We always had things on the list for the girls to do, whether it be chores or a family movie night so that they could say in all honesty, “That sounds like you’re going to have a great time. But my parents have something going on that I need to help them with.” It was one option they could use when they needed to say no to peer pressure.
B. Be Their Uber Driver 24/7/365. All They Have to Do Is Call.
We told both of our girls that if they ever got into a situation where someone was pushing them to cross a boundary or had made a wrong choice for themselves, that they could call us anytime. 24/7. No questions asked. They knew they had an escape clause from challenging situations, and each of them used it several times.
We did talk about the circumstances later. But at that moment when the phone rang, and we knew it was a call for help, our daughters knew they wouldn’t hear a lecture right then. We never demanded an explanation or poured shame on them during the car ride home. For example, one instance was the night the girls left a movie and ended up at a party. They knew they needed to leave. They knew we were a phone call — not an angry lecture — away. Knowing we were available to help allowed them to make good decisions and move away from harmful circumstances.
C. Give Them a Code Word if They Need Help
In addition to knowing that we would come to pick them up anytime, we gave our daughters a code word to use as well. For example, there were days that the phone would ring, and I’d hear, “Hey, Dad.” The tone in their voice made it clear that something was wrong.
So we’d say to our daughter, “Say blue if you’re having fun or green if you want us to come and get you.” The code word gave them a way of calling for help if they were in a situation where they couldn’t talk openly.
D. Role Play Saying “No”
Helping your kids be comfortable with the word “no” before they get into a challenging situation is critical. For some kids, role-playing the three previous steps can help make them more comfortable standing up to peer pressure. Practicing saying “no” to peer pressure and learning how to deal with it gave our kids more confidence and strength when it came time to use it.
3. Coach Them on How to Live Through the Response
You’ve defined peer pressure for your kids and have given them some tools to use when facing that pressure. But it’s also essential that you coach them on how to be ready for the other person’s reaction.
Proverbs 9:8 tells us, “Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” If someone asks or pushes you to do something you don’t feel is right, if they are a real friend and are wise, they will back off when you’re saying no. Real friends won’t try another track to try and get you to cave in. Instead, they will respect your boundaries and will love and respect you more for calling them out.
However, the same verse says that if you try and correct a foolish person, they will often get angry with you.
Talk with your kids now about how, even if someone gets upset that you won’t go along with their demands, you don’t have to give in to their anger. They can call you as a parent, move away from that person, or get help from another friend or adult.
If someone keeps pushing your child to do the wrong thing, tell them it’s okay to redefine the relationship. Let them know that it’s okay to still care for that person, but perhaps it’s time to move from being best friends to someone you say hello to at school. Coach your kids that they have a choice not to allow anyone to push them into doing wrong. They always have the option of saying no.
Becoming a Peer Pressure Champion
Peer pressure is real. Pray for your kids and their friends. Be sure to talk about dealing with peer pressure early and often, as it will become a reality the older they get. Help your kids spot peer pressure, gain tools to deal with it, and be strong enough to deal with someone’s reaction to their saying no. Mastering these three tips will help your kid become a peer pressure champion.
© 2020 Dr. John Trent and Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.