By: Robyn Cassel, Ph.D.
Parents can help bolster their child’s independent thinking skills, self-esteem, and ability to reach out for support by building a genuine, honest, validating, and open relationship with their youth; when young adults feel appreciated, heard, and accepted by their parents, they are more likely to communicate about their feelings and make healthy decisions. Confident, valued, validated teens with positive parental relationships are less likely to fall for peer pressure.
Statistics show that children (and adults for that matter) are happier, perform better at school/work, and make healthy, productive choices when positives are emphasized more frequently than negatives. When you help your teen to see the small, fabulous things about his or her character or behavior on a daily basis, you teach him or her how to find those things within themselves. You also make it more likely that those positive things will continue to occur. For every 1 critical or negative comment made to your teen, it is important to make 6 positive, specific reflections to him or her. This will not spoil him or her. In fact, it will help your teen develop positive coping skills, resilience, and optimism which can decrease the likelihood of developing anxiety and depression. In turn, it can significantly decrease succumbing to peer pressure.
Follow your teen’s lead; act genuinely interested in friends, hobbies, video games, and everyday happenings. Do this in a way that is natural to you and to your child allowing space when requested. When you actually care about your young adult’s interests and take the time to listen, play a game, or chat about his or her social drama, he or she will be more likely to reciprocate interest in you and a deeper trust will develop. It will be easier to talk about the hard stuff when you already have a trusting, genuine relationship.
Despite all efforts to shelter teens, they will always have exposure to peers making unhealthy decisions at some point in their lives. Acceptance and acknowledge of this fact, without judgment can help parents and teens to be real and acknowledge difficult temptations and vulnerable feelings. Talk openly about issues on the news, friends’ problems, and other sensitive subjects. Normalize questions and concerns. Use these discussions as ways to begin to talk about your child’s own difficulties and opinions.
Validate your teen’s feelings. You don’t have to agree with the behavior or the reaction to take a moment to take perspective and try to understand where he or she is coming from. This can help to significantly improve self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Teens tend to abide by rules with less fight when his or her feelings are being considered and respected.
You are the boss, you are the leader. However, when you instill a sense of democracy within the relationship in areas you determine, your teen can experience a small sense of control over their ever changing emotions and lives. When they feel as though they can control something, they may make fewer attempts to glean this feeling from peer experiences in unhealthy ways.