Building Resilience Helps Prevent Risky Teen Behaviors


Teen substance abuse and teen pregnancy affect a large number of youths each year. Both are linked to peer pressure, among other factors. Both can have lasting effects on the physical and mental development of young people.

Research shows that brain development continues well into a person’s early 20s. Adults can provide vital support to guide teens through those crucial years of brain development.

Through Positive Youth Development (PYD), teens can learn how to stay away from risky behavior and stay on course for healthy development. By developing resilience and other “protective factors,” they can reduce the impact of “risk factors” such as peer pressure. As a result, they are better able to overcome adversity.

Importance of Positive Youth Development

PYD helps young people develop the skills they need to cope with pressures that might lead to unhealthy behaviors.

To help teens build resilience, adults can promote these protective factors:

  • Provide structure, limits, rules, monitoring and predictability.
  • Have clear expectations for behavior and values.
  • Be supportive.
  • Connect your child to a mentor.
  • Encourage your child to get involved in school or community activities.
  • Get involved yourself in activities at your child’s school.

How to Build Resilience

Adults can help children they love develop resilience to boost their ability to deal with peer pressure and handle adversity. Here are some tips from the American Psychological Association that will help you build resilience in your child:

1. Make connections. Teach your child how to make friends. Encourage your child to be a friend in order to get friends. Connecting with people provides support and boosts resilience.

2. Help your child by having them help others. Find age-appropriate volunteer opportunities for your child. Helping others can build confidence in children who may feel helpless.

3. Have a daily routine. Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially younger children who need structure.

4. Teach your child self-care. Teach your child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Be a good role model for your child.

5. Maintain a hopeful attitude. An optimistic and positive outlook helps your child see the good things in life. It will also help them keep going even in the hardest times.

6. Accept change. Help your child see that change is part of life.

Tips for Handling Peer Pressure

Peer pressure has a significant impact in the increase of substance abuse, sexual activity and other potentially harmful behaviors. It can be hard to resist peer pressure. That’s especially the case for teens, who often want to impress their friends—even if it means taking a risk.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens provides tips on how teens can resist peer pressure to use alcohol or drugs. These tips can also be used in response to pressure to participate in sexual activity.

  • Look the person in the eye
  • Speak in a polite, but clear and firm, voice
  • Suggest something else to do
  • Walk away from the situation
  • Find something else to do with other friends

Teens can always blame their resistance on their parents by saying; “I’d be in big trouble if they ever found out.”

Additional Resources

Learn more about puberty and sexual development.

See more details about adolescent behavior.

Find more Positive Youth Development resources and publications.

Watch this video on teen mental health: