Over the weekend, 19-year old Georgina Bartter collapsed and died at a Sydney music festival from a suspected adverse reaction to drugs. Reading that awful story in a Sydney Morning Herald article, one quote stood out to me – “She had allergies and it was extremely out of character.”

It stood out to me for two reasons – because of the obvious pull of peer pressure that ended in tragic loss of life; but also because just that weekend, a teenage girl was asking me how to discourage her friends from getting involved in unhealthy behaviours: such as substance abuse, excessive drinking, and casual sexual encounters.

This kind of thing really goes to show how important it is to teach your kids the dangers of certain social activities. But I think it suggests a step further: teenagers should be taught how to talk to their friends about substance abuse and other issues.

And if they ask you how to talk to their friends about these things, here are some ideas of what to say:

“Know what you’re talking about.” For teens, the first step to helping their friends is to know and understand their reasons for acting a certain way. It doesn’t stick in their head if they’re told that they can’t do something “just because”. But if they’ve been brought up with the how and the why behind their actions, and parents have discussed it with them whenever an opportunity presents itself, they’re less likely to be swayed when peer pressure hits.

“Keep it non-judgmental.” Teenagers can be very direct: “You’re wrong, I don’t like it, and I’m not talking to you until you stop.” Encourage teens to express their concern for their friends out of love instead – people don’t like being told they are wrong, but they like knowing that they’re loved and that someone if worried about them. Even if their friends don’t like what they hear, they’re more likely to me open to it if they aren’t feeling attacked.

“Tell them why you personally wouldn’t do it.” I don’t know about you, but if someone tells me straight out not to do something, then it’s more likely that I’ll want to do it. But if they explain their own approach, in a logical way that’s detached from me, I’d probably take in what they say, think about it, and potentially agree. Encourage teens to take this approach with their friends – leading by example, if you will, rather than forcing their opinion down another’s throat.

“Create positive peer pressure!” Who says peer pressure has to be all negative? If kids realised that just as others can influence them to do the wrong thing, so they can influence others to do the right thing, the world would be a better place! Their strength in saying “no” to something could be what encourages other kids to stick to their guns too – and who knows how many people will join them, not to mention grow in respect for them. 

Tamara El-Rahi is an associate editor of MercatorNet. A Journalism graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, she lives in Australia with her husband and two daughters.