It seems to happen overnight. Your little son and daughter, who seemingly just started grammar school, have grown up! They’re teenagers now and suddenly, clothes and the way they look are just as important as music and the latest smartphone. The greatest influences in their lives, their parents and teachers, take a back seat to the name of a group of individuals most parents are terrified hearing: The PEER GROUP!
So who is this peer group? How bad can it be? Can there be positive and negative sides to the peer group?
There really is no ‘peer group,’ but just peer pressure, according to Scholastic (2015). As teenagers spend more and more time away from home, they’re becoming independent. They want to fit in with a group and be accepted by them. There is nothing more powerful than being accepted by these friends. If you take a step back, you’ll notice they’ll be wearing similar clothes, listening to the same music and having similar hobbies.
Peer influence can be very positive. For instance, if the teen is in a group that values high grades (i.e getting into college), volunteering for community events, or sports, one couldn’t ask for a better situation. Scholastic (2015) tells us that teenagers who are parts of groups like these actually are modifying their brains in a process called ‘synaptic pruning,’ where they will build strong pathways that will help them build a lifetime of creativity, challenge and learning that is constantly evolving. Sounds wonderful, right?
Of course, there is the ‘dark side’ to peer influence. This can be a scary time for parents because many teens might be tempted to try new things they’ve never had access to before. (i.e. alcohol and drugs). Even using a substance ONCE can start the process of addiction for some teens. No one really starts using substances with the intention of becoming an addict. It begins slowly and for some individuals, it’s hard to reverse. Research is being done in this field, trying to unravel why someone can use Marijuana a few times, and stop using it. The next individual could be addicted for life.
So what can you do as parents? It’s important to have a conversation with teens about the dangers of drugs. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. Or NCAD, (n.d.) tells us that 53.3% of 12th graders in their survey never used any illegal drug, and 58% never smoked Marijuana. These kinds of facts could be used to challenge the teen’s thinking, which we hear so often, “Well everyone is smoking Marijuana, so what’s the big deal?” Parents need to avoid a power struggle with their kids and ultimately, the concept of ‘condoning’ alcohol and/or substance abuse is definitely wrong. For instance, the parents who ‘host’ a party at their house for underage drinking….or tell their kids, ‘Pot is okay…I did it” or even parents who SMOKE pot with their kids. All of these instances send powerful messages.
NCAD (n.d.) has an excellent point of reminding parents and teens, to have a discussion about finding NEW friends, because, “hanging around friends” getting drunk or high may lead to the road of addictions.
To learn more about the Tallahassee Memorial Behavioral Health Center and the services available, please visit TMH.org or call 850-431-5100.
By: Paul Knoll, PhD, LMHC, CAP