Helping Children Choose the Right Friends

Saturday, 07 February 2009 12:44


As parents, we often worry about how much influence our children’s friends have on them.  However research suggests that most youth don’t feel overt pressure from their peers to use alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs. Young people report that the pressure to do drugs, smoke or drink comes more from wanting to be accepted, wanting to belong and wanting to be noticed.  In other words, youth drug use often has more to do with the need for peer acceptance rather than an inability to “just say no” to their peers.

Children want others to like them.  Sometimes the group they want to join might be drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, sniffing inhalants, smoking weed or using crack. Sometimes youth turn to alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs to overcome anxiety, change their personality or give them courage to talk to other people.

Our society is flooded with messages that encourage our young people to use alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. These messages may convince young people that they should join “the in crowd.”  The myth that “everyone is doing it” fuels the perception that drug use is normal.  The reality is that most young people consistently overestimate the number of their friends who use alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs.

Young people often say that they learn more from their friends than their family when they reach adolescence.  But studies have found that these same adolescents would prefer to learn about a variety of important topics from their parents and other caring adults.  While peer influence increases during the teen years, the influence of caring adults can remain strong if you have established a solid relationship during the earlier years. 

Action Steps to Help Your Children Cope with Peer Pressure and the Need for Peer Acceptance

  1. Establish the clear message that you, as a caring adult, do not want them to use alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.  Parents, grandparents, elders, aunts and uncles, foster parents, guardians, mentors and others can play a strong role to help young people face pressures to use alcohol and drugs.  In fact, the most common reasons that young people give for not using alcohol and drugs is not wanting to harm the relationship between themselves and the caring adults in their lives.
  2. Help your child practice resisting peer pressure.  For young people, most peer pressure is just as subtle as it is for most adults.  Let’s pretend that you have just started a low-fat diet and you’ve been at a friend’s home for a party.  They’ve been eating chips and dip, but you’ve resisted.  Now, it’s time to leave and, as you drive home with your neighbour, she suggests stopping for some fried chicken.  You mutter something about being on a diet and she says, “Oh come on, just one piece of chicken won’t kill you!”  This is peer pressure, and it’s the same feeling a child experiences when their friends encourage them to smoke marijuana.

This is why practicing peer pressure resistance is important.  Find creative ways to help your children refuse alcohol, tobacco and drugs, such as role playing. Children, especially younger ones, love to pretend.    Role-play should involve saying no to things that your child knows are harmful or against the rules, such as playing with matches, stealing a cookie or smoking a cigarette. This cannot be a one-time session.

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Centre for Substance Abuse Prevention.