As parents and teachers, we do everything we can to make sure that our kids and the children we teach grow in confidence and learn to resist negative peer influences. But it’s impossible to deny that being insecure and wanting to fit in is a very common experience among most adolescents. What can we as parents and teachers do to help our kids stay confident and resilient through these challenging teenage years?
Kindness, Not Control
A few months ago, a study was released that confirms that parent-child closeness and parental affection lead to an increased sense of self-worth in adolescent children. This study is not alone in highlighting the positive relationship between caring parent-child relationships and the ability for kids to resist negative pressure from their peers. A study from China found that mothers who treated their children in a warm way that kept controlling behavior to a minimum had kids who were less likely to follow their peers into bad behaviors. Another study found that disciplining adolescent males actually made them more likely to join in with peers in underage alcohol use. Authoritarian parenting, while well-intentioned, generally seems to make kids more likely to fall victim to antisocial peer pressure.
Teach Self-Discovery and SEL
More important to teachers is learning what we can do in the classroom to play a positive role in increasing our students’ confidence and self-worth. Erickson suggests that teachers should be ‘sanctioners’ of students’ talents. In other words, teachers should focus on finding out what kids are good at doing. This goes beyond the curriculum and extends to hobbies and social and interpersonal skills. This helps students to discover positive adult roles that they might wish to choose, and affirms that they are valuable and capable people. Teachers should provide authentic opportunities for students to learn while ‘trying on’ these roles.
Like parents, teachers should avoid being overly critical of adolescent students. Adolescents are especially vulnerable at this identity-seeking stage to internalizing these judgments. Teachers should create classroom environments of tolerance and acceptance that support students as they struggle with fitting in and forming cliques.
Even though it sometimes seems like our words fall on deaf ears and that the power of peer pressure in the lives of adolescents is impossible to overcome, that is often not the case. Most investigations support the value of positive parent and teacher involvement in helping children to resist negative peer influence. The main thing to remember is that strict discipline and harsh judgments only push students away from caring adults and towards their peers. Supportive and caring relationships focused on helping kids to discover themselves and find their own way through the teenage years help to build trust between adolescents and the adults in their lives who care about them the most.
 McAdams T, Rijsdijk F, Eley T, et al. (2017). Associations between the parent-child relationship and adolescent self-worth: a genetically informed study of twin parents and their adolescent children. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 58(1), 46-54.
 Chan, S.M., & Chan, K.W. (2011). Adolescents’ susceptibility to peer pressure: relations to parent-adolescent relationship and adolescent’s emotional autonomy from parents. Youth & Society, 45 (2), 286-302.
 Marshal, M.P., & Chassin, L. (2000). Peer influence on adolescent alcohol use: the moderating role of parental support and discipline. Applied Developmental Science, 4(2), 80-88.
 Curtner-Smith, M.E., & MacKinnon-Lewis, C.E. (1994). Family process effects on adolescent males’ susceptibility to antisocial peer pressure. Family Relations, 43(4), 462-468.
 Erikson, E.H. (1968). Identity: Youth in crisis. New York: W.W. Norton.
 Hamman, D., & Hendricks, B.C. (2005). The role of generations in identity formation: Erickson speaks to teachers of adolescents. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues, and Ideas, 79(2), 72-75.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.