The “Cool Kids”: How to Help Your Child or Teen Deal with Peer Pressure, Exclusion and Cliques

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When we think of peer pressure, we typically have a picture in our minds of a kid handing your child a cigarette, a joint, or a beer and saying something like, “Come on, just try it.” But at times peer pressure can be felt without a single word being spoken, like when a clique excludes others or rolls their eyes at the (in their opinion) “uncool” kids who walk by.

“It’s most helpful to focus on the behavior of your child’s friends, or more importantly, your child’s behavior when she is with these friends.”

Here are five of the top peer pressure situations, with ways you can help your child or teen handle them:

1. Drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and partying

The average age American kids take their first drink is 11 for boys and 13 for girls. Drugs are rampant in our communities today—not just marijuana, but also bath salts, meth, K2 (aka “spice” or synthetic marijuana), and prescription medications. This is not to say all kids will follow this pattern of alcohol use or get into drugs, but chances are, your child will come into contact with another kid who has knowledge of these things and may even be using one or more. As a parent, being involved and communicating with your child about drugs and alcohol is of vital importance.

What you can do: As a school counselor, I always say that you really can’t start talking with your children about these things too early. It’s important that you discuss your rules and values pertaining to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, but also help him come up with several options to escape the situation if he’s being pressured to try something. For example, you might role play with your middle schooler and teach him to say a strong and direct “No.” He could also suggest a different activity, change the subject, or leave the situation by walking away.

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I’ve also heard a lot of parents talking about the “no-questions-asked” pick-up. That’s when you tell your child that if he calls you to leave a party or a bad situation, you will go and get him with no consequences and no questions asked. This is something that each parent and family has to decide if it’s right for them. If this works for your family, it can be very effective.

2. My Child’s Personality is Changing—for the Worse!

Kids who hang out together tend to adopt the same types of attitudes, likes, dislikes, and values—and in fact, research has shown that people tend to mimic the behavior of others in order to fit in into a group. This can be distressing if your formerly sweet kid is rolling her eyes at you and responding with, “Whatevs” to everything you say. If she’s becoming defiant, aggressive or disrespectful, you’ll want to address this behavior and nip it in the bud before it continues to escalate.

An important thing to note here is that teens and tweens start to become more peer-focused and less family-focused. They want to spend more time with their friends and might confide in them more often than family. Also, adolescence is where individuation really takes place: this is the process of coming to understand and know oneself as your own person. This means kids start to want more choices, more freedom—and at times more privacy and distance from their family. Peers become the center of their universe, and with their natural desire for a sense of belonging, teens can be extremely susceptible to peer pressure. Another factor that makes them susceptible is the still-developing teen brain, which has not yet become a master of decision-making and self-management! This means that they don’t always have the thinking skills and self-control skills it takes to resist peer pressure.

Related: My Child has “Toxic” Friends.

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What you can do: When your child’s behavior is changing as a result of spending time with a new group of friends, start by having a conversation about it with her in a moment when you are both calm. Know beforehand that this is an issue ripe for power struggles. Your child identifies with these kids she’s hanging out with in some way—maybe they have something in common that drew them together, or she feels accepted in this group. If your child feels like you are attacking her friends, she will likely get defensive and dig in her heels—and want to be with them all the more. It’s most helpful to focus on the behavior of your child’s friends, or more importantly, your child’s behavior when she is with these friends. You might say something like, “I’ve noticed that you talk back to me a lot since you started hanging out with Courtney. Why do you think that is?” This conversation should be focused on your rules and values, and should reiterate your expectations for behavior. Rather than trying to forbid your child’s friendship, you might decide to put some parameters on it if repeated problem-solving discussions don’t help. For example, you might say that she can only see Courtney outside of school once a week, or that she can’t go to Courtney’s house until her behavior improves, but Courtney can come over to your house so you can get to know her better.

Note: If your child begins to exhibit behavior changes that you find worrisome or concerning, it may be helpful to speak with your child’s doctor or another professional about your concerns to rule out any underlying issues that may be affecting your child’s behavior.

3. My Child is Being Excluded

It’s so painful for kids when they’re excluded from something, whether it’s an event like a birthday party, or a clique or group at school. Many times there isn’t a clear reason why this happens; it just seems like out of the blue, your child is left out and feeling miserable.

It’s important to know that at some point or another, almost all kids feel the pain of being excluded. This could be a result of direct exclusion (another child specifically telling them they aren’t welcome), shifting loyalties among friends, or “fifth wheel” problems. If you’re the parent of a teen, you’ve probably already seen that adolescent friendships can shift and change dramatically in seemingly short periods of time: that girl your daughter used to hang out with all the time might start hanging out with another girl. Even in a group with just two other kids, a third can easily feel “lost in the crowd.”

What you can do: Try to pinpoint which of these situations is leading to your child’s loneliness and then talk with him or her about some ways to solve the problem. Don’t blame your child for why this is happening, because that won’t be helpful. Often there is no rhyme or reason for why your child is being left out or ostracized. Put on your “coaching hat” and help your child to come up with some strategies to improve the situation. For example, if she’s going to hang out with two other girls and this leaves her feeling left out, perhaps she could invite a fourth so that she will have her own buddy. If her problems center around the kids at school, try to get her involved in a group where she can make friends from other towns who share her interests—and where she can see firsthand that there is a life outside of school. If she is socially awkward or you notice her doing things that puts others off, (like always needing to get her way or being too clingy) you can coach her on ways to behave socially without making her feel like there’s something wrong with her. (More on this next.)

4. When Your Child is Socially Awkward

Sometimes kids feel like they don’t fit in consistently and repeatedly. If this is the case, it might help to ask yourself if your child is lacking any vital social skills and if perhaps this is the reason that other kids are not responding positively to him. It’s important to note that it’s normal to feel left out or lonely once in a while, but you can help your child realize he has some control over his own behavior and responses.

What you can do: In this case, it’s helpful to talk to your child about social cues. You can do this when you’re watching TV or out at a restaurant. Ask your child how he thinks the waitress is feeling, or what they think it might mean if a character in a movie has his arms crossed. Role-playing is something else that could also help—teach your child some specific skills like introducing himself and act it out. Many parents also come up with a cueing system that helps their kids learn how to interact socially. Let’s say your child with ADHD is constantly monopolizing the conversation, and talking a mile a minute. Together, come up with a signal you can give him (touching your chin with your forefinger, for example) to let him know he needs to let someone else have a turn. It might also help to talk to your child’s teachers or school counselors for some support and additional ideas to specifically help your child. (Don’t feel shy about reaching out—at my school, I help parents with this issue all the time.)

5. Last word: Put the Focus on Your Child’s Strengths

It’s important to help your child focus on his or her strengths and what they can control. Emphasize your child’s positive internal qualities and teach them some positive self-talk they can use when they are feeling pressured. For example, instead of thinking, “Why can’t I just be different?” They could say to themselves, “Everyone is different. I like who I am.”

Pressure is one of those stressors that we all experience at every stage of life. It can actually be motivating—it can help us excel at work and earn promotions, and it can help our kids ace that final exam. It can be the thing that gets your child to try a new sport, join a new club, do better in school, or stops them from doing something stupid.

But pressure can also be overwhelming and can sometimes lead us down the wrong path. Start talking to your kids about positive coping skills and strategies to escape high pressure situations when they are young so that they can manage the pressure they will encounter not only in adolescence, but throughout life as well.

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Notes and References

About

Sara Bean, M.Ed. is a certified school counselor and former Empowering Parents Parent Coach with over 10 years of experience working with children and families. She is also a proud mom.

Comments (10)
  • Ashu Bisht
    My daughter  is 1.5 month till, I have experienced such situations, but yet of course I am aware how does it feels when any parents are in such situation. I think the best thing is to make sure your kids are confident that her parents are best parents and theyMore can share everything with you so that the time they come under any bad company, they will look for your approval.
  • Saddened mom

    Oh fellow parents....this is so helpful & eye opening at the same time. My 8 yr old boy is struggling with moving to a new city, new school, new home, new peers, new sporting activities, etc...New surroundings all together. He is very outgoing & will attempt to make friends or start conversations multiple times. I give him credit for his persistence. I kept telling him "it will take time" and it's tough to start over. But it has been 10 months now & I believe is taking a huge turn for the worst. Gradually he has become more introverted, quiet, non-social, clearly depressed, sad, and miserable. He was once "an open book of emotions" to a now "closed book of sadness". His behavior is more defiant, rebelous, rude & disrespectful. Almost to anyone who clearly deserves it (me..because I moved is out of his comfortable place). To people who are being nothing but nice to him. He talks to me sometimes & has admitted to being very lonely, isolated, and feels ignored by kids his age. They call him weird because now he he is doing "awkward type" actions for attention and they don't understand what he is doing....so he's "weird". Which naturally is not helping. We don't have much family and it's been me & him since he was 2. He's old enough now to see the family structures and support that other children have from from grandmas, cousins, aunts, etc...that we just don't have. It is literally tearing my heart out of my chest at times. I signed him up for the same sports he was playing, continued his journey in cub scouts, attending church regularly as we were before the move. Everything to have him hopefully make friends & have some feeling of normalcy. We have started seeing a behavioral counselor/therapist in hopes to get some of those thoughts & feelings out. Recently He was even matched with a Big Brother that he hangs out with a few times a month in hopes of male bonding, guidance,and friendship.

    HELP!!!!

    • Iydiaz

      I feel for you , because I too was a single mother with no family at one point, and we moved around so many times.It did take a toll on the kids!, but I always make sure to talk to them, to be involved , even when they didn't want me to, without being pushy, what i mean is, I make sure that I Make the time to spend enough time with them so I could talk and understand what was happening in their little heads, and even if they didn't want to eat ice cream or ice kating, they knew I always was there for them. I would invite some friends over the house that I would feel comfortable with so they could get to know other kids. I had a lot of support from my church and even though my blood family was far away I could always count on them, so perhaps you can also do the same and get more involve in the community, even ask your son what are the things that HE wants to do. It is hard to be a kid, often time we adults forget that ! they do not have the responsibilities that we have but they are little humans, with a heart just like us, so make sure you put his hands on yours and look at him in his eyes and tell him you are there to help, and you are going to go through this together.

    • Saddened mom

      He is not dealing well & I try my best to help him, but being

      helpful wasn't helping until recently I've learned how to step back & let him come to me. When in the past my protective heart I assume was pushing him away. I hope I haven't made the situation worse & just hope & pray I respond in a supportive way that works for him & what he needs from me. Any more advice from elementary school parents would be GREATLY ACCEPTED! ????

  • Vicki40
    My 9 year old will insist on playing with the girl who over last summer made her so anxious about being friends with others there are certain children she cannot play with for fear of being "told off" by this child, my daughter was so anxious she didn't like schoolMore anymore. I have worked closely with my daughter and the school to increase my daughters self confidence and we have got somewhere but how do I deal with the door knocking "do you want to play?" with this girl now we're heading into spring? Up to now I have been OK with them together at school but cut off playing at home. If my daughter doesn't play she will see all the kids outside and she is excluded if she does play I fear she will be physiologically bullied again? I don't know what to do? Any advise?
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      Vicki40 

      The

      emotional and social bullying that frequently happens among girls can be

      extremely tough to address effectively; you are not alone in this

      situation.  Something that can be useful is to talk with your daughter

      about what she would like to do when this girl invites her to come play, and

      brainstorm with her about ways that she can respond to potential issues. 

      For example, if she wants to go play with this girl and others in the neighborhood,

      how can she respond if she is bullied, teased, or “told off” again?  On

      the other hand, if she decides that she would rather not go out to play with

      other kids, how will she handle those feelings of being left out or excluded?

      You might find it helpful to review our article http://www.empoweringparents.com/mean-girls-bullying.php for additional information.  I realize that

      this is a situation with no easy answers, and I wish you and your daughter all

      the best as you continue to move forward.  Take care.

      • Vicki40
        RebeccaW_ParentalSupport Vicki40 Thank you! I had a chat with my daughter this morning. A lot of this is down to her anxiety as well as how this child treats her. It's difficult as she likes this child and they play nicely together, my daughter just needs to remind herself that thisMore girl going moody isn't anything to do with something she has done or indeed if it is and she hasn't been horrible then she doesn't need to change her behavior to suit this girl. It's complicated isn't it. My daughter has said she will play if she wants to but won't if she doesn't. I won't allow her to play at this girls house or sleep over but fine with them playing in gardens or around our houses so I can keep an eye on things. I'll see how it goes. Thank for your reply though as this was turning into how I felt rather than how my daughter felt.
  • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

    Ashton Alex Millentina
    I’m sorry to hear you are facing these challenges with your
    friends and peers. And, you’re right, sometimes a kid does need more than what
    a parent is able to offer in situations that involve bullying or peer pressure.
    There is a website you may not be aware of thatMore could be helpful. http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/SitePages/Home.as...
    is an online resource for support and guidance for teens and young adults who
    are facing challenges like you describe. They offer support online, via e-mail
    and text, and even have a call in support service if
    you find yourself needing to talk to someone about the issues you are facing.
    Growing up is a struggle, but it isn’t one you have to face on your own. I
    encourage you to check out the site to see what they have to offer. One tip in
    particular you may find helpful is http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/sitepages/tips/ti.... I appreciate you writing in and sharing your
    perspective with the Empowering Parents community. Good luck moving forward.
    Take care.

  • sparks27

    BUSY BEE CHILD
    My 9 year old daughter is having a lot of trouble staying focused in class. She seems too much concerned with her hair, clothes, etc. Her teacher and I have spoke several times and nothing we do seems to be helping. I am at my wits end withMore this and just want to help my child!

    • DebraJones

      sparks27  Hi. My name is Debra. I was having the same problem with my daughter (14). During a regular yearly eye examination, the doctor asked me to observe her and if the focusing problem happens when she is reading, then it would be her eyes that was the reason for the problems. WhatMore I found out was that she was experiencing flashes of lights (sometimes with colors and something that we may take for granted) that would effect her eyes and she would have to look away from the reading. It would cause her to have headaches as she kept trying to do the work. Eventually, she knew that if she opened a book how it would effect her and she would shut down.

      She now wears tinted eye glasses and eye contacts to dim those flashes and she is doing very well.

      I know that this may not be your child's issues but it may be wroth looking into to rule it out.

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