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What Parents Can do to Address Toxic or Unhealthy Peer Groups

The tween and teen years are filled with risky and worrisome behaviors.  Some of the most significant health risks in life are started during adolescence and in the presence of peers. These include:

  • cigarette smoking
  • drug use
  • alcohol use
  • exposure to sexually transmitted diseases
  • involvement with the legal system
  • academic decline, including dropping out

When there is a negative peer influence, parental intervention becomes necessary. Here are some strategies that work to reduce negative peer influence.

  • Develop an open, honest and close relationship with your child. It is always a good thing to talk about peer pressure and how it works. Explain that it’s normal to want to fit in with others and to do what they’re doing. When children have an understanding of the process and the feelings involved, they are less likely to give in to it.
  • Get to know their friends. Accept that your child needs friends to learn about social skills and relationships.
  • Teach your child how to say “no.” As a parent, teach your child how to stand up for what they believe in. You can do this by role-playing responses to various situations. This gives children a chance to practice saying no to their peers and explain why they don’t want to get involved.
  • Encourage your child to have a wide variety of friends. If they have friends from dancing class and Scouts, as well as school, they will be exposed to many children with different ideas and interests. This will promote individuality and make it less likely for them to give into peer pressure from any one group.

Although a parent’s anxiety about peer pressure and the associated social risks is normal, we all need to remember how much we learned from our own explorations with various people in our lifetimes. Remember that peer influence can also be a protective influence and the peer support your child receives can be invaluable to their own well-being.

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