It’s inevitable. As your children grow up, they will want to spend less time with you and more time with their friends, even if via social media. Peer influence is that powerful.
But what are the effects of peer pressure on the social and emotional development of teens?
Teen peer pressure is a complicated area. While teens may feel they have “grown up,” their brain is still developing. One of the immature functions is judgment.
There are also different types of peer pressure for this age group, negative and positive.
Positive peer pressure can help teens develop the coping skills necessary for adulthood. It might encourage teens to become more active in athletics or to avoid risky behaviors, which can be especially helpful during tough times.
Negative peer pressure can lead teens in bad directions. It could lead them to try alcohol or drugs, skip school or engage in other poor behaviors that could put their health at risk.
“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
- Communicate when they’re entering a danger zone
- Intervene when necessary, especially if their physical and mental health are at stake.
“Stay involved in your teen’s life and know whom they admire and spend time with,” says Dr. Dabhia.
While it’s common for a teen to act out from time to time, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of underlying depression or anxiety. Research shows that teens have been affected socially and emotionally by the COVID-19 pandemic, due in large part to social restrictions.
Signs that may indicate teen depression include sulking, withdrawal and high risk behaviors.
“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 short and long-term consequences of negative behavior at an early age 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 people in their social groups or peer groups are pressuring them to drink alcohol or do drugs, 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.