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My Son Finds It Difficult To Say No To Wrong Friends

by Adriaan
(Auckland, New Zealand)

My son is 17 turning 18 in Nov,this year. He finds it very difficult to say No to his friends. In fact he doesn't want to be friends with them, but doesn't have the guts to tell them that.

He admits to me that he doesn't know how not to be friends with them. I suggested that I pick him up from school, and try to arrange some activities with him after school, just so that he won't fall in the 'trap' of having to or wanting to go with them.

Can you help please,
Any help...

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Teenagers And Peer Pressure - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Adriaan,

Peer pressure is very powerful, we only have to look at the riots in England recently to see how teenagers, and even adults got swept up in the energy of the crowd and did things they would not normally do.

Getting caught up in going along with the crowd, even when they don't particularly want to is pretty common at this age. For teenagers, their peer group is incredibly important, and very powerful, and it can be really hard to stand up and say no when you don't want to participate in activities or behaviour that he might be finding uncomfortable, or he knows is not acceptable. Totally making a break away from a group of friends unless he has other friends or activities to help him switch focus, will probably be too difficult.

Not all peer pressure is negative though, teenagers need a peer group to bounce ideas off, to share how they feel with other kids going through the same thing. But of course risk taking, and testing boundaries are par for the course, and teenagers don't always think of the consequences of their actions.

It is not just a matter of being strong and having the guts to stand up to his mates. It is actually a stage of development he is going through. A teenager's brain development, is learning about controlling impulses, seeing the bigger picture and the development of morals and values. This is an on going process until about 25 years old, so he has a way to go yet.

Your relationship with him is one of the critical factors. Teenagers that feel that they can talk to Mum and Dad, that don't feel they are always in trouble, being judged or criticized, are much more likely to turn to you for support. Clearly you have been talking with him about this issue, and that is so important.

The better self worth he has, the better he is able to stand up for what he believes is right, rather than feeling he has to go along with the group to be accepted. So you can help by making sure you are not putting him down or getting mad with him when he does hang out with them.

Part Two Follows . . . .

Teenagers And Peer Pressure - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

He will need to develop the skills bit by bit, it is not a matter of just coming up with the guts to break away from them totally. It is more likely that he will learn to gradually distance himself and build new friendships and there will be times when he stuffs up and hangs out with them when it is not really what he wants, or because there is not anything else that is more interesting to get his attention.

He may also be in two minds about it all. To please you and because he knows the group are getting up to behavior he knows you will disapprove of, he may be saying he doesn't want to be friends with them. But on the other hand the need to be included, to be cool, to be part of the group, maybe the excitement of being with them, will also be seductive and there probably
are times he has a lot of fun with them. So it may not be black and white to him.

It takes time to build new friendships, so dumping one group could leave him very isolated and alone until he builds new friendships. Teenagers that feel isolated are much more likely to participate in risky or harmful behaviour in order to fit in.

Without lecturing, help him to learn that his friends need to respect his boundaries and if the
friendship is conditional on his misbehaving with them, then it really is not a friendship that is caring about him, or serving him in the long run.

Part Three Follows . . .

Teenagers And Peer Pressure - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

As a parent we have to trust in our kids and let them go and make mistakes. He may not be very happy with his friends right now, and he is exploring and learning and moving into a new stage in his life. It needs to be OK for him to make mistakes. Mistakes are only a bad thing if we don't learn from them or keep repeating the same things. A mistake is simply a Miss Take - so usually we have the opportunity to play it again in a better way, or do something differently in a similar situation. We would not yell at a toddler when they fall over as they are learning to walk. It is the same with teenagers, they are learning to be their own person - pulling away from parents, to peers, then to being more adult and making choices that are going to serve them better. So it is just a big learning curve he is on at present and he will get through it.

Maintaining your relationship with him is what is most important. Backing him up when he needs the excuse of Mum or Dad - or having an agreed way out. Maybe he can send you a text and you have agreed in advance you will come and pick him up, no questions asked.

Teenagers need to know they are not on their own when they are feeling out of their depth. If they know they always have backup then they may be less likely to go along with something they might regret afterwards. When my daughter was 15 and starting to go to parties, I was shocked at how many of these young girls had no arrangement for getting home, or very little parental support. We ended up being on call for several of these girls on a regular basis, to give them some safety and security.

Your ideas of picking him up and helping him to get involved in other activities are a good idea, and he also needs to learn for himself to start to say no.

Part Four Follows . . .

Teenagers And Peer Pressure - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

It is probably too extreme to totally break with them, and could even get unpleasant at school if he did, as he still needs to be able to get on with them to some extent if they are in the same classes. So maybe he can just do it gradually, and choose which activities he is most uncomfortable with, or make a series of smaller stands.

If he can be prepared in advance with some statements that he can use when put on the spot, and then practice using them when it is not such a big deal, then he will get more confident at standing strong and being his own person when the pressure is on.

It takes practice to get the confidence to buck the group, and he will not be able to do it all at once. This is a normal part of growing up, learning the skills to say no, and gaining the confidence to be able to be different to the group. In actual fact we are conditioned from a very young age to conform, fit in and go along with the group. Unfortunately by teenage years, the group norms can become more rebellious against authority, so that conforming to the group can become something that potentially puts him at risk.

Building courage to hold out against the group is a series of mini steps. Maybe each week he can choose a day to practice saying he is not coming after school that day. They will ask why not, and pressure him to join them so he needs some ideas in advance as to what he is going to say. He doesn't need to get into big explanations, just keep it simple, and even using the broken record technique - saying pretty much the same thing quietly over and over.

"Sorry Guys, I've got something else I'm doing today."
"No I'm not up for it today, I've got stuff I want to do at home."
"I'm tied up today, I'll see you guys in the morning."

Part Five Follows . . .

Teenagers And Peer Pressure - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Of course he wants to be cool, and doesn't want to give the impression that he is a Mummy's boy, or that he can't stand up to Mum or Dad, and that is the dilemma of peer pressure. Teenagers are pulling away and needing to make their own decisions, and don't want to appear that they have to toe the line at home too much, or get told they are a looser.

He might feel having you picking him up from school is going to look very uncool - and that is something pretty important to a teenager. But maybe he can have some 'excuses' that he can fall back on to help him have the confidence to hold out against them.

You have a major influence on him, and he will be well aware of your expectations, values and concerns. What is important though is that he is not feeling pressured by you to make a stand, be uncool, or that he is in constant trouble. Our teenagers will learn to handle tricky situations, and make better choices when they have some coaching or conversations with parents to prepare them.

Maybe he can run through the kind of situations he is finding difficult, and explore how he feels and how he might handle it differently next time. Having your support to even just talk about how hard it is to stand up to his peers, without you actually having to do anything, is incredibly important. Teenagers mostly need to sound things out, to be able to talk about tricky issues or how hard the pressure can be. Sometimes they need information, such as issues around sexuality, contraception or information about the risks of drugs. But you don't have to fix it all up for him, or come up with ways to protect him.

If you put your energy into boosting his self esteem, valuing his strengths, giving him responsibility and trusting him, and less energy into worrying and being anxious about the kinds of things he might be getting up to, he will have a better foundation to bounce off from. Letting him know you trust him to make better choices
next time, or you know he is trying really hard to do the right thing, will have a much more positive impact on him.

Part Six Follows . . .

Teenagers And Peer Pressure - Part Six
by: Annie Desantis

Teach him about deep breathing. This is a really simple technique, but will give him a few moments to focus and think when he is feeling he is getting swayed. If he plants his feet firmly, and takes a deep breath right down into his belly, it will ground him and help him to feel strong. Then he will feel more connected to himself and what he really wants to do.

Help him to find other activities that he might be interested in is a good idea. Firstly, he has something else he is getting involved in, and will make other friends. Secondly, there are activities that might also help him to develop inner strength, and self esteem, and better team values. Some sports or marshal arts could be good if he is that way inclined, as there are lots of positive values that are emphasized in them. Or maybe there are volunteer groups he can join that fit with something he is interested in. Drama groups could give him lots of opportunities for learning and exploring himself and getting confidences and skills to speak out. Animal shelters are always looking for helpers, or there are environmental groups that have all sorts of activities that need plenty of volunteers. Help him to focus on his strengths and interests and try out different groups so he can explore other parts of his personality or develop new skills. Teens who feel valued and feel they have something to contribute find it much easier to maintain their sense of self and uphold family values.

The teenage years are not always easy, there is huge pressure on our kids to perform well at school, learn about relationships, and start making major decisions towards their future. So just love him, listen and be there for him as he finds his way through it all. Remember he is still developing and growing and choosing his path, so keep your connection with him as the most important foundation of your relationship and trust that he will do just fine, and all your hard work as a parent is a big part of who he is.

with love,
Annie D :)

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