Yesterday I wrote about how peer pressure greatly influences adolescents’ sexual decision making. Today will be about how parents can have a place in the interaction and mutual-influence between adolescents and their peers.

So your teenage son or daughter’s friends are having sex. Or drinking, or smoking pot, or failing their classes. Whatever they’re doing, let’s assume it’s something you would prefer your son or daughter not to do. But it is now normalized in your son or daughter’s life, and therefore they are more likely to do it themselves.

The first road many parents take is trying to remove their child from the situation. “You can’t be friends with that person any more.” Now, I’ll be honest, I think this is a completely fruitless road to even try and walk down. It almost never works, and it severely reduces your ability to influence your teenager in other ways. However, I was recently very surprised by someone whose mother had found out that one of her daughter’s friends was having sex and getting drunk and stopped the friendship cold. So it can sometimes work, if two conditions are met: 1. that your son or daughter has the temperment to react well to such a dictum, which is very unusual, and 2. that the forbidden friend is really only one friend, and your son or daughter has a strong network of other friends to tap into.

The more effective path, the path less traveled by, and the one that will be the most likely to work, is to come to terms with the fact that your teenager knows how and why their peers engage in these potentially negative behaviors. The best way to influence your teenager to choose behaviors you would choose for them is to talk with them – by which I mean ask them questions. “Why do you think _____ is having sex/drinking alcohol/doing drugs? How do you think doing those things makes him/her feel? How do you think they would make you feel? Well, okay, sure, but how do you think you would feel about it a day/week/month/year later? You have to acknowledge the short-term good that these choices bring about. And you have to guide your teenager to seeing for him/herself what the long-term effects may be.

More tomorrow in part 3 on an answer to a question posted yesterday in the comments by Dorian:

You don’t talk of the outcome of these patterns of bahavior for these girls. I am left wondering, not how to respond to them, but are they now adults? Do they have healthy sex lives now? Is the difference in their sexual beginnings SUCH a big deal after all? I’m beginning to think that perhaps parents and adults in general make way too much out of it all – it is a decision, one decision, and yes, it does impact our lives, but perhaps only as one factor in a broad spectrum. What do you think?