Part 3: How to help your teen to combat peer pressure around alcohol



It’s normal for young people to worry about fitting in. We’ve all been there and in fact some of us oldies still battle with it today! Peer groups play a key role in people’s lives, particularly during adolescence where feeling liked and accepted by our peers is key to our sense of belonging. With this often comes ‘peer pressure’ – a level of influence that groups can have over how our teens think and act in all areas of their lives. While peer pressure can be a great tool in helping our young people to try new things and grow self-confidence, it can also lead our teens to do things they wouldn’t usually do. It can challenge their views of what’s right or wrong and impact both self-esteem and mental health, something that can be especially true when it comes to trying alcohol.

Yes, there are other forces at play such as social media and celebrities which can also influence our kids’ attitude towards alcohol but how can we as parents help our kids to combat this and make sure they are making the choice that are right for them when it comes to alcohol?

The answer is quite simple, and it starts with you – the parent. The best protection for teens when it comes to peer pressure is having a strong, open and supportive relationship with their parents.

As discussed in the ‘Educate’ section of Part 1 in this series, you, the parent(s), are the single most important influence in your teen’s life (although they are unlikely to ever admit it). Your relationship with them and with alcohol in general can help protect them against the influence of peer pressure over the long term so here are 10 Top Tips to help you in this space:

Show an active interest – We’ve talked previously about the importance of listening and engaging with your teen in Part 1 of this series. Letting your teen know that what they’re doing is important to you will help open the way for more honest communication with you both. It also gives you a level of trust on which to launch some of the more challenging conversations you will need to have as a parent.

Set Family Rules – As discussed at length in Part 1 of this series it’s important that your teen knows what the boundaries are. If you have clear Family Rules about alcohol and drinking it will be easier for your child to avoid breaking them. They may also refer to their family rule when refusing to give in to peer pressure.

Be Prepared – Discuss typical age-appropriate situations with your teen in advance so they are prepared for situations that may arise. Discuss the possible consequences of such decisions and why they may be tempting. Ask your teen about some examples of typical situations so they are engaged and recognize them if/when they come up with peers.

Discuss Effective Responses – If children are unprepared for responding to peer pressure, they are more likely to react too quickly and give in. Work with your teen to come up with some ways for them to get out of a situation that they feel uneasy about with thoughtful responses. Short and sweet is generally best – too much explaining and justifying their refusal to participate can lead to more peer pressure and disagreement. At the end of the day, your teen may simply need to reply with an assertive and firm “no” to peer requests.

Encourage them to choose good friends – This gets harder as your kids get older but help support your kids to be selective when spending time with friends. They should look for friends with qualities they admire and who share similar values and ethics. If a particular peer often incites bad behaviour, it may be time to seek out new friends. Be careful not to personally criticize your teens friends however – you are best to focus on the behaviour not the person.

Take five – Remind teens to stop and take a minute before reacting to peer pressure. Taking a deep breath and thinking about the consequences prior to answering/acting will allow them to give a more thoughtful and considered response – especially if they have practised a scenario like this with you before. When teens give themselves time to think things through, they may be less likely to give into the peer pressure e.g. Is this likely to get me into trouble? What happens if I get hurt?

Get to know your teen’s friends – Having your teen and their friends under your roof allows you to get to know them and what they like doing. If they like being at your place, it’s harder for your teen to behave in ways that are counter to your Family Rules. Have fun with them when they’re at your house, but make sure they are all clear on the expectations/boundaries. Teens, both yours and others, will appreciate knowing exactly where they stand and what the consequences are if rules are broken so don’t be afraid to say ‘No’.

Get to know the friends’ parents too – That way you’ll have a better idea of where your teens are, who they’re with and what they are doing when they are not at yours. It also gives you the opportunity to work together with the other parents to have a stronger, more united voice. Even if the other parents don’t agree with your rules/expectations, at least they are aware of where you stand and what you expect from your teen in social situations.

Sort out issues quickly – If you have problems with your teen and/or their friends, clear these up quickly and respectfully. Stay calm and always remember to be the adult in these situations. Listen to what your teen is telling you and don’t overreact. The best thing you can do is help them to reflect on the issue – Would a true friend do that to their mate? Would you like it if the shoe was on the other foot? What would your parents think about this?

Follow through with consequences – If rules and boundaries are broken, make sure you follow through with the agreed consequences. Your teen needs to know you’re serious but make sure that as part of this you give them adequate time to share their version of events.

No one is immune to peer pressure. Many of us have made poor choices as a result of it in the past, so you know how important it is to take steps now to help your kids be better equipped to prevent risky behaviour in the future. Remember, as a parent you have more influence than you think so back yourself and keep talking to your teen.

If at any stage you are worried about your teen’s drinking and/or mental and physical health, please seek professional help from your preferred healthcare professional or contact the friendly folk at the Alcohol Helpline. Both have lots of expertise in this area and can point you in the right direction for the support you/your teen needs to get back on the right track.

The Alcohol&Me Team