This series of posts explores the tricky side of middle school. Here’s post #9 about Peer Pressure. If you missed earlier posts, here are links: #1 – Judgment, #2 – Friendship Changes, #3 – Popularity, #4 – Crushes & Dating, # 5 – Cliques & Groups, #6 – Gossip, #7 – Social Media and #8 – Mean and Bullying Behaviors.
While researching Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, I visited 7th-grade classrooms and talked with students about school social dynamics. When I asked preteens to share middle school’s “tricky” aspects, peer pressure came up frequently. Peer pressure is a normal part of growing up. As friends gain importance in adolescents’ lives, they also gain influence over behaviors in positive and negative ways.
This student’s quote sums up the thoughts of many. “Peer pressure doesn’t come into your life like a bomb. It’s subtle and hard to spot. You may not even know you are in it. It can cause a little discomfort or a life-changing mistake. Most peer pressure is FOMO. People do things just to stay in the group.”
This is spot on. Humans are social creatures; we want to fit in, have friends, and gain approval from others, especially during the preteen and teen years. I learned from students that peer pressure tends to increase over the course of middle school. It may not be a factor in sixth grade, but it could be a big deal for some eighth-grade students. Peer pressure varies by social group, too.
Middle School Student Thoughts on Peer Pressure
- “Peer pressure in middle school comes from wanting to fit in and feel like you have a big group of friends.”
- “Personally, I don’t know a whole lot about it. I have a small group of friends, and we are not the ‘popular kids.’
- “Friendship has a big impact on peer pressure. A lot of people are pressured to hang out with certain people and then need to do certain things to become part of that group.”
- “I’m in 8th grade, and some of my friends are starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol. There is a ton of pressure to do things I don’t necessarily want to do.”
Helping Preteens and Teens Navigate Peer Pressure
Preteens and teens want to feel accepted by their peers, making peer pressure challenging to navigate. Here are some ways caregivers can help:
1. Talk to them about peer pressure.
Have open, honest conversations explaining what it is and how it can manifest. Help them understand that it is okay to say no to their peers when they are pressured to do something they don’t want to do.
2. Help them with simple ways to say no.
Teach kids firm, assertive ways to say no. Humor can also be a good way to navigate high-pressure situations. Role-play using these phrases in different scenarios so that they feel comfortable doing it when the time comes.
3. Encourage them to come to you if they need help.
Let your child know that you are there for them and that they can always come to you if they are feeling pressured. You may even want to identify a code word or emoji that they can text you if they find themselves in a difficult situation. This will help them to feel more supported and confident.
Here are some additional tips to help middle school students deal with peer pressure:
- Help them to develop a social network of positive friends.
- Encourage them to participate in activities that they enjoy and that make them feel good about themselves.
- Talk to them about the dangers of risky behaviors such as substance abuse, underage drinking, and sexual activity.
- Set clear expectations and boundaries for behavior.
- Be a good role model and show your child how to make healthy choices.
Peer Pressure In Conclusion
Peer pressure is tricky to navigate, especially in middle and high school. Missteps and mistakes will happen. These moments provide families and schools an opportunity to revisit conversations about peer pressure and risky behaviors. They also offer an opportunity for caregivers to make sure kids feel heard and to help them navigate uncomfortable emotions and situations. If your child feels overwhelmed by peer pressure, be sure to get support from the school or a professional.
About Jessica Speer
Jessica Speer is the author of books for kids and teens, including The Phone Book – Stay Safe, Be Smart, and Make the World Better with the Powerful Device in Your Hand. She is also the author of the award-winning, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, both of which grew out of her work with kids. Blending social science, stories, and fun activities, her writing unpacks tricky stuff that surfaces during childhood and adolescence. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences and a knack for writing about complex topics in ways that connect with kids. Jessica regularly contributes to media outlets on content related to kids, parenting, friendship, and social-emotional learning. For more information, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com