11 Ways to Help Kids Stand Up to Peer Pressure

by | Nov 8, 2014 | Courage and Assertiveness, Peer Pressure, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Parenting advice to help kids buck negative temptations and stand up to peers

REALITY CHECK: A survey of 991 kids ages nine to fourteen revealed 36 percent feel pressure from peers to smoke marijuana, 40 percent feel pressure to have sex, 36 percent feel pressure to shoplift, and four out of ten feel pressure to drink. CNN/Time

“What were you thinking?”

“But didn’t you tell the kids it wasn’t right?”

“You did what?!!@!”

Are you concerned that your kid always seems to go along with the crowd?

Does she have a tough time speaking up and letting her opinions be known?

Have you noticed that your child can be easily swayed to do what the other kids want?

Some kids may call him a Wimp or a Scaredy Cat, your terms may be more along the lines of submissive, follower or even push over. This may not seem such a big deal now, but peer pressure gets nothing but tougher as kids get older. After all, if he has a tough time saying “no” to the tamer dilemmas of younger kids, fast forward your concerns to the kinds of wilder, scarier issues he may face later, and there is cause for some concern. All the better to start helping your child learn a few basic skills now that will help him face the tougher peer scene later.

11 Tips To Help Kids  Stand Up to Peers and Buck Temptations

Here’s the good news though: assertive skills can be taught to kids. Though it is never too late, the sooner parents start boosting this friendship skill builder, the greater your child’s confidence will be in social settings, and the easier you’ll sleep.

1. Bring the issue into the open

If your kid is suffering from a lack of assertive skills, it may be very hard for him to talk about this problem so take the lead. “I noticed during play group today Johnny told you to throw sand in the sink, and you did it. You know better. So let’s talk about why you went along.” “You know Rene’s house is off limits, but you went along with the group anyway. You have to learn to stand up to your friends and do what you know is right.”

2. Share your beliefs

Parents who raise assertive kids who can stand up for their beliefs don’t do so by accident. They make sure their children know what they stand for. Share your beliefs again and again so your child understands the “why” behind saying no.

“In our family we don’t watch violent movies. Plain and simple. So tell your friends you can’t go.” “I don’t care if all your friends use four-letter words, for you that’s forbidden.” “The next time a friend dares you to smoke a cigarette, just stand up and walk out. You need to stick up for what you know is right. I know how much you hate smoking.”

3. Refrain from labels

Be careful not to use or let other use nicknames or derogatory terms to your child such as: “What a wimp!” “You’re such a follower.” “She’s shy.” “He’s a Scaredy Cat.” Labels can become self-fulfilling and are often tough to shake.

4. Teach how to say no

Ask your child to choose phrases he is most comfortable using with peers. “No” can be said alone: “NO!” It can also be followed by a reason: “No, it’s just not my style.” “No thanks. My parents would kill me.” “No, I don’t feel like doing that.” “No, I don’t want to.” “No. I have to get home and I’m already late.” The child could suggest an alternative: “No. Let’s think of something else.”  “Nope. How bout we go to the skate park instead?”

The key is that a child must practice saying NO with a firm voice and strong body language again and again until he can do so comfortably with peers. Provide that practice!

Push-over kids usually stand with heads down, shoulders slumped, arms and knees quivering, and eyes downcast. So even if he says “no” to his friends, his body sends a far different message and his words will have little credibility. So it’s crucial to teach your child assertive body posture: hold your head high, shoulders slightly back, look your friend in the eye and use a confident, firm tone of voice.

5. Do a reality check

Is your child being overly submissive or just resisting the influence of a bad crowd? Maybe he should try a different group? (Just a thought!)

6. Stop rescuing. Period. 

If your role has been apologizing, explaining, or basically “doing” for your child, then stop. You child will never learn how to stand up for himself. Instead, he’ll forever by relying on you.

Parents who encourage their children’s social endeavors at a distance are more successful in raising confident and assertive kids.

In fact, those parents who tend to intervene and interfere in their kids’ social lives actually hinder their children’s relationships with friends.

Better to stand back, and supervise your child informally whenever he’s with friends.

7. Model assertiveness

if you want your child to be confident, assertive, and stand up for his beliefs, make sure you display those behaviors. Kids mimic what they see.

8. Point out strong, confident models

Share examples of courageous historical figures who stood up for their beliefs and didn’t follow the crowd: Abe Lincoln, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, FBI whistle-blowers are a few. Also, look for examples in your community or on the nightly news.

9. Reinforce assertiveness

If you want to raise a child who can stand up for his beliefs, then reinforce any and all efforts your child makes to be assertive and stand up for his beliefs. “I know that was tough telling your friends you had to leave early to make your curfew. I’m proud you were able to stand up to them and not just go along.”

10. Hold family debates

The best way for kids to learn to express themselves is right at home, so why not start “Family Debates” or if you prefer the more gentler-sounding approach: “Family Meetings.”

5 Rules for Family Meetings

1. Everyone is listened to

2. No putdowns are allowed

3. You may disagree, but do so respectfully

4. Talk calmly

5. Everyone gets a turn

Topics can be the hot button issues in the world, in school or right in your home. Here are just a few discussion possibilities: house rules, sibling conflicts, allowances, chores, curfews, parent-set movie restrictions. “Real world” issues could include: reparations, the Iraq War, the draft, lowering the voting age, legalizing drugs. Whatever the topic, encourage your hesitant child’s to speak up and be heard.

11. Don’t tolerate excuses

You’ve been working on these skills, but your child is still agreeing to do things she knows are wrong to go along with the group such as going to sneaking into a R-rated movie or using bad words. If this happens, be sure to take clear action to reestablish your rules and your child’s need to stand up to peer pressure.

 Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books. The ideas and tips from this blog are adapted from my book, Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me! by Jossey-Bass.

You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development

Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba