Never dull your shine for somebody else. (Tyra Banks).
We want our teens to have meaningful and healthy relationships both in personal and professional settings throughout their lives. As parents we prepare them for this when we are loving, supportive, and have open communication in our homes. However, as teens grow and interact more with their friends and their environment, we as parents continue to play a vital role helping our teen to successfully navigate increasingly complex social situations.
As much as we may wish that we could teach our kids to say “No!” to friends who engage in behavior we don’t like, that isn’t always realistic. Some teens choose to maintain friendships at the expense of their values. Throughout life we will have different values than coworkers and friends. Part of raising teens includes helping them develop the skills to be clear about their values, while still interacting with people who may have differing ones. This includes teaching teens to say “No” effectively, stating their position clearly, standing their ground, while still maintaining relationships.
The reality of peer pressure is that it is often subtle and our teens in their desire to be accepted, valued, and to belong to a group will slowly shift family values to embrace the group of friends they want to be part of. There is perhaps no better way to protect teens from peer pressure than to prepare them with social skills to make wise choices and gain the strength needed to say “No,” even if it may be unpopular with friends.
Here are a few strategies to help your teen navigate friendships and negative peer pressure. Teach teens to say “no” only when they mean it. No should always mean no. And it’s ok to be unsure. But when your teen is unsure, they should be prepared to say, “I don’t know,” or “Maybe,” or “I need to think about it.” As soon as they are uncomfortable, it is important to be clear and firm that the answer is “no”. It is not up for negotiation. It is okay to state your answer of “no” and walk away.
Teens hesitate to say “no” because they think it will be unpopular with friends, or they will be forced to try and find a new friend group. We can all agree that it is uncomfortable and scary for our teens to be pushed out of a friend group and to be left alone as they struggle to find a new group of friends. No one wants to be the odd one out or to appear like they are judging friends for their choices. A helpful strategy to teach teens is to offer alternatives. For example, a teen facing peer pressure to skip class with a friend could respond, “I’m going to class. But I’ll meet up with you after school.” This provides the answer and the movement forward that your teen needs.
My favorite thing for teens is to blame your parents. As a parent I am always willing to be the mean mom who would say “no”. When all else fails, having an out to save face in front of friends can be an important resource. Teens can “blame parents” as a way to avoid pressure to do things they don’t want to. The second strategy to set up with your teen is a secret text that will get them out of a situation and save face. This strategy includes a pre-set agreement between parents and teens, so that when the teen sends the text, the parent calls the teen, acting mad, and that they are coming to pick them up now or demand that the teen comes home. This allows the teen to use the parents as the escape while allowing your teen an easy exit.
Teens empowered with tools to face challenging social situations gain important opportunities to express their values. They have confidence to do what’s right, and our role as their parents is to teach them the communication tools to handle challenging social situations with confidence and grace.