Peer and Pressure Proofing our Teens

Peer proofing our teens is not very easy in our always on social networking driven world. We all hope and pray we have given our teens the skills and resources to handle life on a day-to-day basis but we’re also fully aware of the fact that we can’t control our teen’s environment like we could when they were younger.

I remember when our oldest daughter was about 3 years old and we went through a biting stage with her. Obviously it was frustrating to us and embarrassing that she bit so we had a specific “time out” process for her when she shared her frustrations through biting.

One particular day we were at play group with about 15 other moms and their kids and one of the little boys was doing his norm of bullying all of the other kids and wreaking havoc on the play time. He had already been disciplined a few times by his mom but he didn’t seem to be giving up on pushing, stealing toys, and hitting.

I had watched it all go down and hadn’t really thought anything of it because he had not messed with Maddison, my daughter. To be honest, I remember thinking that mom needed to do a better job disciplining her son, you know, the type of thought you have with your first child, but never with your second or third child because perspective has settled in.

Well of course, before too long the little boy picked a fight with Maddison. So, what did Maddison do to defend herself? She bit him! There were teeth marks but no blood thank goodness. When it happened I kind of remember getting this really odd feeling. Part of me was embarrassed, part of me was frustrated, and part of me proud. Yup! Proud. He was messing with her and she gave him a little piece of her mind. She defended herself. She made sure he knew she wasn’t the one to mess with. It was interesting because several of the other moms that had kids that had been bullied cheered Maddison on and shockingly said they wished their child would do that. Even the little boys’ mom joked about the fact that she was pretty sure her son would never try to steal a toy from Maddison again and felt it was good that her son had finally been put in his place. Obviously I did my normal routine and disciplined Maddison but I recall going a little bit easy on her because I felt he did “kind of” deserve the bite.

In our teens current culture they need a little bit of spit to handle the amount of peer pressure they experience every day. Now, I’m willing to call it respectful spit but let’s be honest, if they’re totally passive and not trained to handle the situations they will face as a teen, they might end up in some very concerning environments and situations.


Unless our teens stay home all the time and don’t interact with their peers they will be confronted. Sometimes the peer pressure is serious and the teen is trying to figure out how to find balance between a friendship and a risky situation. Other times, the situation may be a spur-of-the-moment event, where drinking or sexual activity is available in a casual situation, such as a party or hanging out with friends with time on their hands and nothing to do. Other factors involve curiosity or trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing. Often times the reason for engaging in unhealthy activity is because in the moment it seemed like fun and there wasn’t any thought about the possible consequences.

Because these situations will occur, our teens need to know some refusal skills and have a plan of action in advance. If they don’t practice saying no, or know how to say no, it’s rare that they will say no. So, what are we doing to peer proof and pressure proof our teens? Do you talk to them about what to do if something starts to go down or if things have gone too far? Does your teen have a code word they can say or text to you that allows them to use you as an excuse? Not only do they need to know what the healthy boundary is, they need to know how to communicate it to their peers and how to follow through with it even when they are going against the crowd, the feeling, the popularity, the temptation, the curiosity, the party….

And, to be most effective, our teens really need to own the boundaries themselves. You can set rules that provide some boundaries, but once they have their driver’s license they kind of have freedom to be selective in what rules they obey. Our goal is that our teens will buy into healthy boundary setting and internalize it because they realize it’s in their best interest. It moves them toward the future they want. Personal ownership of the healthy boundary lends to sticking with the healthy boundary more so than obeying mom and dad’s rules.

In the classroom with the students we discuss boundary setting but also discuss how it needs to be a whole body approach and not just words coming out of their mouth. They need to not only know what is best for them in their head, they need to believe it in their heart and have words that match it coming out of their mouth. They need their body language and some confidence to present themselves and they need their feet to move them away from unhealthy and dangerous environments.

As you discuss not giving in to peer pressure with your teen consider role-playing some common scenarios and identifying some great responses. Let’s not assume they know how to stand up for themselves on their own, let’s help them along and give them some examples to work off of. Partner with your teen to help them counter the pressure they will be up against. Even though we wish peer pressure wasn’t a concern, it is, so we need to embrace it and equip our teens to handle it.

And lastly, now having a 22 year old, a 19 year old, and a 16 year old, I will say we also need to understand that our teens will fail, they will mess up. And when they do, we are given this huge opportunity to start the process over. We have a saying for that in our home. We say we will pick them up, brush them off, and bring them home. Yes, there will be natural consequences for poor and unhealthy choices but we also have learned to understand that this is their practice ground for real life. If they’re going to mess up, we hope it’s a little mess up, while they’re under our roof and safe so they can learn from their mistake and move on toward healthier choices.

The “Feelings” Myth