skip navigation
SAMHSA Brought to you by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse & Mental health Services Administration 
Building Blocks For a Healthy Future Home About Us Links Get E-mail Updates Awards
Family Educators Materials
Send this page to a friend   |   Print this page Animal Characters
spacer Family photosFamily photos

Peer Pressure

Children often seek a sense of belonging at school and will engage in certain behaviors to fit in among their peers (someone in their age group). Even in preschool they are becoming concerned with what their friends think and do. Children want to be well liked and included in a group, which makes them susceptible to peer pressure (influence that members of the same age group can have over each other). Peer pressure has been shown to affect children as early as preschool age and becomes an even greater risk as they transition into middle and high school.

Peer pressure can impact children both positively and negatively--positive peer pressure may influence a child to engage in healthy behaviors while negative peer pressure can eventually lead to risky behaviors such as substance use. Every child is susceptible to various forms of peer pressure. Research indicates that parents and caregivers that engage in an authoritative parenting style— a child-centered approach often referred to as balanced parenting where monitoring and support are above average--not only foster healthy, positive relationships with their child, but also help the child build confidence and skills to resist peer pressures associated with risky behaviors such as alcohol use.

Peer relationships (relationships with children their own age) are important in a child’s life as they form the basis of friendships and, help develop certain social skills, such as cooperation, negotiation and conflict resolution.  The importance of choosing and forming these relationships is vital even during the preschool years as peers have been shown to have strong influences on risky behaviors later on in life.

Ways Children Exert Pressure on Their Peers

Peer pressure in young children usually revolves around what toys to play with or what games to play. Children also exert pressure through teasing, name-calling, withholding friendship, and by threatening exclusion from play. They may also dare each other to leap from high places or squeeze into tight spaces, inviting bodily harm. Later on, as your child transitions into middle school, that pressure becomes more intense as kids try to conform or “be cool” in order to be included in the group.

Tips to Prepare Your Child for Negative Peer Pressure

Start building the foundation to help children deal with those who might try to pressure them into doing something risky. Once children approach adolescence, they will encounter greater negative peer pressure to engage in very risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and sexual activity and will need the confidence to stand up for themselves.

  • Say “NO.” You set limits for your child; you should practice parental monitoring by saying “no” to something that is against your rules or could impact them negatively. They, too, can learn to say “no,” sometimes over and over again to resist peer pressure.

    Then, teach them how they could use some of these tactics to say “no” to their peers who may try to influence them to do something that is against the rules.  They could: change the subject; suggest another activity; say, “I can’t, I’m not allowed”; ignore the other child; or, just walk away—all of these are useful refusal skills.

  • Choose good friends. Know who your child’s friends are and remind him/her that a good friend would not try to force him/her to do something he/she should not do.

  • Make good decisions.  It is not too early to help children think carefully about the outcome and consequences of an act before they do it. Think aloud and let your child listen to your decision-making processes, as you weigh options and potential outcomes.

  • Value themselves. Praise your children for something they do well, encourage them in positive, healthy pursuits, and surround them with people who value them. These actions increase their self-confidence and make it difficult for someone else’s opinion of them to be more important than their own.

Family Activity: Be Your Best Self

Educator Activity:  Learning to say “NO”

Quiz for Parents: Children’s Influences



Additional Resources

Dealing with Preschool Peer Pressure” from More4Kids gives parents of preschoolers tips on how to handle peer pressure.

Peer Pressure,” from the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health, explores peer pressure and peer relations across the age groups.

Parenting Style, Religiosity, Peers and Adolescent Heavy Drinking”, Stephen J. Bahr and John P. Hoffman, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

What’s Your Parenting Style?,” from Parents. The Anti-Drug.

spacer Site Map | Contact Us | FAQ | Ask SAMHSA | Privacy Policy | Web Site Policies | FOIA | | Plain Language spacer
Updated on 5/1/2012