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 immature 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.
“A teenager’s brain is only about 80 percent developed,” says Gurinder Dabhia, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Clinic, Rancho Bernardo. “Teens have extra unconnected synapses in the area where risk-assessment occurs and this gets in the way of judgement. In addition, the prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped, which makes teens more sensitive to peer pressure and risky, impulsive behavior.”
As a parent, the rules really aren’t that different from when your child was a toddler:
- Keep a good watch over them
“Stay involved in your teen’s life and know whom they admire and spend time with,” says Dr. Dabhia.
- Communicate when they’re entering a danger zone
- Intervene when necessary
‘Also remember to have conversations with your children about alcohol, drugs or sex well before the teen years,” says Dr. Dabhia. “You want your children to understand the consequences of negative behavior early so they will be prepared and not surprised. This will reinforce these values when they really need them.”
Of course, as much as you want to be with them and protect them, you have to allow older children their freedom —otherwise they may simply rebel harder. To guide your teen, 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 that you will come get them. Teens will respond favorably when they understand that your first priority is to keep them safe, not to punish them.
“As challenging as it is to watch your child grow up and become independent, it is essential to their well-being that parents respect their independence,” says Dr. Dabhia.