Peer pressure means feeling like you have to do something because people around you want you to or expect you to. It might be to make someone else happy or to fit in with a new group.

Lots of people think about peer pressure in relation to bad things or influences but it isn’t always and sometimes isn’t even noticeable, children and young people are influenced by those around them all of the time; the music they listen to, the books they read, the activities they choose to do and most of the time this can be really positive for them.

Whether you are worried about negative peer pressure or not it is always helpful to support  and encourage your child to be more assertive, that is to feel confident in being honest, direct and clear with the people around them about what they think, feel and want – not only will this help if friends are trying to encourage them to do things they don’t really want to do but it will help them as they become adults both in their relationships and in work.

Everyone will fall someone on the assertiveness scale; they will either be passive, assertive or aggressive – this can change depending on the situation.

So how do you know where you, or someone else falls? Take a look at the examples below.

Paula has a style that’s too passive. If you ask Paula what movie she wants to see, she’s most likely to say, “I don’t know — what do you want to see?” She usually lets others decide things, but later she regrets not saying what she wanted. It bothers her that her friends do most of the talking. But when Paula tries to break into the conversation, she speaks so softly that others talk over her without realizing.

Janine has a style that’s too aggressive. Janine has no trouble speaking her mind. But when she does, she comes across as loud and opinionated. Janine dominates the conversation, often interrupts, and rarely listens. If she disagrees with you, she lets you know — usually with sarcasm or a putdown. She has a reputation for being bossy and insensitive.

Ben has an assertive style. When you ask for Ben’s opinion, he gives it honestly. If he disagrees with you, he’ll say so — but in a way that doesn’t put you down or make you feel wrong. Ben is interested in your opinion, too. He listens to what you have to say. Even when Ben disagrees with you, you still feel he respects your point of view.

The Problems of Being Too Passive

People who act too passively often end up feeling taken advantage of. They may begin to feel hurt, angry, or resentful.

When you hold back what you think and feel, others don’t get to know or understand you as well as they could. The group doesn’t benefit from your input or ideas.

If you start to feel like your opinions or feelings don’t count, it can lower your confidence and rob you of the chance to get recognition and positive feedback for your good ideas. This can even lead to feeling depressed.

The Trouble With Being Too Aggressive

People who come across as too aggressive can find it difficult to keep friends. They may dominate conversations or give their opinions too boldly and forcefully, leaving others feeling put off or disrespected.

People with an aggressive style may get other people to do things their way, but many times they end up being rejected or disliked. They often lose the respect of others.

How can parents and carers help children and young people be more assertive?

Standback: Don’t interfere in your child’s disputes with other kids, even if they’re young toddlers. Getting involved sends the message that your child isn’t capable of handling the situation on their own. And letting kids handle disputes gives them the opportunity to practice negotiation and other social skills.

Listen: If your child comes to you with a dispute the first thing you should do is to show them you’re listening and acknowledge what they’re saying. But at this point try to resist giving advice. Often, if parents simply provide a listening ear and don’t intervene, the child will come up with solutions on their own.

Think of yourself as a coach: Once you’ve listened to your child’s concerns and it’s clear they’re still struggling for an answer, ask if they’d like your advice. Once you’ve been given the go-ahead, help your child think of polite ways to talk to another child or what might be the best way to approach a teacher with an issue.

Practice: If your child is feeling nervous about speaking up, take some time to practice the scenario with them. Help them think of different reactions the person they’ll be talking to will have. Hopefully, this will make your child feel more comfortable when the real situation arises.

Be an example: If we want to raise kids who are assertive, we’ve got to be a role model. If another adult is rude to you, act the way you would want your children to act.

Have a democratic household: A great place for kids to practice being assertive is at home. Let children know their opinion counts, even if you don’t agree with it. Parents can also instigate friendly family debates – discussions about issues outside the home such as world events. Family debates let kids see parents model respectful disagreement and also practice having a voice and opinion of their own on a topic.

Add your thoughts only when necessary: When kids need to speak up to adults, let them take the lead: “Like a good manager in the workplace, let the junior person in the room (your kid) speak first, then support what they’ve said, adding only what you feel is essential.”

Take a look at Peer pressure | Family Lives for more advice, support and guidance around helping your child or young person with peer pressure.