Peers influence your tweens and teens even when they don’t realize it. Just by spending time together, they are learning from one another. Some of this peer influence can be positive like encouraging another person to make a good choice or influencing another person’s decision to run for class officer. But peer pressure also can be negative, especially when it relates to drugs, alcohol use and even bullying.

How does peer pressure impact bullying?

Peer pressure is pressure from others to conform to the behaviors, attitudes and personal habits of a group or clique. Sometimes kids within a clique will pressure other kids to participate in bullying. This bullying can include everything from leaving mean notes and name-calling to sabotaging another person’s relationship with gossip, lies and rumors.

Other times tweens and teens will feel an internal pressure to do things they think their peers are doing. As a result, they will bully others with the hope of fitting in or getting attention.

Peer pressure to bully often develops into a pack mentality and seems to be particularly prevalent online. Many times, kids will pressure or encourage others to cyberbully others including pressure to participate in everything from online hate lists to mean social media posts.

Why do kids give in to peer pressure?

Typically, when kids cave in under peer pressure it is because they want to be liked or fit in. They fear that if they don’t go along with the group or clique, then other kids might make fun of them. So bullying sometimes is an act of self-preservation. Kids are afraid if they don’t exclude others, participate in gossip, spread rumors and make fun of others, then they too will be ostracized or tormented by bullies.

Additionally, some kids accept the idea that "everyone’s doing it" and often mistakenly feel less responsibility for bullying when it is done as a group. With this type of pack mentality, kids often leave their better judgment and common sense behind. As a result, they don’t feel as much remorse as they would otherwise.

How can parents help kids cope with peer pressure?

When it comes to peer pressure, parents often feel like they are fighting a losing battle. But in reality, parents have much more influence than they realize. Although tweens and teens are pulling away at this age and trying to assert their independence, they still very much need their parents. So don’t miss this opportunity.

Be sure you step up to the challenge and talk to your kids. Try to understand the pressure they feel to fit in. And talk to them about the pressures they feel to engage in relational aggression, cyberbullying and other forms of bullying. The more you can connect with your kids about bullying, the more you will be able to have a positive influence. Give your kids ideas on how to respond to peer pressure. And be sure they are equipped with a solid self-esteem, assertiveness skills and social skills. These traits all help kids respond to peer pressure in a positive way.

It’s also important to establish rules and consequences when it comes to bullying and then follow through. If you have a policy of not bullying others and you find out your child is a bully – even if they were pressured into it – you have to follow through with disciplinary actions. If you don’t, your child will assume that the rules don’t apply or are not a big deal. This may result in the bullying escalating to the point that it gets out of control or seriously harms another person. As hard as it may be to face the fact that your child is a bully, looking the other way or ignoring the behavior only harms your child and his or her target.

Finally, remember that no matter what you say or do, your tween or teen will mess up. Instead of yelling or criticizing, help them take responsibility for their actions. For instance, if they were rude to another person, have them apologize. Or if they covered a locker with hurtful graffiti, have them clean it. The point is, to make sure they make amends for the bullying.

Once that has been accomplished, it is then important to support them in moving past the incident. Resist the urge to label your child a bully. But instead encourage him or her to stop bullying and focus on being kind and respectful. This may take time, but with your help, tweens can learn how to make better decisions when it comes to how they treat other people.