Teaching Teens and Pre-Teens To Resist Peer Pressure

By Dr. Michael H. Popkin

Most parents realize that to “just say no” to smoking, sex, drugs or violence is a lot easier said than done for our kids. All humans have a strong need to belong and that need is often stronger in kids, especially teens and pre-teens. As teens move from their “home group” of family towards independence, the desire to find other groups to belong to becomes very strong.

The best way to help your teen or pre-teen cope with peer pressure is to talk to them about it. Ask them, “Have you ever found yourself doing something you didn’t really want to do because your friends, or people you wanted as friends, were doing it? If your child denies it, give them some examples of situations they might not think of as peer pressure such as:


  • Wearing trendy jeans or sneakers because “everyone’s wearing them”.
  • Participating in a standing ovation just because most of the audience was doing it.
  • Laughing at something because their friends thought it was funny.


This subtle pressure to go along (or “conform”) with a group is often called peer pressure, but in reality what we see more is peer conformity.

This may come as a surprise, but it’s actually pretty rare for teens to actively “pressure” other teens to smoke or partake in other high-risk activities. More often, what happens is a friend or acquaintance offers your child the opportunity to do something (such as smoking) and they do it, thinking they’re freely choosing to participate. But usually what they’re really choosing is to conform to the group.

Since people often prefer to be friends with others who share their interests, the unconscious thinking from your child is that in order to be liked, I need to do the things my friends like to do. Take smoking, for example. If the group they’re with likes to smoke, your child may think they have a better chance of being “in” with the group if they smoke too. No one is pressuring outwardly, but the pressure is there just the same.

To combat peer conformity, we need to nurture in our kids the ability to resist in a way that feels good to them. For this, they need three main things:


  1. Knowing their rights
  2. The courage to do what’s right
  3. A good comeback line


Let’s go over these one by one.

1. Knowing their rights

Kids need to recognize they have the right to say “no” to peer pressure and the right to determine what’s “cool” for them. Help your teen or pre-teen identify the goals and values in their life so they can stay true to what’s important to them.

2. The courage to do what’s right

Explain to your child they have an obligation to do the right thing as best they can determine, and sometimes this takes courage. Some examples:


  • The courage to risk being left out of a group, a party or an activity
  • The courage to have others think they aren’t cool, brave, or one of them


3. A good comeback line

Saying “no” is a skill. How your teen refuses something can leave them feeling good or bad, depending on how they pull it off. Most teens want to sway “no” in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling foolish. Work with your child to find a way of saying “no” that they’re comfortable with.

Dr. Michael Popkin, the longtime spokesman for Lorillard’s Youth Smoking Prevention Program, is the founder of Active Parenting Publishers and is the author of many award winning video-based parenting education programs.

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