Teachers: Helping teenagers deal with drug-related peer pressure

How teachers can help teenagers deal with drug-related peer pressure, identify their values and stay true to themselves. 

Helping teenagers deal with drug-related peer pressure

Being young is tough – and being a teenager can be particularly tough. There is so much pressure from all angles: parents, teachers, coaches and perhaps hardest of all to deal with, pressure from friends. Many teenagers have an intense desire to fit in, be popular and win approval from their peers. This can lead to situations where they feel pushed into a corner, pressured to go along with the crowd and engage in certain activities they don’t necessarily feel comfortable with.

Drug and alcohol use are two highly complex issues that today’s teenagers have to deal with. By and large they know the risks – it’s drummed into them by all the responsible adults in their lives, but the allure of experimenting and winning the acceptance of their friends is often a more powerful motivator than pleasing their parents. So how can we help teens resist the pressure to do drugs and learn to protect themselves from the sometimes serious consequences of getting involved in illicit and dangerous substance use?

The importance of values in drug education

Focusing on values is a start. Everyone, no matter who they are, has a set of beliefs or values that they try to live by – whether they have consciously acknowledged them or not. These may not always be noble, but often values such as loyalty, courage and determination can be shared by a vast array of human beings, across cultures and socio-economic demographics. Valuing one’s health and wellbeing is something a lot of people embrace and is becoming a growing trend among many demographics, especially young people, despite their propensity towards feeling indestructible and like the physical or mental consequences of drug use will not affect them.

Research has shown appealing to young people’s desire to reach their full potential in life can be an effective way of encouraging them to think twice about self-destructive activities including drug and alcohol use. Probing what their dreams and goals are can be a useful way of engaging with otherwise wary adolescents who are vigilant in resisting any authoritarian messages they encounter as they near adulthood. Framing messages in a positive light can really open up discussion and bring out the best in young people, instead of setting off the usual resistant reactions many teens have when talking about drugs with adults.

Helping teenagers stay true to themselves is the key

Having teenagers examine what peer pressure is and why it exists is another way to get them to step outside their immediate experiences and think about what drives their decisions. Encouraging self-reflection is also useful and is often a better way of bringing about positive behavioural change in young people than dictating to them what they should be doing, and most importantly, not doing!

Practical ways of embracing these approaches include getting them to list their top 5 values and then asking how certain decisions or scenarios would fit with these. This encourages them to explore what they value, who they think they are, what fits in with their perception of themselves – and really start making decisions on this basis.

NCPIC has a number of classroom-based activities teachers can share with their students to get them engaged with this topic. One activity is a ‘values slider’ that aims to encourage students to ‘stay true to themselves’ and think about how their choices in life match with their values. In this way teachers are not telling students what values they have and how they should run their lives, but they are giving them the tools to discover their own beliefs and how they can best stay true to them. Check out this activity and more resources for teachers which we hope will prove useful and engaging for your students. 

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