If you have children approaching their teenage years, you’ve probably thought at least a few times about the kind of peer pressure they might experience.
What if a friend or classmate persuades them to drink alcohol, skip school, or text and drive?
But peer influence can be positive, too. Teens look to friends and other members of their peer group for guidance.
One friend’s good example can go a long way. Adolescents can promote positive choices and attitudes in their friend groups simply by demonstrating those behaviors themselves.
Positive peer pressure often involves more encouragement and support than actual pressure or persuasion. Read on for specific examples, benefits of positive peer pressure, and tips on encouraging positive influences.
The examples below demonstrate a few ways peers can influence each other positively.
Forming a study group
Your child and their friends talk about their biology class pretty regularly. You’ve learned it’s their hardest class. There’s a lot of material to cover, and their teacher gives tough pop quizzes every week. One day you hear them talking about their latest test.
“What’s the point of biology?” one of them groans. “We always get so much homework. I’m not going to be a doctor. Why bother?”
“I think it’s interesting,” someone else says. “It is a lot of homework, though. It takes forever.”
“Why don’t we just do it together while we’re hanging out? It’ll be easier to work together, and we can check our answers to make sure we’re ready for the quizzes.”
Everyone agrees this sounds like a great idea.
Putting a stop to gossiping
You’re driving your child and their friend to another friend’s house when you hear something concerning.
“Carter looked grosser than usual today,” your 13-year-old says, turning back to look at their friend. “What is up with him lately? His clothes are always such a mess, and he smells terrible.”
You’re about to say something sharp to your kid about not judging others when their friend says, “That’s mean. Maybe he can’t help it. What if his shower is broken, or they don’t have a washing machine?”
Your kid sits back, chastened, and you can almost see their brain working as they imagine going without a shower or washing machine.
“You’re right,” they say after a minute. “Maybe we should ask him if he’s OK tomorrow. Not, like, in an obvious way. But just say hi and ask how he is.”
Trying new things
Your child has wanted to join the school paper since they started middle school, but so far, their shyness has kept them from taking the step of actually attending a meeting. They’ve just started eighth grade, so this year is their last chance to join.
One day you get a text: “Can you pick me up at 5? Going to Journalism Club so I’ll miss the bus!!”
On the way home, they tell you how they ended up attending.
“My lab partner in science was saying she was thinking about joining the paper. I said I was afraid of going to the meeting by myself, and she said we should just join together. Since I know her already, I didn’t feel too nervous.”
You agree it’s often easier to try something new when you take a friend along.
Yep, adults can also lay some positive pressure on each other.
Say you’re at a friend’s birthday party. You have to drive home before it gets too late and don’t want to risk drinking, so when your friend’s partner asks if you’d like a drink, you ask for water.
“What, are you off the sauce?”
“Nope, I just have to leave soon, so I’m playing it safe.”
“I have to drive later, too. A glass of wine won’t put you over the limit.” (Note: It actually might.)
“Maybe not, but I don’t like driving with alcohol in my system,” you explain. “Even if I’m OK to drive, I might still feel foggy, you know? I think about crashing, or hitting someone, and it’s just not worth it.”
They shrug. “I guess.” But after they hand you a can of sparkling water, you notice they set their own drink down and don’t pick it up again.
Obviously, this kind of positive influence is a good thing, but it can have particularly beneficial effects for older children.
Even if you and your child have a close relationship, you might start to notice them drawing back from you and turning to their friends for advice and support as they mature.
This might sting a bit, but it’s absolutely normal. Kids begin looking to their peers for guidance more and more during the preteen and early teenage years.
In general, adolescents in this age range are particularly vulnerable to peer influence. It’s natural for your child to want to fit in with friends and classmates.
That’s why positive peer influence can have a lot of benefit. Teens are more likely to make positive choices for themselves when they see classmates doing things like:
- participating in sports and clubs
- speaking up against bullying or gossip
- helping others
- volunteering or getting a part-time job
Your child may lean toward these behaviors already, but when they see peers making the same choices, they won’t worry about looking “boring” or “uncool.”
Peer influence can have more subtle effects, too. If your child’s friends enjoy school and show interest in keeping their grades up, your child may start making a similar effort.
The one catch to positive peer pressure? It may end up pressuring your child to do something that they don’t want to do, even if it seems healthy on the surface.
Maybe your middle schooler’s friend convinces them to join the theater club, even though they have an intense fear of crowds and public speaking.
Sure, they might end up happily painting sets or learning how to run the lights backstage. But they could also end up dreading club meetings and finding excuses to get out of practice. Their anxiety could, over time, begin to affect their overall mood and interest in school.
Or maybe they start pulling all-nighters, trying to keep up with the other members of a study group they’ve joined.
You’re happy to see them care so much about their studies, but you also notice that they’re starting to buckle under the pressure and become frustrated with anything less than perfection.
Peer pressure, whether positive or negative, can happen explicitly (outright) or implicitly (subtly):
- Explicit pressure happens when someone directly comments on a peer’s behavior or suggests they act in a certain way. For example: “We’re all skipping math because Mr. X is such a jerk. Ditch with us.”
- Implicit pressure happens when someone changes their behavior to better fit in with the people around them. This unspoken influence often comes from popular trends. It may help explain clothing choices you see as baffling, or your child’s desire to play a video game they’ve never expressed interest in before.
Peer influence is sometimes pretty harmless. For instance, it may not necessarily benefit your child to have purple or green hair, but it probably won’t hurt them, either.
Negative peer pressure, on the other hand, can have a far-reaching impact, whether it’s explicit or implicit.
Negative influence can take different forms:
- a friend offering alcohol or a joint
- peers skipping meals and calling themselves “fat”
- friends gossiping about classmates and encouraging others to chime in
So, if your kid always seems to want to do the opposite of what you suggest, how can you encourage them to at least seek out positive influences when they’re out in the world?
Talk to them
Open communication always has benefit. Your kids usually do value what you have to say and want your approval, even when their actions suggest otherwise.
Show your interest in them by asking questions about their values and interests and listening to what they have to say.
Remember, you can offer guidance subtly, without telling them what to do:
- “I wonder what you could say to improve that situation.”
- “How does it make you feel when your friends do things you don’t like?”
- “When I’m trying to make a decision, I write down the pros and cons of both sides to get a better picture of how it might affect me. I wonder if that might help?”
Avoiding blame or judgment can help your child feel more comfortable coming to you about anything.
Encourage instead of forbid
As a parent, you’ll probably want to take a hard stance on certain behaviors, such as underage drinking or smoking.
When it comes to other choices, such as swearing, taking a negative attitude toward school, or playing video games for hours, you might see better results by encouraging positive behaviors instead of banning the ones you don’t prefer.
Then, offer subtle encouragement by making it easier for your child to choose healthier behaviors:
- Hoping they bring their grades up? Praise their effort when you see them studying and offer support. For example: “If you’d like to have your friends over for a study session, I’ll take your brother and sister out for a couple of hours after school and bring back some snacks.”
- Aiming to promote healthy friendships? Encourage them to spend time with friends who treat your child, and other peers, with kindness.
Set a good example
Letting your child know how their behavior can guide others can give them more confidence when it comes to making positive decisions. Yet your words may have little value if they see you doing something entirely different.
Maybe you’ve talked to your child about how gossip can hurt. What happens when one of your friends comes over to share some news about another friend’s latest relationship drama?
You may not say anything negative, but simply participating in the conversation can suggest to your child that gossiping must be fine if you do it.
Or perhaps you emphasize the importance of making friends with similar values. Later, they overhear a conversation you have with a friend who’s cheating on their partner.
You don’t support that behavior, but you also don’t offer any outright criticism or urge them to come clean about the affair.
It’s important to consider whether that friendship reflects your values. How could you positively influence them and set a better example?
Rather than simply warn your child about negative peer pressure, consider offering a few tips on setting and following positive examples in their peer group.
Reassure them that they don’t need to follow along with everyone else to make friends, certainly, but also teach them how to guide their peers toward healthier choices.
Practicing compassion, demonstrating good friendship behaviors, and staying true to their unique self will set them up for success later on.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.