If you believe that your preteen is years away from feeling the ill-effects of peer pressure, think again. As your child becomes a tween, chances are they will start to feel pressure from friends and classmates to behave in more mature ways -- by having a boyfriend or girlfriend or even engaging in sexual behavior; trying alcohol, drugs or cigarettes; cutting class or engaging in other negative behavior. Identifying the effects of peer pressure is key when it comes to understanding what tweens are going through and helping them to stand up for themselves.
1 Understand the changes that are happening to your preteen. As your child gets closer to the teen years she may seem more secretive. This doesn't always mean that your tween has something to hide; instead it may just indicate a perfectly normal step toward independence. Differentiating typical preteen behavior, such as acting more social toward friends and less loving with family, is key in picking out the effects of peer pressure from expected changes.
2 Observe your preteen at home and in other situations. While catching his behavior in social situations is often a challenge -- unlike when he was younger, your child won't want you to tag along on outings with friends now -- you can keep a watchful eye on him when he has friends over to hang out. Observing your preteen's behavior is especially helpful if he is less than vocal about what is going on his life. Keep in mind that he may not tell you that he is being pressured to act a certain way, but you may see the results of that pressure.
3 Note any changes in your preteen's behavior. While some changes may simply indicate a growing sense of maturity and a move toward adolescence -- such as wanting to spend the weekends with friends instead of you -- dramatic shifts in behavior, sudden sadness or even a change in social circles may mean that peer pressure is at play. Peers may pressure your preteen to engage in unhealthy behavior such as drinking alcohol, trying cigarettes or using drugs as well as other unwanted actions such as getting serious with a romantic partner, skipping school or crash dieting to look like an idealized image. For example, if you notice that your preteen has gone from eating in a healthy manner to fixating on her figure to counting each and every calorie, she may have caved to the peer pressure of looking a certain way.
4 Look for a change in mood. Although the normal hormonal changes of puberty may cause emotional swings and a slew of new feelings in your preteen, sudden sadness may mean that there is a problem brewing. Preteens often reject or isolate other kids who don't bow to the pressure to conform or act in a specific way. If your preteen is a victim of peer pressure and stands up for herself, she may begin to feel isolated or think that she is losing friends. If she goes from hanging out with a certain group of kids to suddenly not talking to any of them, peer pressure may be at fault.
5 Search for any concrete evidence that they are engaging in an action or behavior that has resulted from peer pressure. For example, you may find cigarettes in their backpack, notice that they are getting constant texts from a new friend or smell alcohol on their breath when they come home on after a Friday night school football game.
- Talk to your tween. If you suspect they are being pressured to engage in a risky or unacceptable behavior, discuss ways to say "no" or role play a real-life situation.
- Don't turn a blind eye to unhealthy actions simply because you think that your tween is far too young to engage in certain behavior. For example, while the Guttmacher Institute notes that less than two percent of kids 12 and under have had sex, that also means that there are tweens who are starting sexual relationships. If you don't think that it's possible for your tween to feel pressure to engage in sexual behavior, drink or use drugs, think again.
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