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By Hanley Foundation Prevention Specialist Alisha Pennington

As responsible parents, we vigilantly coach our young children to beware of strangers saying, “Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t take candy or food from strangers. Never get into a car with a stranger.” We become forensic investigators when they come home with their Halloween bags and buckets, carefully inspecting for any signs of tampering. Despite our diligence, inevitably, we are faced with the fact that it is more likely our children’s friends, not strangers, who will approach them with offers of drugs and alcohol.

We can’t altogether shield them from these situations. We can, however, give them the tools to navigate them successfully. We can help empower our kids to stay true to their family values, resist the pressure to drink alcohol or take drugs, and still maintain their social standing and relationships with their friends. One effective strategy is role-playing. Sit down with your child and practice conversations that are relevant to them and unique to their reality.

For example, let’s say your child typically joins his friends on Friday night to watch the middle school or high school football game. After the game, one of the friends suggests they come over to his house and have some beer. By using some simple, yet effective strategies presented in a short video by psychologist and author Dr. Liz Laugeson, which is often used in Hanley Foundation’s Project SUCCESS program, you can practice a narrative with your child.

  • Suggest an alternative or change the subject. “Let’s play some video games at my house” or “Let’s go out for some pizza.”
  • Make up an excuse. “I can’t because I have to get up early in the morning to help my dad with the yard work,” or “My mom needs me to come straight home to babysit my sister.”
  • Use the broken-record technique. “No, I’ll pass” or “No, I don’t feel like it tonight” or “No, my parents will ground me for life.”
  • Stall. “Hang on, dude, I need to go talk to this girl from homeroom.”
  • Reverse the peer pressure. “Why do you care so much about me having a drink?’

Emphasize four key principles when coaching your child to resist negative peer pressure.

  1. Say “NO”
  2. Repeat “NO”
  3. Respond confidently with words and body language
  4. Avoid or leave the situation

Another effective approach in teaching your child how to resist unwanted peer pressure comes from Dr. Michael Popkin’s “Active Parenting of Teens.” It’s important to note that this strategy, as in the previous example, can also be useful in conversations about sex and violence. Dr. Popkin suggests three key elements are required to resist peer pressure:

  • Know your rights. Emphasize to your child that they have a right to say no to things they do not feel comfortable doing. Point out to them that others will ultimately respect them more if they stand up for their beliefs and values.
  • Have the courage to do what’s right. Always remind kids that they can be strong and independent. Whenever they make a good choice, especially in the face of scrutiny, give them praise, which, in turn, will boost their confidence and resolve.
  • Be prepared with a good comeback line. Consistently practicing role-play conversations will help equip them with options when faced with peer pressure in any situation. In these conversations, emphasize that it’s not only their words that matter but also their tone. Choose an assertive approach versus one that is either passive or aggressive.

Finally, make a conscious effort to be a good role model. Adults also face peer pressure in various forms when dealing with family members, friends, and co-workers from time to time. If your child sees you handling these situations in a positive, thoughtful, and decisive manner, they will undoubtedly internalize and mirror your behavior.


Hanley Foundation’s Project SUCCESS (Schools Using Coordinated Community Efforts to Strengthen Students).

Kids in the House. Dr. Liz Laugeson’s peer pressure video. 

Active Parenting of Teens resources by Dr. Michael Popkins.

Hanley Foundation’s Active Parenting Workshops.