Schae Richards, community editor

The beginning of a new school year can be an exciting time for many students; however, some students come face-to-face with every parent’s worst enemy: peer pressure.

Jaynan Chancellor, a school counselor for Lincoln and Millville Elementary, said peer pressure can be described as the pressure to act or behave in a certain way. She said everyone is subject to effects of peer pressure, but that adolescents are generally the most vulnerable.

“In my experience, the term ‘peer pressure’ has most often referred to an adolescent dynamic,” she said. “Elementary-aged children are in developmental stages that highly regard parent opinion. Younger kids value and need parent support. On the other hand, the job of adolescents is to develop an identity. Often, they do this by experimenting with not being like their parents, and trying out different peer and social values.”

Jaynan said there is a difference between peer pressure and peer support. “I believe a lot of kids would have difficulty distinguishing between the two,” she said. “We might think of peer support as helping us do the right, most socially appropriate thing, the right way, for the right reasons.”

Similarly, Gina Spackman, a school counselor for Summit Elementary, said peer pressure can also be positive in certain situations. “Peer pressure is not always negative. There is also positive peer pressure,” she said. “Positive peer pressure can lead to the encouragement of learning a new skill, such as making friendship bracelets because all your friends have learned how to do it.”

Gina said negative peer pressure occurs when someone begins to influence his or her peers to do something that may have negative outcomes as a result. “Negative peer pressure is when peers influence other peers to do something that can lead to physical harm, reprimand, or negative consequences, such as shoplifting, drugs, alcohol, and other risky behaviors,” she said.

Jaynan said peer pressure is becoming “more virtual” through social media and email. “I believe that the concept of ‘peer pressure’ is changing in the age of social media,” she said. “It used to be that that part of growing up had to do with realizing that there was no ‘imaginary audience.’ Nowadays, a virtual audience distracts both teens and adults and can bring unnecessary and damaging drama into social situations that they are not equipped to deal with. Peer pressure is now, more commonly, virtual.”

When it comes to recognizing peer pressure, Jaynan said there are certain signs that parents should learn to recognize. “Anyone with or without friends is subject to peer pressure,” she said. “A sudden shift in attitude and preference could indicate peer pressure, but that could also be a result of being a typical adolescent.”

Gina said parents will learn to recognize these signs as they develop a strong relationship with their child. “It is vital to be present on a daily basis,” she said. “Turn off other distractions and be present for your kids. Have a conversation with them about something that they like to do.”

If a parent believes their child is dealing with peer pressure, Jaynan suggests the following tips:

  • Anticipate problems with your child.
  • Compliment your child for every criticism.
  • Tell a story that relates to your child’s situation.
  • Be careful when criticizing your child’s friends.
  • Use reflective listening when communicating with your child.
  • Speak honestly and empathetically with your child.