Fitting In

Many teens feel like an outsider and long to feel included and liked by their teenage peers. This need can be so strong that they engage in teenage drinking or drug use to help them make friends, fit in or be accepted.

Teenage drinking and drug use may give kids an in with a desired clique
If the kids your teen wants to hang out with are drinking or doing drugs, they may feel like they need to do them as well, or risk being left out. This may be true — but you can talk to your teen about why it's so important to fit in with this particular group if they're asking him to do something he doesn't want to do. (The kid could also feel pressure even if no one specifically asked him/her to take drugs).

Kids may use drugs or drink to change their image
Some teens use drugs or engage in teenage drinking as way to alter their image at school or work to one they perceive as more "dangerous" or "edgy."

Teens may use alcohol or drugs to fit in when moving to a new school or town
Keep a special eye on your teenager if you've just made a move to a new town or if she's just started at a new school. Some kids perceive drugs or teenage drinking as a way to easily fit in and make friends in an unfamiliar environment.

What Parents Can Do

  • Get to know your kid's friends and the friends' parents
  • Encourage your teen's friends to hang out at your house: give them a private space if possible, feed them and leave them alone.
  • Know the cell phone and house phone numbers of your child's closest friends
  • Pay close attention when kids mention new names and find out who those kids are
  • Tell stories (either from your own life or from history, books, movies, etc.) of people who chose not to go along with the crowd — and achieved great things because of it.
  • Encourage and help your teen to sign up for a team, club, youth group, art class, or volunteer organization
  • Explain to your child that real friends don't make you do things you aren't comfortable with
  • Look at your child's selection of friends (the ones you disapprove of) as a potentially hidden communication to you. Possible meanings may range from a statement about his/her relationship with you, a declaration of revolt or anger (not just of healthy separation or individuation), a call for attention, or a request for intervention. Teenage relationship choices — like substance abuse — can be a symptom, not just an end product.
  • It's important that teens feel that their parents trust them and do not invade their privacy. But trust must be mutual, and built upon open dialogue and discussion between parents and teens. Just as your teenager wants you to trust and respect his privacy, he must know that as a parent you need to be able to trust his decisions and know that he's following the family rules and being honest with you about anything that could endanger his health and possibly life.
  • If you feel your child is risking his or her health or safety, let her know that you are concerned and may check her room, cell phones and computers. If you take that step, look for mentions of teenage drinking, drug paraphernalia or drug culture. Take a look at her internet browsing history for pro-drug websites as well as unusual e–mails, blog entries and instant messages. Keep an eye out for lingo such as "POS" (parent over shoulder), PAW (parents are watching), PIR (parent in room) and emoticons such as "%*}" (drunk).


Neil Bernstein, Ph.D., discusses the power of peer pressure.

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Download this list of current drug-related street terms and slang (pdf):

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