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The College Years: Handling Peer Pressure 


Peer pressure is one of the many growing pains of childhood and the teenage years. But even after your child has donned their cap and gown, and walked across the stage to receive their diploma, the pressure to fit in continues into young adulthood. 

For teens, managing peer pressure is usually not that difficult if they are primarily surrounded by people whose values, preferences, and behaviors are similar to theirs. However, in a college environment, its very likely that your child will meet people with a wide variety of attitudes and behaviors. At times, it may feel easy to know where they stand and act accordingly. But other times, they might feel confused, pressured, or tempted to act against their own judgment.  

Add to that college is a time when your child is away from home and family, with more freedom to make their own choices than ever before. They might even feel a desire to do things your family doesnt do or doesnt think are OK as a way to establish their own identity. 

Communicate to your college-bound child that its important for them to reflect on what they think is important, their values, and who they want to be. Remind them also to think of the potential consequences of their actions. If they go with the crowd and do something they might not have considered before, what will happen? Could there be a negative outcome? 

Discuss with your young adult the reality of peer pressure in college. If they’re faced with overt or indirect pressure to do something they’re not sure about, suggest they try using the following strategies: 


Give yourself permission. Allow yourself to avoid people or situations that dont feel right and leave a situation that becomes uncomfortable. Work on setting boundaries. Its OK for you to do what is best for you. 

Check in with yourself. Ask, How am I feeling about this? Does this seem right to me? What are the pros and cons of making this decision? 

Recognize unhealthy dynamics. Its not OK for others to pressure, force or trick you into doing things you dont want to or for others to make threats if you dont give in. Its not OK for others to mock, belittle, shame or criticize you for your choices. You can ask others to stop these behaviors, or you can choose to avoid spending time with people who act in these ways. 

Surround yourself with positivity. Spend time with people who respect your decisions and wont put unfair pressure on you to conform. 

Remind yourself. Remember that you cant (and dont have to) please everyone or be liked by everyone. This can be hard to accept, but it helps to try. 

Try the “delay tactic.” When people or situations that make you feel pressured are not avoidable, give yourself time to think about your decision instead of giving an immediate answer: Let me think about that.” Can I get back to you? or Check back with me in an hour. 

Practice saying no. When you cant avoid or delay a pressure-filled situation, practice saying, No, thanks or just No! If no feels uncomfortable, practice using other responses, such as Not today, Maybe another time, or Thanks, but I cant. 

Make an excuse. Its OK to use an excuse if the truth is too challenging. For example, if someone offers you a drink and you want to say no but feel awkward, say youre on medication or have to get up early the next day. 

Use the buddy system. Take a friend who supports you along if you are going to be in a pressure-filled situation and let them know what your intentions are (e.g., I dont want to drink, so if you see me about to, remind me that I want to stay sober.”). 

Stand up for others. When you see someone being pressured, “bystander intervention,” or stepping in to help out when you see someone in troublecan be an effective way to support others and send a message. If you dont feel comfortable directly confronting the person doing the pressuring, try distracting them or inviting the person being pressured to do something else (e.g., Hey, come to the ladies room with me,” or Lets go over there and take a selfie.”). 

Seek help. Ask for advice or support from a parent or other trusted family member, friend, mentor or counselor if you need it. 

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