Charlottetown – Teens in Eastern Canada are learning that peer pressure is not an insurmountable problem, and can even be an asset.
They are turning enthusiastically to Peer Pressure Reversal, a program used to promote chastity and other positive values.
“If peer pressure can be used negatively, it can also be used positively,” says Ray Malone, a guidance counsellor with the provincial Department of Education who introduced the idea here.
He explains that Peer Pressure Reversal provides understandings and strategies that can be used by the young – and their elders – for many of life’s difficult decisions.
“Kids experience considerable pressure from their peers, but they often don’t recognize it as such,” says Pat, Mr. Malone’s wife and co-promoter of the programme. She is also the province’s Family Life Coordinator. “They tend to think of it simply as good advice from a friend”, she explains.
At other times, they recognize the situation and want to say ‘no’ but don’t know how to do so without being ostracized.
Ray and Pat Malone find that young people are most vulnerable to the influence of four groups among their peers;
- best friends
- older youth
- their dates
- the popular kids in their group
The most troubling and troublesome decisions they face have to do with drug and alcohol use, sexual activity, shoplifting and vandalism, and breaking the rules of home, school and community.
“Teens want to make responsible decisions. They want to be in good relationships with their family and community. They want to keep their friendships and self-esteem intact”, say the Malones. But often they don’t know how.
Enter Peer Pressure Reversal
It teaches them to always be alert to what is going on around them, and to ask themselves if it could mean trouble. “They quickly realize that the sooner they check out the scene and evaluate the situation, the easier it is to decide how to protect themselves”, says Mr. Malone.
The next step is make a conscious decision about whether it is a good situation to be involved in. Should they decide it is not, they can then resort to one or more of the
following strategies to protect themselves and their decisions:
You can just say no, and keep saying it like a broken record if necessary.
“If you see that your friends are planning an activity you want nothing to do with, you can just say ‘See you later, guys ,’ and split the scene.”
Without arguing or defending your own decision, you can act as if the suggestion was never made. “Like, when you’re asked for an answer in a test, you can pretend you never heard the question.”
*MAKE AN EXCUSE
Give any reason serious or joking, for not taking part in a dangerous or immoral activity. “Sorry guys. My dad will kill me if I’m late tonight.”
*CHANGE THE SUBJECT
“Are you getting a new dress for the dance?” “Are you going to the game on Saturday?”
*MAKE A JOKE
Imply that the suggestion was so ridiculous it couldn’t have been meant seriously. This gives everyone involved an “out.”
“John, I can’t believe you’d suggest something like that! Anyone but you!”
“I know that you are far too intelligent (have too much on the ball, respect your family too much) to even consider doing that.”
*A BETTER IDEA
“Let’s go biking instead.”
“Why don’t you do it yourself? Are you chicken or something?”
These messages cannot be effective if they sound apologetic. They must be delivered with conviction. The Peer Pressure Reversal programme teaches young people the importance of getting their friends attention, of using direct eye contact, and of ‘slowing it down’, so their response is taken seriously.
Ray and Pat Malone don’t just stand up and lecture the young people. “We train teams of young people to talk to other young people about problems they all encounter. They develop skits to demonstrate a variety of coping techniques, including ways that don’t work well,” explains Pat. The teams work out their own scripts, using language and examples that appeal to their peers.
Does it work?
Does Peer Pressure Reversal work? The teens say ‘yes.’ They say things like “it helps me stick to my decisions”; “it keeps me and my friends out of trouble”; “it helps me feel good about myself.”
They also find that with these strategies they can exert reverse pressure on their friends to act more responsibly.