How to spot (and STOP) sources of peer pressure online
It’s not a secret that there is so much to consider about our kids’ online use. The apps, the texts, the bullying–and the peer pressure online. In fact, what I hear the most often from parents is that they feel like social media and the Internet have made parenting a whole lot harder for them! What I think parents like you and me really mean when we say things like this is that we want to make sure that we’re not missing anything with our kids’ online use and doing this feels a bit unmanageable and overwhelming at times. Maybe you can relate!
While there is a whole slew of topics to dig into here, what I want to discuss today is how to know—and what to do—if you suspect that your kids are being pressured into making poor choices online.
I will admit that when my husband and I first gave our oldest daughter a phone and app access, I hadn’t put a whole lot of thought into this topic! But when I zoom out and think about it now, I realize that our kids are facing the same pressures that we faced when we were kids. Except for instead of this just happening on the school bus, playground, or at a friend’s house, this is also happening online. And that is something that we, as parents, absolutely need to be aware and on top of.
In this article, we’re going to cover:
- The 5 kinds of peer pressures that happen online
- The 4 most common places these happen
- The 1 thing that you can do today before this becomes an issue for your kids
- And, most importantly, how to help if you suspect or confirm that your child is being peer pressured online
A note before we start
It’s so important to take a deep breath and remember that you faced peer pressure when you were a tween and teen as well.
The main difference between what we faced as kids and what our own kids are facing today is the “vehicle” that the pressure is coming through.
The feelings that our kids have and the help that they need are the same and you are absolutely equipped to handle this! Let’s dig in.
The 5 kinds of peer pressures that happen online
- Sending nude photos or “body shots”
- Moving a conversation from an approved app to another, sometimes encrypted, app
- Portraying a “perfect” image of your life
- Excluding behaviors
A note about that “perfect” life
As our impressionable kids are viewing all sorts of images online, they’re making a lot of assumptions about what’s real and what’s coveted. For instance, when they see images of tweens and teens drinking alcohol, it’s hard for them to make sense of how the fun images they’re seeing fit in with their own choices.
This is where we, as parents, come in. We can see these images and ask our kids why they think they are cool? Is drinking considered cool? Opening the door to this conversation can take your kids from making assumptions on their own to having discussions with and learning from you. And it turns out, that kids really do have good heads on their shoulders. Sure, they can act silly and make questionable decisions, but for the most part—especially where underage drinking is concerned, our tweens and young teens know that saying YES to a healthy lifestyle and NO to underage drinking is the right choice.
- In 2016, 15% of 8th graders perceive trying one or two drinks of alcohol to be a great risk, increasing 16% since 2003.
- More than half (53%) of 8th graders perceive binge drinking to be a great risk, a 5% increase in perceived risk from 2003 to 2016.
- A majority of 8th-grade students (53%) disapprove of people who try one or two drinks of alcohol, an increase in disapproval of 6% from 2003 to 2016.
- 85% of 8th graders disapprove of binge drinking, an increase of 4% from 82% in 2003 to 85% in 2016.
In 2016, 53% of 8th graders said it is fairly easy or very easy to get alcohol. Ease of obtaining alcohol has decreased 23% from 67% in 2003 to 53% in 2016. The fact that these kids have relatively easy access to alcohol is a little scary. BUT! The fact that you are starting these conversations with your kids before they decide to take their first drink shows that you have your head in the game. Having conversations early and often about alcohol will also help to establish a trust between you and your kids so that when other issues come up, you can have conversations about all of that stuff too.
3 resources for you
This website, Ask Listen Learn: Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix is a great resource for tips to start these open conversations about saying NO to underage drinking. The research here is showing that kids still consider parents their #1 influence when deciding not to consume alcohol underage.
The 4 most common places peer pressure happens online
- Private or direct messages
- In “Stories” or videos that disappear
- In texts
- In private messaging apps
The 1 thing that you can do today before this becomes an issue for your kids
The hardest truth to accept as a modern parent is that we can’t control when or what our kids will be exposed to. Even if we, for example, say they can’t have phones or use strict parental controls on certain searches, what happens when they are at a friend’s house where these controls are not in place? Or on the school bus and a friend shows them something on their device? These are things that we can’t control, but we can accept this fact and prepare for it.
Because once we do this, we are free to then assume that it’s absolutely a parenting “to do” to make sure that our kids are prepared when—not if, when—they experience or see something that might negatively impact them.
And this makes us ready to do the one most impactful “thing” for our digital kids, which is to make sure that they know that they will not be punished for doing some of the things that we are talking about in this article, but they will have a consequence for lying about it, hiding it, or deleting it.
*And then, of course, we have to be willing to follow through on this!
The reason this is so important is that the kids who are the safest online are the ones who are talking openly with their parents. These kids are the most likely to:
- Ask for help when they need it
- Report if they experience anything that doesn’t feel quite right
- Accept their parents’ input and opinions
I call this an Ongoing Dialogue and creating this will help in every single aspect of digital parenting, especially the peer pressure one.
This is how to help if you suspect or confirm that your child is being peer pressured online
Do you know the phrase, “save the best for last?” I don’t know if this is the best part of this article, but it is the most important part. Our goal in creating an Ongoing Dialogue with our kids about their digital use is so that we can be their soft landing if they do experience something negative online.
If this does happen with your child, I have 4 recommendations for how to help.
- First, if your radar is going off that something isn’t quite right, LISTEN to it.
- Second, “spot check” your child’s phone every once in awhile.
- Third, tell your child that you’d like to check her phone, apps, and messages together. I recommend this because it will allow you to both gauge your child’s response and to open the door for the conversation. If you note that your child seems embarrassed, ashamed, or anxious about giving you access to her device, this may be a sign that she needs your help. The combination of doing spot checks and what I call Together Phone Checks ensures that the Ongoing Dialogue is open when you need it, you’re able to help with what you notice during Together Checks, and that if you do see something of concern during a spot check, you can easily bring it up during a Together Check.
- And fourth, teach your child to “Screen Cap And Tell” you about anything and everything that doesn’t feel right. This phrase is a modern version of, “Stop, Drop, and Roll”—I’d love to see our kids chant the former in their minds like they did the latter! Things that “don’t feel right” include pressure; asks for certain kinds of photos; engaging in illegal behavior such as underage drinking or experimenting with drugs, mean words if she says “no”; asks to connect or interact on other apps; anything written in “code” i.e. doesn’t seem to make sense at first read. There are so many ways for things to be deleted and disappear on so many apps, that oftentimes I think that our kids wait and see if things escalate and by the time they decide to ask for help, their “proof” is gone. It’s better to “Screen Cap And Tell” before this happens!
While there is definitely a lot to unpack for and with our kids about this digital age, it absolutely is possible to stay on top of it and even enjoy it! If your kids are starting to show an interest in the online world, I have a detailed checklist for you to use to help start laying the foundation for your Ongoing Dialogue about their digital use. It’s super helpful and you can get it RIGHT HERE.
Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; the online course Raise Your Digital Kid™; and the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club