Students ‘wanted to see what it felt like’
Updated: July 15, 2012 6:17AM
A fourth-grade student staggers across the front of the room, attempting to walk in a straight line. As a part of the Science Behind Drugs and Prevention at Robert Crown Center, he is wearing vision-distorting “drunk goggles” to demonstrate how alcohol distorts vision and perception.
But there is another reason for this demonstration! The Robert Crown instructor tells the young man that he can pick a classmate to try the demonstration next. Immediately all the hands shoot up. Fourth graders frantically shout, “Pick Me! Pick Meeee!”
When another student has been selected, and comes to the front of the room the teacher hands him the “Drunk Goggles” but then asks the students why they were so frantic to try the goggles. The answers range from; “It looked like fun” to “I wanted to see what it feels like to be drunk” to “I wanted to feel that dizzy feeling.” The teacher then asks the kids if they know what they have just described.
Usually blank looks stare back at the teacher until one child says, “OH! That is peer pressure!”
Peer pressure happens when someone is influenced to conform to the behaviors, attitudes and personal habits of the group. This influence is especially powerful in the teen years when young people begin spending much more time with peers and less with family. Teens need to identify with their group and want to fit in, be liked and accepted.
This is also a time when teen brains are undergoing a radical growth spurt. Nerve connections are being made at record speed, but the whole brain does not grow at the same rate. The prefrontal cortex is a section of the brain that evaluates outcomes, forms judgments and controls impulses and emotions. This part of the brain is the last part to mature. An area of the teenager’s brain that is well-developed early on is the part of the brain that seeks pleasure and reward.
These social and biological influences combine to make teens especially vulnerable to peer pressure. Studies show that risk factors like low self- esteem, a lack of independent hobbies or interests, a feeling of isolation from family, and a fear that friends could reject them can make teens more susceptible to pressure.
Parents, however, can help to mediate this pressure. Helping children develop confidence and a strong sense of self as young children will increase their self-esteem. Self-esteem is a powerful protective factor that will help teens resist negative peer pressure. Parents should also talk with their children about decisions like smoking tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Emphasizing the consequences of experimentation and discussing the parents reasons they want kids to make good choices provides another protective factor to resist negative peer pressure.
When parents allow kids to discuss their views and parents are clear about their position about teen drug use, it allows kids to establish strong positions on these issues. These positions help teens to make good choices when they experience peer pressure related to drugs or alcohol choices. Most teens discover when they are clear about their position, their friends respect their choices.
Parents who know their teen’s friends and keep a close check on their teen’s activities will helps their teen make good choices about who they hang out with and what they do. Parents can also encourage teens to be themselves and avoid all forms of bullying. Teens may feel pressure to tease or harass classmates. Bullying is a terrible way to fit in and if even one teen stands up for what is right, she can inspire friends to do the same.
Teens are in a difficult position! Social forces encourage a need for acceptance and a separation from their family as they mature. Biological forces encourage them to seek excitement and rewards while their decision-making prefrontal cortex is still maturing. Parents can help teens to resist negative peer pressure and inspire their teens to make good choices. So, at some time when a teen says, “I want to see what it feels like,” that teen can also consider consequences and feel that they are too valuable to risk their future with poor choices.
Rosanne Tenuta is a health educator at the Robert Crown Center in Hinsdale.