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What Are Refusal Skills? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson looks at how teens are confronted with difficult situations every day and how they can use the ability to say no if they need to. The lesson provides scenarios and specific means to say no given the situation.

Peer Pressure

It is human nature to want to belong to a group, but that need is especially prevalent among teens. According to Erikson's psychosocial development research (how people mature emotionally and socially), preteens begin to form an independent self, but their identity is tied to the encouragement they receive from adults and peers. During the teen years (13 to 19), individuals continue the move toward adulthood by defining their identity. Teens learn what role they will play in the world and look to others to help them define their identity. The fact that teens are breaking away from adult relationships and relying on peers more also means that there is an increased possibility of negative peer pressure developing.

Samuel is 15 and has just started high school. He knows most of the people from his class, but, like the other incoming freshmen, he wants to be liked and respected by older teens. Upperclassmen tend to dismiss freshmen, but Samuel is determined to hang out with the seniors and juniors. He finds a group that accepts him, but they start to ask him to try things he is not comfortable with. Samuel has to make the same choice that teens face every day. Does he compromise his values and say 'Yes', or does he remain true to himself and say 'No', even if a no would risk those friendships?

The Realities of Decision Making

Erikson reasoned that every stage of development came with both a pair of outcomes and consequences following whichever outcome an individual's actions produced. For adolescents he called the dichotomy (a paired division) identity versus role confusion. The researcher understood that in the transition from childhood to adulthood, teens would need to establish themselves. A large part of this maturing happens as teens mirror those whom they esteem. Unfortunately, many teens place value on the wrong people and in the wrong activities. In many cases, the teen would rather do what they know is wrong than refuse the wrong and be ostracized. As a teen, being different is extremely problematic.

It is a difficult time in life because many youth feel that they are on an island. Who can they turn to, and what advice should they heed? Hopefully, there is a trusted adult around who can help the teen learn that it is okay to say 'No'.

Why Teach Refusal Skills

Being able to say no is a problem at every stage of life, but, for teens, it is even harder. It is a skill that needs to be taught for many reasons. Teens face decisions every day which can be life-shattering, including:

  • The young girl or boy who is pressured to have sex for the first time.
  • The group that sneaks a bottle of liquor from a parent's store and passes the bottle around.
  • The cool kids who are smoking marijuana and say just one toke won't hurt you.
  • The older guys letting you be part of the group going on a vandalizing spree in the neighborhood.

When it comes to these scenarios, a young person needs to have their response firmly established. He or she needs to know how they will respond to different scenarios and have the confidence to stay strong despite peer pressure. Teaching a teen refusal skills is imperative to the safety and future well-being of a child.

How to Teach Refusal Skills

Samuel was just as clueless about how to deal with difficult situation as other teens, but he had a caring parent who knew how to help. She knew that Sam was facing hard decisions at school, so she gave him some tools to make saying no easier. Samuel's mother told him:

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