Coined by Queen and David Bowie in 1981, ‘Under Pressure’ rocketed to number 1 when first released. Besides the catchy tune, the song caught the attention of so many because it hit a nerve. After all, we all feel pressure – from ourselves, our loved ones, society – and sometimes, as the song continues, it’s from ‘the terror of knowing what the world is about". Without experience or self-awareness, children can feel this even more deeply.


The idea of feeling a little pressure to conform is not always a bad thing for kids. They can be inspired to be creative, take up a sport or work harder at school. But sometimes peer pressure can make them act in ways that seem totally out of character. From buying expensive things to fit in, to behaving badly to get approval. Here are three of the main issues to be aware of online and how to deal with them. 

1. Cyberbullying

The internet forms a positive part of our everyday lives, but it can also be an unkind place where negative messages can quickly spiral. When this happens, kids can easily get swept up in feeling like they have to take part or respond. Sometimes, this is to impress friends or be seen to respond. Other times, it can be when you feel you have to join in or risk becoming the target of online bullying yourself.

What can you do?

  • Help them understand how ‘fun’ banter online can quickly become crueller and more personal. Remind them they can always tell you if they think it might be happening.

  • It can be difficult to realise you’re being pressured until after the bullying has taken place. Let them know they always have a choice about what they do and that telling you or a teacher is the right thing to do.

  • If you find out they’ve been actively taking part in cyberbullying, talk to them about why they did it, how they think it made the victim feel and how they will act in the future.

2. Self-esteem and body confidence

Peer pressure can have a big impact on how young people feel about themselves. Many feel they need to look ‘perfect’ like the influencers they follow on Instagram or YouTube. These unrealistically high expectations can often lead them to ask themselves: ‘Why can’t I look like that?’

What can you do?

  • Talk to them about how photos on the internet are often heavily edited to emphasise certain features, and therefore shouldn’t be used to make comparisons.

  • Be a role model. Don’t point out something you don’t like about someone’s appearance, whether you’re talking about a celebrity, a stranger or even yourself.

  • Help them to set their social media account settings so that only friends can view and comment. This will avoid any unwanted negative comments from strangers online. 

3. Sexting

Used to describe the sending and receiving of sexually explicit photos or videos, ‘sexting’ has become ‘a normative component of teen sexual behaviour and development’ according to Sheri Madigan, a psychologist who was first author of a large study on digital sexual activity published at the end of February in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

What can you do?

  • Start talking about sexting — as with so many topics — younger than you think you need to. Talk about safety, online and offline, when you discuss social behaviour, friendships and romantic relationships and how people treat others and want to be treated.

  • Be approachable and open. If you want your children to feel able to talk to you, they need to know you’ll provide reassurance rather than just reacting negatively towards them.

  • You can find more helpful information at

It’s time to talk – but how do I approach them?

If you do want to have a conversation but aren’t sure how, here’s our tips.

  • Be close and stay involved. Children who have a close relationship with their parents are often able to talk more openly and resist peer pressure more instinctively. Have regular conversations talking about their day and yours. Make sure to listen, offer support or encouragement, and help solve any dilemmas they might have.

  • Listen to what they say until they have finished, and then calmly ask them for more detail, explaining that you want to understand exactly what the context was or to be clear about what happened.

  • Don’t be judgemental. If you want to ask about something, do it tactfully and without judgement or they may avoid coming to you for support in the future.

  • Try not to get upset by what your child tells you. The fact that they’re even talking to you about it is positive and you don’t want to put them off by overreacting - even if what they tell you makes you angry, either at them for something they have done, or at one of their friends for putting pressure on them.

  • Thank them for telling you. Once the facts are established, thank them for telling you and discuss how they can, a) make amends if they have done something to hurt someone else, or b) how to help them feel better about themselves if they are the ones who have been hurt.

  • Be proactive. Talk to them about issues like cyberbullying and sexting now, rather than waiting until something happens.


This article is by Parent Zone, the experts in digital family life.