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Teaching Kids About Peer Pressure

Instructor: Tiffany Dickie

Tiffany has taught in the youth, adult, and vocational sector teaching English, math science, and providing resource support. She has a Masters in Teaching and Learning.

Educating young people about peer pressure without glamorizing risk-taking behaviors can be a challenge. In this lesson, we will explore how educators can incorporate peer pressure awareness into their curriculum.

Teaching About Peer Pressure Without Adding Pressure

Jeffrey Arnett once described adolescence as a time of 'storm and stress'. As educators, we are the center of this storm and need to tread lightly so that it doesn't turn into a full blown natural disaster. Children's need to fit in drives their thoughts and actions during preadolescence and adolescence. This is a time when they are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors and more driven than ever to fit into a social group. We've all heard the saying 'You know you want to... all the cool kids are doing it.' This directly represents the idea of peer pressure. Peer pressure is the social pressure by peers for someone to act, dress, or behave in a certain way. It can be very prevalent within the classroom as it is a place where children are surrounded by their peers, vulnerable to rejection, and want acceptance.

Avoiding the Glamorization of Risk-Taking Behaviors

You would think the most logical way to teach kids about peer pressure is to directly talk to them about it. Unfortunately, peer pressure is not an individual issue. It encompasses other risk-taking behaviors and negative social actions. Risk-taking behaviors are actions or behaviors that put the child in danger. They include drug and alcohol abuse, criminal activity, risky sexual behavior, hazardous automobile driving, gambling, eating disorders, bullying, and suicide. Students can experience peer pressure to engage in any of these. The next logical step would be to simply talk about those issues. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Research shows that speaking to children directly about negative or risk-taking behaviors can actually have the reverse effect and provide more incentive to engage in them. Schools often have counselors or specialists go into the classroom or hold an assembly to discuss the negative ramifications of these behaviors and to discourage students from engaging in them. Often, the opposite effect occurs. The behaviors are glamorized by the discussion of the possible results of their use. For example, in instruction about drug use, counselors describe the different drugs, their effects on the body, and the risk of addiction. The adolescent mind is not yet capable of fully understanding the risk of addiction. Therefore, the students may focus on the effects of the body and the feeling that comes from taking the drug. Instead of walking away understanding the effects on the body and the risk of addiction, they walk away wanting to find out what it feels like to try it.

Teaching About Peer Pressure

Now that we understand why assemblies or directly teaching about peer pressure and the behaviors that adolescents can be pressured into aren't the most effective methods of education, we need to explore more effective methods. One of the most successful ways to educate young people about peer pressure is to incorporate it into the curriculum. Teachers can help students identify the presence of peer pressure in a novel, short story, historical event, or film then use it as an opening to discuss the issue. This is especially effective in English and Social Studies classrooms where students can discuss fictional and historical figures rather than their own personal behaviors. Teenagers have a much easier time pointing out the faults of others than their own.

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