“That’s exactly what my son needs,” a mother told me last week as I explained the plot of a teen novel I had written. “He needs to know how to stand up to peer pressure. When I ask why he so often backs off, he says, ‘Well, Mom, I told them no, and then I told them no again, and then I just did it.’”
How can teens stand up to peer pressure? Parents know that their teenagers too often bow to the pressure of others in their societal group, too seldom say “no.” Fathers and mothers would love to see teens stand up to that pressure, and the good news is that they can – if you give them a few secret weapons.
The Weapon of Convictions
Teens can stand up to peer pressure by developing convictions, and learning to have the courage of their convictions. The best place to learn that is at home, from their parents.
Sixteen-year old Andrew learned the hard way in the novel I was discussing with the mother. It’s an exciting teen novel that subtly, but firmly teaches the secret of developing convictions. Andrew’s failure to stand up to peer pressure leads him into crime and flight from the law – flight that takes him to a foreign land. In this proactive teaching fiction, Andrew faces many struggles, but eventually he learns the meaning of “courage of convictions,” and returns home to face his peers as well as his deserved punishment.
How can teens stand up to peer pressure without exercising the courage of their convictions? That is really the question. They must have clear, firm convictions to stand strong despite raging hormones and insecurities. It would be good if caring parents drilled into every teenager these words of James Freeman Clarke:
“He who believes is strong; he who doubts is weak.
Strong convictions precede great action.”
Teenagers with strong convictions will muster the courage to stand against the pressure of friends regardless of what it costs them.
“All right,” you say, “teenagers need convictions, but what are convictions? How are they any different from preferences?”
Convictions are beliefs you hold so firmly that you are willing to suffer rather than go against them. You are willing to stand up and stand out!
Preferences are beliefs you are willing to give up rather than suffer. You are determined to fit in and not stand out!
If you want teens to stand up to peer pressure, ask them: “What are you about? Tell me what you value and where you learned to value that. When you say you believe in this or that, what are you willing to do to back your words of belief?”
In another conversation, it’s a good idea for a parent to ask the teenager to explain when he or she needs to take a stand for something. What do they think is the time to turn and walk away?
Teenagers will learn to stand up to peer pressure only if they learn to weigh what they stand for and what they are willing to sacrifice for it. In other words, they should have convictions, and they should act with courage on those convictions.
The Weapon of Proactively Formed Beliefs
How can teens stand up to peer pressure? Only as we help them form strong convictions can we help them stand against peer pressure.
But how does a teenager arrive at such convictions? Only by setting aside quiet time to think through life’s issues one by one – only by determining firm beliefs on each issue – beliefs that he or she will not change, no matter what the risk.
Be proactive in helping pre-teens and early teens think through the issues they will face. Guide them in forming beliefs that they will refuse to change. Give them clear, honest reasons for avoiding tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sexual activity, and violence. Help them discover clear ways to say a firm “no” – and fortify them with the rewards of saying “no” even if that “no” costs friendships and social standing.
Giving teens this weapon, and training them in its use, is not a one-hour task. You will need to drill as the military drills in weaponry use. Teens must prepare ahead of time for the coming, difficult war they face.
The Weapon of One Courageous Friend
Teenagers stand up to peer pressure more readily when they add the backing of one courageous friend to their personal courage of convictions. That doesn’t mean, of course, that parents simply need to say, “If all but one of your friends decided to jump off a cliff without a parachute, would you do it, too?”
Solomon Asch designed a conformity test in 1951 that you can use to help your teenager understand the importance of one courageous friend.
You can use this test with any group of teenagers or mixed group. You could even use it as a game at your next family holiday get-together. Prepare two posters beforehand, using this replica of the posters Asch used.
Do not align the black lines across the posters’ bottoms, but measure to be sure Line 1 and Line C are identical.
Tell your group, including the teenager subject, that you have a test for them. Send your teen from the room, taking precautions to make sure he or she can’t hear what you tell those who remain in the room.
Show the helpers your two posters. Tell them that in your “vision test” you will move from one to another asking, “Which line (A, B, or C) on the second poster matches Line 1 on the first poster?” The first helper you ask should give a wrong answer, and the rest should give the same wrong answer. Warn them, “Do NOT give me the right answer. Each of you tell me what the first one said – and act certain. Obviously, the correct answer is ‘C’, but do NOT give me that answer.”
Explain that you’ll ask your subject last to see how the teen will answer.
Now call your teenager to come back in and sit down. One by one, ask each helper which line matches ‘Line 1’. Last of all, ask your teenager the same question. Don’t be surprised if your teen conforms to the group. That happens often, as seen below. Be prepared to explain the results of the test, and explain what happened when others took it.
When Asch (and succeeding psychologists) tried this test with only teens in the room, they discovered that an amazing 75% of the teen subjects did not have the courage to vote against the group. When asked in private about their answer, the teens admitted that the question was so easy they knew the group was voting the wrong way. Even so, they did not have the courage to stand up to peer pressure.
In a second test, Asch had just one of his helpers vote correctly. Suddenly, the chances increased greatly that when one of the group voted correctly, the one being tested also would vote what he thought was right!
Help your teen stand up to peer pressure by helping him or her find at least one friend who has the courage to stand with them against the group.
How can teens stand up to peer pressure without your help? Many books on this topic sit on shelves around the world, and many more are sure to follow. If you are serious, however, about helping your teen learn to stand against societal pressures, be sure the teenager learns to use the right weapons: