“Pressure, Pushing down on me. Pressing Down on you…”
Can you hear it? That song by Queen came out more than 30 years ago and its words are still relevant today. We all have it—some sort of pressure in our lives—pressure at home, pressure at work, pressure to succeed. For our teens, pressure exists in many forms as well, but peer pressure is often one of their biggest stressors. It is an everyday part of their lives. Simply defined, peer pressure is the influence that someone of the same age has on you. It is often the driving force behind a teens’ decision to do whatever their friends are doing, even if they know that decision is wrong. A particular peer or peer group may try to influence how others think, dress and behave, affecting attitudes and decisions in everyday life. Teens want to feel accepted. They want to “fit in” or at least not stand out. When it comes to the allure of teen sex, peer pressure can often be the influence that tips the decision making scale. A study released by the Kaiser Foundation found nearly 70 percent of teens agree that there is “a lot of pressure to have sex by a certain age.” Both boys and girls can feel this pressure to become sexually active.
Our teens are attempting to balance the many variables in this difficult equation, including hormones, social media influences, advertising, family expectations, religious beliefs and their peers. Peer pressure can have such a profound effect, that a teen may choose to become sexually active simply to gain the desired peer acceptance and fit in. FOMO or “fear of missing out” also plays a significant role in peer pressure. With the advent of social media, teens have instant knowledge of the whereabouts and activities of their friends and peers. With this awareness comes a perception of “missing out.”
An amazing vacation a friend is on, a new car someone just received, the party a teen didn’t get invited to, or a sexual relationship flaunted online can directly or indirectly expose a teen to peer pressure with a simple glance at their Instagram account. More than ever before, teens, through their social media channels, may perceive a sense of FOMO and make a decision to engage in sexual activity because of it.
Do some teens blatantly exert peer pressure on their friends? Perhaps, but often it is much more subtle. The pressure can come from within because of FOMO. Or it just might become a case of instant gratification: someone has something they don’t and they want it…now.Life for our teens has become faster than ever before, and it has become very public. The consequence of this public life produces peer pressure situations we, as parents, could not have conceived of in our youth. As Denver pediatrician Dr. Ron Eager has stated, “there is enormous pressure on teenagers to have sex.” One way to help your teen resist the pressures is to try to anticipate the challenges and discuss them with your teen. Some might think role playing is silly, but it encourages teens to think ahead.
Talk with your teen about setting personal boundaries—this is the first step in learning how to hold up under pressure. Next, instruct them to give a verbal response by saying “no” if the situation calls for it. The third step, if the first two don’t seem to be working, is they may need to be assertive and show they mean business by leaving the scene. By role playing, teens can gain the confidence to face the pressures by having a response in their back pocket. They will be less likely to get caught off guard, allowing them to make better decisions.
TEENS HELPING TEENS
Another way to help your teen avoid peer or dating pressure is to assure them they are not alone and there is something they can do about it.
Hang out with friends that have the same values and morals. It’s OK to not be ready for sex.
Stick to group dating with friends rather than a one-on-one date.
Introduce your friends to your parents.
Invite your friends to your home.
Support your friends that aren’t ready for sex
Think ahead so you are ready to handle any pressure situation.
Always carry your cell phone and money for a taxi in case you feel uncomfortable and want to leave.
If you need to leave a date, be ready to call a friend or your parents.
Never feel you “owe” someone sex in return for a date or gift.
No means no, if that’s how you are feeling.
PARENTS HELPING TEENS
When conducting parent education workshops, parents often express how difficult it is to talk their teenager. North Star Youth Partnership asked multiple teens what advice they would give to parents to better communicate with their teens?
We want our parents to take the time to talk with us.
Ask us questions.
Be more understanding.
Don’t be shy or reserved.
Don’t over analyze or over rationalize things.
Don’t make the conversation awkward.
Be prepared before talking to us.
We will make mistakes.
We aren’t perfect.
Why bother with all this communication with your teen? Our parents didn’t talk to us and we turned out OK, right? The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reports that 87 percent of teens say it would be easier to postpone sexual activity if they were able to have more open, honest conversations with their parents. We need to be the trusted adult in our teens’ lives.
Bottom line: Talk with your teens. Guide them through the challenges of peer pressure.
Prepare them for some “typical” peer pressure situations so they have the tools to cope with this formidable challenge.