Every parent fears the teenage years…rebellion, the increase of peer influence, sexual development, and separating from parents. Well, the bad news is that these things will happen no matter what, as identify formation is the psychological task of the teen years. Yet the good news is that parents do have great influence over their teen’s choices. And it might not be in the way you think.

“Teenagers play drinking games, smoke, and act heedlessly in large part because they deeply want to impress each other. Those who take more chances gain status among their peers, researchers have found, which helps them compete with rivals and win over potential mates. Scare tactics that ignore the advantages of risk-taking to teenagers often backfire.”

Huston, M. (2012). The Joyride Cure. Psychology Today, October 2012, p.20.

In trying to help your teenager make positive choices, of course you want to talk with them about the dangers of acts such as smoking, drinking, texting while driving, etc. But do not lecture, no matter how much you really want to. Rather, ask them questions about what they think and how they feel and help them to see that making positive choices is to their benefit socially (In other words, attempt to counteract the advantages of risk-taking behaviors). The same article mentioned a SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) campaign targeted towards the prevention of under-age drinking with the slogan “Don’t be that guy” in reference to the social embarrassment that may ensue.

So, play into what your teenager desires…independence and social acceptance. Have a teen who is always home by curfew. Consider rewarding them by extending their curfew by 30 minutes, which shows them that they gain by making positive choices. Talk to them about how their crush will be turned off if your teen smokes, which makes kissing him or her like kissing an ashtray. They will think twice about smoking.

Also strategize with your teen about how they can respond in peer pressure situations. Just like with young children, you are helping your teen “use their words.” Recognize it is easy to “just say no” yet it is much harder to do. Help your teen develop responses that are brief, simplistic, and even humorous to respond to various situations. I once heard of a parent who encouraged her teen to respond “I’m allergic to alcohol and it completely sucks” when pressured to drink.

Remember, you want your teen to make positive choices, just keep in mind how you can influence them most effectively…and it is not by telling them what to do but rather by helping them choose to make their own responsible decisions.

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