The New Peer Pressure
Has your child been nominated? Not for class president or team captain. The new way to nominate is to post something outrageous online and then “tag” friends who are expected to top the performance. Some of these so-called “nek nominations” are silly, harmless fun, but many involve drugs, alcohol or sex. And kids who don’t want to participate may find that they are teased or even bullied.
Peer pressure is nothing new, of course, but new research indicates that social media can exacerbate the problem, making young people more likely to engage in risky behaviors in the hope of winning attention and approval from other teens. Decisions about drugs and alcohol are also heavily influenced by what happens in online friendship networks, according to research done recently at the University of Southern California.
Rather than trying to monitor everything a child does on sites such as Vine, Snapchat, Instagram and What’s App, parents need to equip teens with information and skills that will help them set appropriate boundaries and live up to their own ideals regardless of what their friends do. Here are some suggestions:
– Assume your child is under pressure. In its annual survey of substance use, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported that 45 percent of teens have seen social media pictures showing other teens getting drunk, passed out or using drugs. The same report found that 47 percent of teens who had seen such photos were convinced the participants were having a terrific time.
– Talk often about values. Be sure your child has a clear sense of your expectations and talk about the reasons behind the rules you make. Your teenager deserves a deep explanation of what kind of life you hope he or she will lead and why you think drinking, drug use and casual sex might interfere with his or her prospects.
– Clarify consequences. Researchers now know that the part of the brain that is able to anticipate long-term consequences doesn’t develop until late in adolescence. Social media reinforces short-term thinking via photos that show the fun of partying without the aftermath. Parents can compensate by making the dark side of teen sex and substance abuse equally vivid. Be sure your child understands that there can be lifelong consequences from driving drunk, distributing pornography and having unprotected or underage sex.
– Rehearse refusal. Teens will be better prepared to resist pressure if they have thought ahead about things they might say or post when they want to turn down a request. Humor helps. So does changing the subject or suggesting an alternative activity. Remind your child that true friends don’t push each other into uncomfortable and dangerous situations.
– Be willing to argue. Even when you start with the best intentions, conversations with teenagers are likely to become confrontational. That’s OK. Researchers at the University of Virginia found that kids who had the confidence to stand up to their parents and argue their point of view were also more likely to resist peer pressure.
– Use the tools to take control. Facebook’s untag feature can eliminate posts from people who are pressuring a teen to do something dangerous. Even better, encourage your child to activate the ability to “Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline.” (Click on the gear icon in the upper right corner and then choose “Settings.” Select “Timeline” and “Tagging” and choose “Review posts.”)
– Harness peer pressure for good. After analyzing more than a billion status updates on Facebook, a research team from the University of California, San Diego, found that positive posts inspired positive responses. Encourage your kids to engage in good deeds and random acts of kindness. Then they can nominate friends to top those accomplishments.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. Visit growing-up-online.com to read other columns she has written.