Peer pressure is feeling pushed to be like other people. It plays a big role in how your child dresses, talks, and acts. The need to fit in and be respected by others can change the way your child behaves. Peer pressure can be hard to resist. Sometimes, children in groups do things and act in ways they'd never do on their own.
Peer pressure is often seen as something negative. However, peer pressure can also be a positive influence. For example, your child may want to join a sports group, a school club, or try to get better grades if one of his friends is doing the same.
Peer pressure happens at all ages, even with toddlers. They see playmates playing with dolls or building a tower with blocks and they want to do the same. Toddlers can also see them do something they know they should not do, but they follow along. This may be something like jumping on the beds, digging in flower pots, or running in the house.
As children enter grade school, positive peer pressure can prompt them to study harder for tests, behave well in class or join a team. Or, peer pressure may shape negative behaviors, such as shoplifting, breaking house rules, or breaking school rules.
Middle school and high school students deal with riskier issues. Peer pressure is positive if it helps your child make good choices about dating, college, and drugs. Negative peer pressure can lead to poor choices about smoking, drinking, or sex.
As early as age 3 or 4, your child may realize that there are other values, opinions, and rules besides those set by parents. It is normal for your child to start challenging you, testing the limits and rules to see how far he can bend or break them.
Peer pressure becomes a problem when your child's friends try to talk him into doing something that is dangerous or against the law. Examples include smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, cutting classes, damaging property, or stealing. Although your child may know something is harmful, he may choose to do it because he wants to be liked, to fit in, or to be accepted. He may go along because he is curious to try something "everyone else" is doing.
Your child may worry that other kids may make fun of him if he doesn't go along with the group. Peer pressure can be very strong and convince your child to ignore his common sense.
Watch for signs of change in your child's normal behavior, particularly behaviors that go against your family's value system. If your child seems to be struggling with peer pressure, contact her school counselor or healthcare provider for help.