Written by: Cally Worden
The dawn of the teen era in your kids’ lives brings with it a specific shift in attitudes. As they become increasingly independent, opinions and advice from their friends begin to matter more than those from their parents. It is a time when kids are searching for their own identities, and enjoy trying on different perceptions of the world for size.
The influence of peers can be huge in your child’s life, and while this is a healthy and necessary stage of their development, they still very much need parental guidance, even if they don’t think they do. Good communication with your child is essential if you are to help them navigate this adolescent minefield successfully and establish their own personality with pride, grace and dignity.
When friends exert pressure on your child to get them to act or behave in a certain manner, this is known as peer pressure. It isn’t always a negative thing, and good friends can help a shy or awkward child to come out of their shell and become more confident. But peer pressure can be a bad thing too. If you or your child are uncomfortable about modes of behaviour that are being suggested, you need to help your child identify that this is happening and equip them with appropriate ways of responding to such pressure. They need to understand that saying ‘No’ is okay, and that they need to question the motives of friends who would mock them for it.
Air the Tough Stuff
Encouraging dialogue around the kinds of tricky situations that your teen may encounter, can help to prepare them in advance. If a situation has already arisen that needs addressing, then it is important to do so as soon as possible after the event.
Talk with your teen about social situations that may arise where a parent isn’t present. The use of drugs or alcohol, or being alone with a boyfriend or girlfriend, for example. Explore where your teen sees the boundaries of such situations, and ensure that your own feelings on this are communicated too. Try to reach a point where you both agree what are acceptable behaviours, and what are not. It’s also important that your teen understands the ground rules – no boy/girlfriends in the house alone unless Mum or Dad are there, for example.
A useful tool when talking with teens about social situations is to work through the different choices they may have. Where alcohol is offered at a party, for example, chat about how they can choose to:
- Try it a little and then stop
- Not try it, and ignore any comments their friends may make
- Try to convince their friends that it isn’t a wise thing to be doing
- Choose to leave, and call Mum or Dad for a pick-up
Gentle role-playing can help. Encourage your teen to practice saying ‘No thanks, I don’t want any.’ It’s amazing how much more empowered this can make them feel should the situation arise for real.
Engage with your Teen’s Friends
Making the effort to have a chat with your teen’s friends will make it more likely that they will hang out at your place from time to time. And getting to know them will help you to understand where any danger points may lie in respect of your child’s friendship with them. Are they polite and respectful of you and your home? Are they secretive, arrogant or bullying? Does your teen’s behaviour change significantly around them? Meeting up with their parents can also help. Then if your teen is spending time at their house you know the environment they are in and the company they are keeping. It also opens a door for sharing concerns should you need to.
When your teen seeks the counsel of his friend before talking to you, don’t take offence. Instead, encourage them to share the advice and explore how they feel about it, helping them to identify the pros and cons. Being able to identify which friends are supportive, and which are unhelpful in your life is a tricky skill to master. Help you teen begin to see the value in this skill by offering guidance that helps them question what they are hearing and being told by their peers, instead of just accepting it at face value.
Set a Good Example
You are your child’s primary role model. Watching how you deal with social situations and difficulties is one of the ways children learn how to do it themselves. Be careful to show them via your own actions how you value good friendships, and manage bad ones. The best way to teach your children respect for themselves and others is to exhibit this behaviour yourself. So if you catch yourself bitching about an annoying colleague, or having a laugh at someone else’s expense, take a step back and imagine what this is showing your child.
Keep the Communication Lines Open
Teens are not renowned for their openness, so you may have to work a little to encourage your child to share their feelings and experiences with you. Show them that you are there for them, and willing to listen to and respect their opinions. You are their safe sounding board. This kind of positive relationship will help boost your child’s general self-esteem, and make it easier to talk to your teen if you have cause to be concerned about their behaviour or the company they are keeping.