How Does Peer Pressure Affect a Teen's Social Development?

by David Herz, MD, Pediatrician

It’s inevitable. As your children grow up, they will want to spend less time with you and more time with their friends. But how will these relationships affect their development? And will their friends share your family’s values?

Peer pressure is a complicated area. On one hand, it can help your child develop the coping skills necessary for adulthood. It can also, however, lead them in bad directions. While teens may feel they have “grown up,” their brains are not finished developing and one of the missing functions is judgment. Peer pressure might encourage teens to become more active in athletics or to avoid risky behaviors. Or it could lead them to try alcohol or drugs, skip school or engage in other negative behaviors.

As a parent, the rules really aren’t that different from when your child was a toddler:

  • Keep a good watch over them
  • Communicate when they’re entering a danger zone
  • Intervene when necessary

It’s also important to remember that any conversations you have with children about alcohol, drugs or sex should start well before the teen years. They should understand, early, the consequences of bad behavior. That will reinforce these values when they really need them.

As much as you want to be with them, you have to allow older children their freedom —otherwise they may simply rebel harder. Teach them what to do in specific situations. For example, if someone offers them a beer or a joint, let them know you’re only a phone call away and your first priority is to keep them safe.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by David Herz, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in San Diego.