Kids in middle school want to conform and be accepted by their peers. Today's society presents a youth-oriented culture with strong pressure for tweens to associate with other tweens. Unfortunately, a unique set of values may develop that's much different from the moral values with which your kid has grown up.
What kinds of activities are kids under pressure to try? A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that peer pressure is real, and many tweens are engaging in activities that put their health at risk:
- Smoking. One in five adolescents will have tried smoking by the age of 13.
- Alcohol use. Two-thirds of teens between 14 and 17 have tried alcohol; among teen boys who have tried alcohol, 20 percent had a drink before they reached the age of 12. Episodic (binge) drinking is common: of the adolescents aged 12 to 17, one in four said they'd had five or more drinks consecutively within the last month.
- Drug use: Slightly more than 25 percent of adolescents have used illegal drugs.
- Sex: About one in every three kids aged 14 to 15 has had sexual intercourse.
Tweens also feel pressure to have their bodies look a certain way; girls want to be fit and thin, while boys want six-pack abs and strong biceps. They want to wear clothes from the right stores, sport a certain brand of athletic shoes, even watch the right TV shows or see certain movies.
Parents can help tweens deal with peer pressure by keeping communication lines open, sharing their personal values, and encouraging good decision-making. Honest conversations about alcohol, drugs, sex, and the pressure to fit in can start as early as fifth grade. Openness pays off: Teens who learned about the risks of using drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who say they haven't learned about drugs from their parents, according to a survey conducted by Partnership for a Drug-Free America.