The preteen years can be a difficult and stressful period for both parents and their children. Although peer pressure really begins in childhood, it often becomes a more prevalent issue in the preteen and teen years, says psychiatrist Gail Saltz in an article for NBC's "Today" parenting section. As much as you've tried to armor your preteen against the negative effects of peer pressure, it's almost inevitable that she'll be affected by it at some point. While you can't protect her from every eventuality, you can help identify -- and possibly prevent -- the negative effects of peer pressure on your preteen.
Talk to your preteen about peer pressure. Educate her about the ways her peers might pressure her to experiment with negative behaviors or drugs and alcohol. Help her recognize that these people aren't her "real" friends. Ask her if she wants to share anything about her experiences, and let her know that you are always there for her, no matter what, if she wants to talk or if she needs your help.
Observe any dramatic changes in appearance or attitude. While most preteens make some changes to their behavior or appearance in an attempt to fit in with the crowd, a lack of communication, dressing like members of a negative peer group or a lack of respect can be a sign that he's fallen in with the wrong crowd, says the Aspen Educational Group.
Ask questions. If you suspect that your preteen is struggling with peer pressure, being direct and asking questions is often the best way to address the situation. For example, if you smell cigarettes or alcohol on her breath, ask if she's been drinking or smoking. Then talk to her about the dangers of engaging in such behaviors. For example, you might discuss the negative health effects of drinking and smoking, suggests the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Encourage her to come to you with any questions or problems -- let her know that no question is too small or unimportant.
Meet your preteen's friends and, if possible, their parents. In an article for the Children's Physician Network, psychologist Lesley Stabinsky Compton says that children whose parents know their friends are less likely to get into trouble. And if you have suspicions about your preteen's behavior, you might gain insight by observing her behavior and interactions with her friends. For example, if she stays out late or skips school to hang out with her friends, then you can step in and have a serious discussion about responsible behavior, respecting your rules and developing a more positive social circle.
Consult a qualified mental health professional or your preteen's school counselor if you are worried about a problem. School counselors and child mental health professionals are specially trained to spot problems and may help clarify or address your concerns, says Compton.
Confront dangerous or illegal behavior immediately. Discuss the situation with your preteen, her school counselor and if necessary, a qualified child psychologist.