Being a tween can be difficult, as can parenting one. You want to protect them, but at the same time you’re trying to teach them valuable lessons about how to stand up for themselves, learn who they are and withstand peer pressure. A lot of good, concerned parents ask me for ideas about how they can help their tweens navigate peer pressure. Here are some of the things that I tell them.
Open Lines of Communication with Your Child
Your child will have to avoid a lot of peer pressure throughout their tweens and having an outlet at home they can bounce things off of without worry will allow them to voice some of these concerns and help them make good decisions. Let them know that you’re available when they need to talk by keeping the lines of compassionate, honest and calm communication open. Tweens who know they have a strong support system from parents may not feel the need to fit in with the “wrong crowd” because they have a firmly rooted place at home. During these talks, let them know they can use you as an excuse if that makes them feel comfortable – that you’re OK with them saying, “My mom will be upset, so I can’t do that,” or come up with a code word they can use if they get uncomfortable. This way, they can call or text you and say “My throat hurts,” or “I forgot that I have a test tomorrow; can you come get me?” instead of saying they’re uncomfortable in front of their peers. Arm them with whatever makes them feel able to leave a situation they don’t want to be in.
Focus on Strengths and Develop Self Esteem
Dodging peer pressure has so much to do with having a strong sense of self-confidence, which can be difficult to develop at this particular time in your child’s life. Focus on your tween’s strengths and help develop his or her self-esteem. Let them know that you’re proud of them and tell them about the things they’re good at. Children who have a strong sense of self aren’t as likely to feel the need to fit in, because their comfort comes from within. Try to help them pick friends who celebrate and bring out these good inner qualities in your child. Self-esteem will also help them choose their friends more wisely.
Teach it’s OK to Say ‘No’
Sooner or later, every tween will face a situation where friends will try to get them to do something they’re uncomfortable with, whether it’s skipping school, bullying or something worse. Your child will have to make a split-second decision to say no or succumb to the peer pressure. Making the right decision will be so much easier to do if you’ve talked with your child and taught them that it’s OK to say “no” when someone wants them to do something they know is wrong. If you think about it, you’ve already laid the foundation for this work when you taught them, as very small children, to say “no” to strangers. It’s the same basic principal. Go over potential situations with them and have them practice saying no and standing up for themselves. If they’ve already heard some of these potential situations, it may not be as difficult for them to feel confident enough to navigate away from whatever it is they’re being pressure into doing.
Has your tween struggled with peer pressure? Share your tips with other parents on how you handled it.
Dr. Jennifer Lai is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. She’s accepting appointments for kids of all ages. Her clinical interests include general Pediatrics, newborns, autism, and obesity.