(The Vancouver Sun, June 18, 2001)
Q: My 13-year-old daughter went to a friends house last Saturday night for a sleepover. The following day I received a phone call from the friends mother, who had noticed that some liquor was missing from their cabinet. As it turns out, while the parents were out, several kids came over and were drinking alcohol. This included my daughter who admits to having only a few "sips". She claims she did this for fear of looking like a "loser" if she didnt. How can I empower my daughter to resist peer pressure in the future?
M.T., Victoria, B.C.
Saleema and Teresa: Its a terrifying reality that 13 year olds would experiment with alcohol, but certainly not the first time weve heard an experience like yours. Youre wise not to minimize the power and influence of peer pressure of any kind at your daughters age. Just ask any 13-year-old and theyll tell you how crucial it is to feel like you fit in. Heres a summary of some creative solutions weve heard from parents on coping with peer pressure. First, dont be afraid to make your family values clear. For example, have a family discussion on why you dont support underage drinking. Your reasoning will be more valuable to them than just a blanket statement or a rule. Second, your situation demonstrates the value of knowing the parents of your childrens friendsotherwise, you probably would never have found out about the "sips" your daughter had.
Third, take every opportunity to stress to your daughter how much she is loved and valued for her unique qualities talents and accomplishments. Research consistently shows that children with high self-esteem and self-worth are much less likely to succumb to peer pressure. A child with high self-esteem may not feel the need to do something just because "everyone else is doing it". Fourth, discuss a variety of what we call in our Go Girl! Program "creative outs" that your daughter can draw on in difficult situations. Of course, using assertiveness to resist peer pressure is ideal, but the ultimate goal is to get teens out of these situations in a way that realistically works. For example, you and your daughter could have a code name like "Sarah". If she calls you and addresses you as Sarah, youll know that she needs to be picked up (around the corner to avoid questions from her peers). Girls have also told us that when they dont feel comfortable being assertive they use creative excuses like "Im allergic to alcohol" as a last resort. You can help her rehearse these ideas through role-playing. Finally, assure your daughter that she wouldnt be in trouble for asking you to help her get out of a peer pressure situation, regardless of what it was. If a similar incident should arise in the future, resist the temptation to be reactive and instead be sure to praise her for being responsible enough to ask for assistance.