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Parent Resources

But Everybody’s Doin' It...

This fact sheet is part of the Teen Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers series.

Group of kids taking a selfieJodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science

Revised June 2015.

Teens make decisions based on two important questions:

Your teen’s idea of fun and his perceptions of the level of risk involved determine whether or not he will participate in risky behaviors such as drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or having unprotected sex. For example, your teen is probably well aware that getting drunk carries many risks. But to a teenager, having fun and being with friends at the coolest party on Saturday night is more important than the risks.

What does she see in her friends?

During the teenage years, friends provide care, respect, and trust. Teens choose their friends because of similar interests or to make themselves more popular. Your child’s friends are going through the same kinds of things as your teen. They understand each other so they can talk about their problems and figure out ways to solve them together.

What if his friends drink or do drugs?

Teens do not drink or use drugs only because their friends do. Abusing alcohol or drugs is a sign of a problem more serious than peer pressure. There are ways parents can help prevent their teen from drinking alcohol or using drugs. For example, research has found that when parents monitor their teen’s behavior, the teen is less likely to participate in problem behaviors, and more likely to choose friends who show behaviors that parents like.

What would make her do that?

Teens’ decisions may not be irrational or stupid. Your teen might just be considering different consequences, and place different a different values and likelihood on a consequence than you would in the same situation. Let’s take the example of having unprotected sex.

What can I do to help my teen make better decisions?

At some point, every teenager is going to have to make decisions about alcohol, sex, and drugs. Talking with your teen lets her know how you feel about these issues and increases the likelihood that she will share your values. It is also a way to help her understand what the consequences of her actions are, and that these consequences are very real. Listen to your teen. She has questions and concerns that are different from yours. Talking lets you discuss both of your concerns and helps eliminate fighting.

Tips for talking with your teenager about risk taking

Can decision-making be taught?

You can teach your teenager to make good decisions on her own by giving her responsibility, information, and guidance. The first step is recognizing how people solve problems and remembering that we all learn to solve problems better by making mistakes.

Here is one problem-solving process you might try:

There is a trade-off between doing what one knows is right and being accepted by peers. Although your teen may have gotten drunk once or dyed his hair blue, keep in mind what he could be doing and what he has chosen not to do!

Sources

Brechwald, W. A., & Prinstein, M. J. (2011). Beyond homophily: A decade of advances in understanding peer influence processes. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21(1), 166–185.

Crockett, L. J., & Silbereisen, R. K. (Eds.). (2000). Negotiating adolescence in times of social change. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Steinberg, L. (2004). The 10 basic principles of good parenting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Steinberg, L. (2014). Age of opportunity: Lessons from the new science of adolescence. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

van Hoorn, J., van Dijk, E., Meuwese, R., Rieffe, C., & Crone, E. A. (2016). Peer influence on prosocial behavior in adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26(1), 90–100.

Related Resources

Decision Making and Risk Taking — Books, websites, and journal articles on these topics.

KidsHealth.org — Where to go for information you can trust about teens that's free of "doctor speak." In English and Spanish.

ParentFurther: A Search Institute Resource for Families — An online resource to help families strengthen relationships through shared activities.

For ParentsBoys Town — Boys Town is home to parenting experts who have developed a wealth of original content over the years that is available for free in their “For Parents” section.
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