7th Graders Learn Healthy Decision Making from Peer to Peer Mentors

Upper School Peer to Peer mentors were back in the Middle School this week, this time to share information about healthy decision making and peer pressure with their 7th grade friends.

The mentors shared that they know from experience that peer pressure exists in middle school, and continues even as adolescents grow older. They discussed positive and negative peer pressure, how students influence each other’s behavior and how to handle peer pressure from friends and others. Then they offered helpful strategies so 7th graders can say “no” when needed. They reviewed risks and decisions that are typical for middle schoolers, and encouraged safe decision making. Finally, they talked about consent and what that looks like in middle school relationships.

What is peer pressure?

Peer pressure is the influence of a social group or friends on an individual to behave in a certain way or be like them. It can be spoken and unspoken, and can be positive or negative. Positive peer pressure encourages students to challenge themselves or do something positive for someone else. It can be encouraging to try new things, even if students don’t think they’re capable. Peers can also talk their friends out of doing something harmful, and can encourage inclusivity and being an upstander. Positive peer pressure can result in overcoming fears, getting out of comfort zones, encourage health and safety and can foster stronger relationships.

What happens when peer pressure isn’t positive? Negative peer pressure results in students doing things they don’t want to do or that aren’t healthy or safe. The pressure happens when students fear the consequences of refusing, such as social rejection. The Upper School mentors were very clear about the types of negative peer pressure that students can face today, including drinking, vaping, sexual behavior, smoking, drugs, cheating, lying, stealing, gossiping, exclusion or unwanted relationships.

Dealing With Peer Pressure

Sadly, peer pressure can especially come from friends, but these Upper School mentors have great advice on dealing with it. They told 7th graders that having self-confidence is key: Be yourself. Don’t apologize for not thinking the same way as someone else. Stick to your values and know where you stand. Listen to your gut and trust your instincts, and if those are confused, think about what your parents or grandmother would say. Consider what would happen if the consequences included legal action, and the impact that could have on family, school and sports. The best way to avoid negative peer pressure, they said, is to find friends with the same values and practice saying no.

What happens if students are in a situation where they feel pressured? Well, the mentors had some helpful advice for that, too. The first thing is to check out the scene and think, “Will I get in trouble for being here or doing this?” Making a good decision up front, such as deciding whether to stay or go, can help students avoid trouble altogether. If a student feels pressure, they should say, “No, thanks, I’d rather not.” If the pressure continues, they should say, “I said no. Please quit pressuring me.” Leaving the scene is always a great option, and perhaps the easiest way to do that is for students to set up a code word or emoji with a parent that signals, “Come get me!” Parents, you should agree to pick up your student with no questions asked, or perhaps an agreement to not talk about the situation until the next day. As for the people on the scene, it’s okay for students to “blame” parents or family. “My mom would kill me if I got caught. I’d be grounded for life.” In the case of drugs or alcohol, students could even say, “Addiction runs in my family.” Athletes can blame their sport, and say, “I have a pact with my coach. I am planning to play in college and I can’t ruin my chances.”

Changing the subject is also a great option. Changing the conversation to the latest episode of a popular television show or a recent professional sports game can turn the conversation away from negative pressure. Jokes and humor are great options, or acting shocked, or even using flattery. Students can suggest a better option, or they can return the challenge, saying, “Why would anyone smoke? It’s expensive, you look stupid when you do it, and it can give you cancer” or “Why would you drink? You can lose control of what you are doing and not know what you did.” Mentors advised to be quick about it, say it in 30 seconds or less and no more than two times before leaving the situation. While mentors don’t condone drinking or smoking, they say that sometimes the best way to avoid pressure to drink is to simply a hold a cup and pretend, or hold an empty beer can.

Healthy Decisions & Relationships

After their discussion about peer pressure, the mentors guided the conversation into making healthy decisions about relationships typical for 7th and 8th grade students. They reviewed risks and the kinds of decisions that pop up in these early years of dating. Because of the inexperience of these younger students, they can be led to pressure to do things they’re not ready for maturity-wise.

Healthy relationships are built on consent, but what does that mean? Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in any form of sexual activity. Consent doesn’t have to be verbal, the mentors said, but communication is key! The important part of a relationship is communicating and making sure both participants on the same page for every action that is taken in a relationship. Mentors stressed that if there is something that has happened to you and you need to talk, please tell an adult you trust. They also offered themselves as a safe, trusted source. “You can reach out to one of us,” they said, “and we will make sure you get support and the advice.”

Be sure to ask your 7th grader about this important Peer to Peer conversation, and set up the code word or emoji for an emergency pick-up from a stressful and negative peer pressure situation.

Thanks to our Upper School mentors for sharing all their good ideas, advice, stories and experiences with their 7th grade friends!