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Peer Pressure

Peer influences can be hard to deal with, particularly as kids age and want to be seen as adults. Hence comes this question from reader George into the parenting mailbag (E-mail your own question to

"How do you keep a 12- and 13-year-old girl away from junk food, cosmetics, alcohol, drugs and sex while under the influence of school, peers and TV?"

Even if your tween or teen makes it seem like they don't want you around, you are still the great influential in your child's life.

The key, though, is not to try to control every situation. Teach your child how to respond to negative influences. Talk to her about how to say no to alcohol and drugs. Rather than pushing a battle to "eliminate" junk food, keep healthy choices in the house and talk about why trans fats are unhealthy. Then, expect that when your child is with her friends, she's going to make unhealthy choices as well as healthy ones. Instead of laying down the law that no cosmetics are acceptable, find a compromise. Maybe some lip gloss is fine, but eye makeup goes too far?

The National Mental Health Information Center offers some terrific tips on peer pressure. One biggie: Encourage friends who don't drink alcohol, do drugs or have sex. There's strength in numbers, and your daughter will have an easier time saying "no" if their close friends aren't the ones pressuring them.

What do the rest of you think? What works and doesn't work with your kids?

Today's Talkers: 'Is Your Baby Gay?' ... For Teachers, Middle School Is Test of Wills ... The Getting Into Preschool Puzzle

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 19, 2007; 7:23 AM ET  | Category:  Teens , Tweens
Previous: The Debate: No Child Left Behind | Next: Straight Talk for Teens


I don't know about the rest but the junk food one may be solved by not buying that much of it. My issue with food is always, everything in moderation. Like pick two nights a week to have dessert. Provide plenty of healthy alternatives. Instead of cookies after school, how about popcorn or fruit, cheese and crackers. Also add exercise into your lifestyle regime. But I am just guessing here. I have a very picky 3 year old at home.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 19, 2007 7:56 AM | Report abuse

I've worked with a lot of tweens and teens although my own son is just a toddler.

But I believe very strongly that kids learn to make choices by making choices, and that part of raising kids who will be able to say no to their peers is encouraging them to have their own strong voice in their family. (Barbara Coloroso's books back me up on this, too. :))

I really think that parents need to give their kids some space to make mistakes - guided space, so that things are discussed afterwards. So at 5 or 7, you let your child spend their allowance on junk food on a weekend and then discuss whether they might have wanted to save that money for a toy instead and how the candy made their tummy ache. That's a pretty good start on not buying and consuming drugs for about the reasons one wouldn't want to (besides the legality of it).

The kids that I've seen get into the most trouble (as a general rule of course; there are totally exceptions) are the ones whose parents didn't give them space to make choices and experience the consequences when the stakes were lower.

Having said all that, once one's child is at the age where peers become supreme sometimes I do think you have to step in. I am still close with a girl who was in the "wrong crowd" until her parents /made/ her go to camp for a summer to get away from them. At that camp she discovered a huge talent for drama, and then she hung out with the theatre crowd instead of the smoking/drugs crowd. Her parents were really wise to intervene right there and then and good for them.

Posted by: Shandra | March 19, 2007 8:56 AM | Report abuse

There are a couple of talking points here.

First, these are important topics to think about and talk about with your child before they are 12 or 13 years old. For example, junk food is something that even young children should learn is a rare treat, rather than part of a regular diet. Imparting your values to your children is something that needs to happen long before she starts to enter adolescence. Adolescents are in a place where they need to evaluate parental choices and values, and will do that by testing outside of your values. You just have to accept that testing as your children reaching outside of the family unit and defining their identity.

Second, choose your battles. It may be that you should just let go of the junk food, in exchange for putting all of your influence on a more important topic, like drug use or sexuality.

Third, remember that your relationship is more important than anything else. If you do not have a good relationship with your teenager, you will have absolutely no influence. So, except in truly extreme cases, don't let go of your relationship, even if you are really hurting over what your teenager is doing. Let them know you're hurting, but don't let your hurt come between you.

Karen Rayne

Posted by: Karen Rayne | March 19, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Try to subtly manipulate your kid into situations where the other kids will be a good influence, rather than a bad one.

This is the main justification for the existence of academic magnet programs, which would otherwise be useless elitist nonsense.

Peer pressure can sometimes be a good thing.

Posted by: Lee | March 19, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I think it is extremely important to influence your tweens and teens to associate themselves with people who have values similar to yours. In high school, my parents never said "Jane" can't be your friend, but asked me questions about "Jane" that made me realize that the two of us had different goals in life. This made me decide not to spend as much time with people who didn't have similar goals. This wasn't easy, I'd known some of these girls since elementary school, but it was for the best. One very close friend from high school points out that the main reason we were friends is because our parents were strict and wouldn't let us hang out anywhere with just anybody.

I think the only mark my parents missed was dating. I wasn't allowed to date or have boys over even if both parents were home. I wish they hadn't done this because its amazing what your parents see in people that you don't. But since I was around other girls that couldn't date, nothing bad happened in high school. The bad things came later in life. I think that maybe if I learned some of the things to look out for, learned how a man should treat you, earlier in life, it would have helped to avoid some pitfalls in my 20's. Granted, I may not have listened to everything they said at the time, but it would have influenced me to make better decisions later.

I agree that peer pressure can be a good thing if your child is around the right peergroup.

Posted by: Cali Esq | March 19, 2007 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I heartily recommend a book called Bobbi Brown Teenage Beauty. It's a discussion of how to help teenage girls appreciate and accentuate their own beauty. Her advice about makeup is very conservative and takes into account age and setting (everyday vs. special occasion). She has photographs of a diverse group of girls and does not advertise her own cosmetics. Chinaberry books recommended this book and my daughter and her friends like it very much. It's available on Amazon.

Posted by: Cathy | March 19, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

One thing I think parents can do is to remain calm with their kids.

I remember coming home from school when I was about 13 and telling my mom I wanted to dye my hair pink. My mom said OK. She asked why I wanted to do it and how I would pay for it, what would I do if it didn't turn out how I wanted it, etc. We talked for about 10 minutes. First, at 13 I was looking to shock her and I didn't get the response I wanted. Second, I left the conversation thinking about if I really wanted to have pink hair or if I was doing it because I thought someone else would like it. I didn't dye my hair pink. I realized I would look weird with pink hair. I did get a few goofy haircuts and I did wear way too much make up but it was the 80s. No matter what I came up with, my mom was always calm and she never said I was forbidden to do something. If she disapproved of something or didn't want me to have it (skin tight jeans, makeup, pink hair), she told me to save my money and buy it myself.

Regarding makeup, I think it's a good idea to take teens to a salon or store and get them a lesson in applying makeup. This way they can learn to wear it without looking like a clown.

Posted by: MOMto3 | March 19, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Find out who their friends are and make nice with the friend's parents. Nothing like parenting spy networks. Many years ago, I found out that my underaged sister was drinking. Problem was addressed.

That being said, kids will screw up. Let them learn from their mistakes. Be sure your kids know where YOU draw the line and why. And, set realistic standards. My parents wouldn't let me wear makeup before I was 13. That was certainly more reasonable than no make-up ever.

Finally, just want to echo that some peer pressure is good. Peer pressure had my son toilet trained inside a week. Peer pressure help a core group of my friends and I on the honor roll in high school. None of us wanted to be the stupid kids!

Posted by: LM in WI | March 19, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Neither I nor any of my high-school friends were into the whole "does-he-like-me/boy-crazy/sex" thing. Big reason for this was that we attended an all-girls' private school. Sure, we had mixers with guys every couple of weeks, but take away the everyday drama of going to school with guys and thus concentrating more on our hair than on our grades, and life was a lot simpler, both for us and for our parents. It gave us a very laissez-faire, take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards boys, relationships and sex that endured even when we all ended up at coed colleges. I personally think it's made us stronger and healthier women ... which is why my daughter will most likely be going to my alma mater :)

Posted by: StudentMom | March 19, 2007 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I find it disturbing that most of these comments are about junk food and makeup and not sex/drugs/alcohol. You have to pick your battles, and I pick the ones that don't involve fiery car crashes, overdoses, STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 19, 2007 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I was one of those who didn't wear any makeup in high school: partly from parents who didn't like it and partly from my own anti-establishment-ness (the establishment being girls who rejected me who liked makeup). Now I wish I had learned how to use makeup. I have seen many an ordinary-looking girl look much prettier when wearing makeup. High school is a good time to learn, because you have friends who can tell you which colors work for you, etc. It's a lot harder as an adult. I second the idea of taking daughters to a professional who can show them what to do.

Posted by: m | March 19, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I think you just have to keep on with the same message and remember that you do have an impact, even -- or maybe especially -- when you feel there's no hope or that your child is no longer influenced by you. Raise them not to be too influenced by looks and things that are transitory, and see what happens. It's a crapshoot anyway.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 19, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

You start at age 1.

This requires you to decide specifically what values and availability you will want your kid to have. You can always add more later, but it's very hard to take away something once it's been given.

Secondly, you're developing values and decision making skills- not just habits. This means a lot of connecting and talking to eachother, again starting early, about these issues DIRECTLY. You have to show them how to look inside, decide what will work for them, assess consequences. It starts way before 12/13 and it means you'll have to be completely comfortable discussing all of those things.

Thirdly, get to know their friends personally. Supervise as much as you can, welcome friends to provide them a cool place to stay while in reality you're just making sure things are close and controlled.

Make everything an opportunity to connect. Make a sweet treats day an experience together by going out, picking out pieces and then eating them together and enjoying the taste. I love the idea someone had about taking them to get their make up done professionally. Let them know that you are giving them the tools so they can know what to do on their own.

And again, it's about teaching them to value themselves and make decisions they consider best.

Posted by: Liz D | March 19, 2007 2:36 PM | Report abuse

As a soon-to-be parent, I have a question. How do you strike a balance between (a) being so rigid that your kids go underground and hide everything from you, so you have no chance to influence them, and (b) being the overly permissive parent whose kid ends up a drunken jackass?

My parents have told me they regret being super-rigid about alcohol when I was in high school, because it drove a wedge between us and forced me to hide even the most benign adolescent experimentation. As a result, I never got the benfit of pushing up against reasonable limits, and became a very heavy high school and college drinker. The flip side, of course, is that the kids I was drinking with were usually the ones whose parents were more permissive.

Posted by: rodjohnson | March 19, 2007 2:37 PM | Report abuse

while it's great to encourage your child to find friends who don't do whatever behavior it is you're trying to get your child to stop doing you have to assume that your child is motivated to stop. friends put their daughter in expensive private parochial school to get her away from the bottom feeders at the public school. she found the bottom feeders at the private school and they were just as bad as the ones in public school. daughter's behavior did not change.

Posted by: quark | March 19, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Anon @ 1:39 - You can use the same strategies for sex, drugs & alcohol. Talk about these things. Relate your own experiences. When something happens to a friend/classmate/acquaintance/relative, you have to talk to your kids about it. Give them facts and information. Tell them why you think they shouldn't engage in the behaviors, but be there for your kids. Do things one-on-one with them when you can...go to lunch, take in a movie, share an interest with your kids. It gives you a chance to just talk without sounding like a preacher. Make sure your kids know how special they are to you....if they have love at home, they won't have to look for it in the wrong places.

Posted by: MOMto3 | March 19, 2007 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Establish a good relationship with your child. Always be willing to listen and set a good example. Give them a little room when they are young and increase it as they age. They will possible make some mistakes to learn. As they get older you can not be with them 24/7 and they will have to make the right decisions.
Then Pray.

Posted by: Aj | March 19, 2007 4:46 PM | Report abuse

If you want kids to respect you, you need to treat them with respect--set clear boundaries, explain your decisions/reasons, but maybe most importantly listen to what they have to say and ask them to explain their reasons. As a parent/role model I think one of the best things you can do is teach your child how to make critical discissions and learn moderation.

Posted by: ebarr | March 19, 2007 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I don't remember doing anything stupid as a teenager because of television or school. I did a number of stupid things trying to impress people I wanted to be my friends.

Posted by: Recall | March 21, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Guess what? They were never impressed like I thought they would be and we never did become friends.

Posted by: Recall | March 21, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

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