Middle school and high school are some of the most important years of young people’s lives. It’s when they begin establishing their own identity and building the people they will be as adults. Because of how impactful these years can be on long-term success and development, it’s crucial that young people surround themselves with peers who are positive influences. Talking with your children about the company they keep is important, and the earlier you start, the better your chances are of steering them away from negative relationships during their teen years.
The Important of Peer Pressure
Peer pressure is a term so overused that your teenage (or tween) child is likely to roll their eyes the second you mention it. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the kind of people your children surrounds themselves with will have an impact on the people that they become.
What you should impress upon your children is that their friends can pressure them to succeed, to improve themselves, and to build a great life, or they can pressure them into breaking the law, skipping school, and getting into a lot of trouble. While trouble can be appealing to the rebellious nature of many teenagers, the truth is that those positive friendships will be much better for them in the long run. Finding friends who excel at the same things and who have similar life goals (such as college or a particular career track) is a great way to ensure peer pressure is pushing them toward positive changes in their life, not negative ones.
The Danger of Being an Accessory
Perhaps you have a child who has a strong, well-developed sense of morals and an already clear personality. They, and even you, may be less concerned about peer pressure because of their ability to be true to themselves and their sense of right and wrong. However, even if your child is able to avoid directly engaging in dangerous, possibly illegal behavior such as underage drinking, they can still get into trouble if their friends are engaging in that kind of behavior.
It’s important to discuss the concept of “guilt by association” with your child. If their friends are caught shoplifting at a store, for example, simply being with them while they are committing a crime could be enough to get your child in trouble. The same will likely be true if they are walking with a friend on a sidewalk and police stop them, only to discover their friend has cannabis in their backpack.
Even if your child isn’t lumped in with those actively committing minor crimes, they are still at risk for being charged as an accessory. Make sure your child understands that even something as innocent-seeming as a text message acknowledging that their friends are going drinking could end up causing them legal issues. Any evidence (including a verbal admission to authorities) that your child had foreknowledge of a crime before it was committed or was aware of something illegal after it was done could be enough to get them into real trouble.
Look for Friends for Life
The best kinds of friends are friends that can share much of life’s journey with a person. Encourage your child to find friends who share their values, beliefs, and dreams. Doing so will benefit them as well as their friends, as they can encourage each other to follow their passions and share in the small joys of life. If your child prioritizes making friends with people they can imagine still enjoying in their 20s, 30s, or later, that can go a long way toward avoiding the most negative relationships available to them.
Of course, what friendships your child is able to form is a result of with whom they have regular interaction. If their school doesn’t offer many options, it may be a good idea to encourage them to find friendships via extracurricular activities or even online. There are great social networking sites available these days that can help your teen connect with others who share their values and passions. Whatever you do, be sure to encourage your child to be their best self and to try to bring out the best in others.