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You will realise soon enough that you are not the only influence in your child’s life. Friends, the internet, TV, movies, advertisements, books, magazines and music all contribute to influencing your child’s choices and behaviours. While it’s highly unlikely that you can isolate your teen from these influences, you can help him or her fend off questionable messages by building his or her self-esteem and coaching your child to be a good judge of his decisions and the consequences.

The power of peer pressure

During the teenage years, peer pressure is real and is a powerful influence. There can be pressure to dress or behave in a certain way. They may feel the pressure to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or to smoke and experiment with drugs. Teens often cave in to peer pressure because they want to be liked, to fit in, or to be respected by their peers. Or sometimes it’s simply the curiosity to try something new.

How to deal with it

You can help your teen resist peer pressure by boosting his or her confidence and self-esteem. Also, teach your child how to discern what’s right and what’s wrong.

Encourage your teen to appreciate values, strengths and abilities that are unique to him or her as an individual. A child who feels good about himself is more likely to make positive decisions in life.

Teach your child how to be self-reliant in making good decisions – by relying on his or her knowledge and beliefs to make informed choices. Help him or her realise the consequences of decisions, especially those involving sexual health.

Emphasise the importance of being assertive and comfortable with one’s choices. Let your child know that in pleasing others, he or she may end up letting him- or herself down.

Describe possible scenarios, consider the outcomes and help him or her plan responses.

Use empathy – acknowledge how intense some of these expectations can be and tell your child about your own experiences.

Encourage your child to find friends who have similar values and can influence him or her in a positive way. 

Help your teen combat peer pressure by building the confidence, social skills and responses he or she needs to get out of any bad situation.

The power of the media

The mass media in many forms affect our lives in many ways, and mostly in negative ways. They invade and plant in your child’s mind with explicit, distorted messages about sex and lifestyles. In advertisements, sex is used to sell anything from canned drinks to cameras. Magazine covers almost never fail to feature lithe, lean bodies. And TV and films promote sexy lifestyles and present unrealistic portrayals of love, parenthood and marriage.

For impressionable teens going through an awkward phase of growing up, the power of the media can have an adverse, devastating effect on them. They may adopt a ‘no big deal’ attitude towards sex and relationships because the media promotes and glamourises promiscuous lifestyles. But reality bites and young people can end up feeling hugely disappointed and disillusioned if they believe all that is put forward in the media. 

Dealing with media influence

While it’s unrealistic for you to prevent your children from being exposed to the mass media, you can help them deal with its impact – by filtering and evaluating its messages. Be wise to discern what’s positive and what’s questionable.

Watch movies and TV or surf the internet with your child and help him or her to recognise unrealistic messages about body image, relationships, male or female roles and sexual responsibility. Discuss these messages, sifting fact from fiction, right from wrong, acceptable and unacceptable. 

Ask your child to express his or her views. Share your opinions and highlight the right values. As a family, always be aware of how the media influences each other’s attitudes and choices by distorting the truth around sexual issues.

By helping your child to analyse and interpret these messages, you can help to moderate the media’s influence on your child’s life.