Research shows that the pressure to have sex, use tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs comes most often from wanting to be accepted, wanting to belong, and wanting to be noticed. Help your Asperger's (high-functioning autistic) teenager learn what qualities to look for in a friend, and advise him about what to say if offered harmful substances. Children who have difficulty making friends need your support to avoid being isolated or bullied. This post offers information and tips to support your child's social skills and development at a time when he is making important decisions that will affect his whole life.

Teen Popularity Tied to Alcohol, Tobacco, and Illegal Drug Use—

From cigarette-smoking James Dean in the 1950s to the current generation of rave goers, images of popularity among teenagers often have included alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use. In a study at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that young people connect cigarette smoking and alcohol and illegal drug use with popularity.

According to the study, young people between the ages of 14 and 22 are more likely to connect drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or pot, or gambling with their “popular” peers than their “unpopular” ones. Young people believe that cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol are easily accessible, and many also believe that the popular kids drink and smoke cigarettes or marijuana. Since popular kids shape the norms that influence the attitudes and behaviors of those their age, this combination of popularity and accessibility is a dangerous mix.

Teens’ desire to be well-liked is not unusual, but it may lead them to make poor decisions, especially when it comes to resisting peer pressure; saying “no” to a popular kid can be tough. You can help your teen by preparing her to deal with peer pressure.

Another way to help your teen is to get to know your teen’s friends. Encourage your teen to invite his friends to hang out at your house, drive them to a movie or school event, and attend school or community events (like a football game). Meeting your teen’s friends will give you a sense of their personalities, their interests, and their family situations. Don’t be too quick to judge your child’s friends, though. Radical styles and unconventional appearances may be nothing more than a badge of identity. Besides, your teen may dismiss any snap judgments that you offer.

What Is Your Child’s School Doing About Bullying?

Bullying affects more students than many parents realize. Even if your child isn’t a bully and isn’t a victim of bullying, she may still be affected by bully/victim problems in her school.

According to Blueprints for Violence Prevention, in classrooms or schools with high levels of bullying problems, students tend to feel less safe and are less satisfied with school life. These feelings mean that for many students, especially those who are bullying victims, the classroom is no longer a place of learning. When a child feels unsafe, he can’t pay attention to his schoolwork as he should.

A classroom with a lot of bullying problems may also have other harmful effects on students. Children and teens who regularly see bullying at school have a less secure learning environment, fear that the bully may target them next, and know that teachers and other adults either can’t or won’t control bullies’ behavior. Over time, such events can lead to new bullying episodes and other problems in the classroom.

School administrators need to be committed to stopping bullying at school. The best way of addressing bullying is through broad, school wide programs. Although teachers, counselors, and parents may be able to deal with individual cases of bullying as they come up, it’s not likely to have a real impact on the rate of bullying in the school.

For one thing, bullying often is hidden from both teachers and parents. Adults typically identify less than 10 percent of bullying incidents. In addition, many teachers and administrators don’t understand the dynamics of bullying. With no training, some educators may actually support bullying behavior. They may accidentally send students the message that bullying is “part of growing up,” or simply ignore the behavior.

There are a large percentage of students who regularly witness bullying at school but don’t know what they can do to help. The most important reason for creating a school-wide anti-bullying program may be to connect and make this “silent majority” fell powerful enough to help. Programs that teach students to recognize and intervene in bullying have been found to have the greatest impact on stopping incidents of bullying and harassment at school.

To learn what you school is doing about bullying, contact a school guidance counselor or administrator. If your school does not have a bullying prevention program in place, encourage school administrators to start one. Bullying prevention programs don’t just make school better for bullies and victims; they make school better for all students.

Know Your Child's Friends and Their Parents—

A Good Result: You may wonder if any of your guidance is sinking in, but young people listen and absorb more than you think. They are likely to apply your viewpoint to their own friends and social situations. Young people consistently say that their parents are the most important influence in their lives.

A Guiding Hand: Adolescents may react negatively to any pressure or direct suggestions about whom they should hang out with. But there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about their friends. You can ask a child what she likes about a friend or what she thinks of a situation. Use examples from your own experience. Spending time together and being involved in a child's life allows communication about friends and other sensitive topics to become natural and expected. Encourage your children to get involved in activities that match their interests. Trying different activities channels an adolescent's curiosity into things that are safe and fun. Positive activities are good ways to meet friends who have positive attitudes.

A New Era: As children move into middle school and on to high school, they meet new people and experience changes in style, outlook, and social life. Don't be surprised to see major shifts in your child's fashion sense, the movies she watches, and the music she listens to. As your adolescent develops her new identity, she may challenge the way things are done and may see little need for advice and direction. Disappearing into her room, spending endless hours on the phone, and hanging out with friends—often new friends—are behaviors that signal a whole new scene.

Peer Influences: As a child begins to declare his independence, his social circle may provide new views about what's right, acceptable, "cool," or "hip." Unspoken expectations as well as direct encouragement can sway an adolescent's behavior as well as his attitudes. The youth scene inevitably includes issues of drinking, smoking, and illegal drug use. When a young person has friends who engage in these activities, it becomes easier for her to believe that such conduct is normal. Besides, adolescents tend to think nothing bad can happen to them. As a result, a child may be inclined to go along with the crowd. She may try a substance that not only is dangerous, but also can get her in trouble. Remember, tobacco and alcohol use are against the law for adolescents.

A Watchful Eye: Young people often are so focused on their personal world of friends and activities that parental influence may seem to be squeezed out. But you can do a lot to help your adolescent take the right social cues.

Get to know the friends' parents. If you haven't met them, give them a call. Ask what their expectations are regarding curfews, sleepovers, and entertainment. Share your rules and views. Invite the friends' parents to contact you with any questions or concerns regarding the adolescents' behavior or to clarify arrangements for their activities. Doing so will add to your impressions of your child's friends. It will help you know where your child is, whom he is with, and how (or if) he is being supervised when he's not at home.

Getting to know a child's friends is a good place to start. Meeting them will give you a sense of their personalities, what they are "into," and their family situations. Don't be too quick to judge a child's friends, though. Radical styles and unconventional appearances may be nothing more than a badge of identity. Besides, your child will dismiss any snap judgments that you offer.

Welcome your child's friends into your home. Encourage your child to invite them over. Talk with them. Offer to drive them home or to drop the group off at a party, the movies, or a school event.

Preparing Youth for Peer pressure—

It's more than just a phase that young people go through. Whether it leads to pink hair or body piercing, peer pressure is a powerful reality and many adults do not realize its effects. It can be a negative force in the lives of children and adolescents, often resulting in their experimentation with tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs. Parents often believe that their children do not value their opinions. In reality, studies suggest that parents have tremendous influence over their children, especially teenagers. No matter the age of their children, parents and caregivers should never feel helpless about countering the negative effects of peer pressure. Here are what parents can do:

Teach young people how to refuse offers for cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. Making children comfortable with what they can say goes a long way. For instance, shy children and adolescents might be more comfortable saying, "no thanks," or "I have to go," while those who are more outgoing might saying something like, "forget it!" or "no way!" No matter what approach parents choose, it is important for them to role-play peer-pressure situations with their children.

Talk to young people about how to avoid undesirable situations or people who break the rules. Children and adolescents who are not in situations where they feel pressure to do negative actions are far less likely to do them. Likewise, those who choose friends who do not smoke, drink, use drugs, steal, and lie to their parents are far less likely to do these things as well.

Remind children that there is strength in numbers. When young people can anticipate stressful peer pressure situations, it might be helpful if they bring friends for support.

Let young people know that it is okay to seek an adult’s advice. While it would be ideal if children sought the advice of their parents, other trusted adults can usually help them avoid most difficult situations, such as offers to smoke, drink, or use drugs.

Nurture strong self-esteem. Strong self-esteem helps children and adolescents make decisions and follow them, even if their friends do not think some choices are "cool." Some ways parents can do this include being generous with praise, teaching children how to perceive themselves in positive ways, and avoiding criticism of children that takes the form of ridicule or shame.

Teach Your Child Refusal Skills: Your child faces a number of tough decisions in her life. Since making friends and fitting in are important to many children, peer pressure has a big impact on decisions, especially on those about drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Children may be afraid that if they say no to something harmful, they won't be accepted. It is important that you teach your child about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Other important skills your child needs are refusal skills. If you teach her how to say no to dangerous situations, she will feel more confident in her decisions. There are a number of ways your child can refuse drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Following is a guide for teaching your child refusal skills.

Ways To Say No—

Assert yourself. This is an important part of all the above tactics. If your child can stick up for herself, she is learning an important life skill. Being able to state your position assertively is a trait that we value in adults, so if your child learns it now, she will be better off in the future.

Be a broken record. Tell your child to keep saying no as many times as he needs to, either to cause the person pressuring them to stop, or to stall until he can think of something else to say.

Change the subject or suggest doing something else. By saying, "Let's do ____ instead," your child has the potential to not only refuse an offer of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, but to prevent a friend from using them too.

Give a reason. This reason could be simply, "I'm not allowed to do that," or, "That's bad for you." It could state the consequences, such as, "I don't want to do that; it will make me sick," or, "You can die from doing that." The important thing is that your child states her reason for saying no with confidence. It's important for your child not to get into an argument; the goal is to refuse what is being offered.

Say, "No, thanks." It could be just as easy as that! However, if the person offering the cigarette, beer, or joint persists, your child will have to back up her "No thanks" with other tactics.

Walk away or ignore the offer. This doesn't work in all situations. Sometimes your child will be alone or in some other situation where he can't walk away.

Remember, the best way to refuse drugs, alcohol, and tobacco is to spend time with people who don't use these substances. Help your children establish positive friendships, and monitor your child's activities.

==> The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

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