Dealing with Peer Pressure in Middle School

Teens and preteens are very susceptible to the desire to feel as though they belong and are accepted among their peers. However, peer pressure can often have a very negative influence on how they behave, and, even more importantly, how they feel about themselves. As your child enters middle school, peer pressure can escalate as classmates begin pushing the boundaries set by both parents and schools.

As parents, you are still the largest influence in your kids’ lives, giving you an opportunity to help them cope with this peer pressure.

Here are ten ways you can help.
  • Be Proactive – Don’t wait for problems or topics to arise to discuss them with your middle school child. Instead, be proactive and have the hard conversations about drugs, alcohol, tobacco and sex with her. Let her know your point of view and the hard truths about these subjects that they will face one way or another.
  • Speak Up – When you notice a certain friend or group of friends seems to be a poor influence, speak up, but don’t actively criticize the friend. Instead, approach it from an observational point of view, letting him know you are aware. State that you are concerned with what happens when he is with this friend or group, pointing out poor behavior or problems. Be careful to state that it is the behavior you do not like, not the friends as people.
  • Keep Lines of Communication Open – Communicating with young adults can be difficult, as they strive to gain independence and find their own way. However, as the parent, it is up to you to make the effort to talk to your kids and get them to talk to you. Even though it may seem like many conversations may be one-sided, your child will still feel that you are there to talk to when they need it.
  • Be the Bad Guy – One way you can help a child is by giving them the option to make you the bad guy. Let her know that it is perfectly fine with you if she blames you when she doesn’t want to do something. Since it is the truth in most cases, as you would not want your child doing anything that a classmate is pressuring her to do, it is a good way to ease the pressure of saying no.
  • Encourage His Opinions – Part of becoming a strong individual is having and asserting your personal opinion. Encourage your middle school child to express his opinion and defend his position. While he may not always be right, listen and be respectful of his thoughts. By learning to defend his opinion with you, he can also learn to defend his own opinions with other kids his own age.
  • Build Confidence – The more confidence your child has, the better off she will be when it comes to handling peer pressure. Encourage her to explore sports, hobbies and other activities she enjoys. Everyone has something that they enjoy and do well; it’s just a matter of finding what appeals to her. Learning new skills will build her confidence and expand her horizons.
  • Support Her Friend or Group Choices – Even though you may want your preteen daughter to be part of a certain group, you need to support her decision not to if that is what she decides. It is important that you let her make her own choices and exercise her right to stand up to you and others about why she made that choice. This will help her be strong in making other choices as well.
  • Talk to Him About Peer Pressure – Let your child know that you understand that they are facing many pressures at school, and that you are there to help when he needs it. Just hearing you say that you are aware of his struggles and are available can make a difference. Knowing you are on his side is always important.
  • Role Play – Teaching your child how to say no when pressured takes practice. Try role playing with her and having her ask you to do something she would not want to do, such as smoking or drinking. Have her be the one that does the pressuring, and show her how to say “no.” If she says she would not be able to do what you did, then that is a good opener to discuss why she would have trouble and how to work on being stronger.
  • Let Him Make Mistakes – One of the best ways to help a young man learn to cope with peer pressure is to let him make mistakes and be held accountable for them. Regardless of whether he was pressured into doing something he was not supposed to do, he still needs to feel the consequences of his choice. Once those consequences have been resolved, he also must be allowed to make that same decision again, hopefully with better results.
The preteen and early teen years can be the most trying time, both for the child and the parents. Peer pressure will not stop, but by nurturing your child to be strong and independent, you’re ensuring that she has a better chance of making the right choices and will cope better through the middle school years.

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