A parent may say, “You need to stop listening to that bad music.” I remember the fights over what music was acceptable in our home when I was a teen. Those fights still go on in homes today, but it is different now. Rather than just a “generation gap” thing over what “good” music is, teenagers today can feel that it is a direct attack on their sense of belonging. Their shared musical experience allows them to fit in with their group, and if it is threatened or taken away, they will respond in defensiveness out of fear of losing their connectedness. They’ll actually feel as if it as an attack on them personally, not just their musical tastes.

It’s really helpful to understand the reason behind the response you may get from your teen when it comes to music, how they look, or some other issue. They are not thinking about the values and principles you hold dear; they are simply worried about not fitting in anymore with their friends. They’re protecting themselves from being on the receiving end of jokes and ridicule from their peers. So I encourage you to understand the nature of the battle that’s being fought.

It may well be a cut and dried case that what they are doing is morally wrong. And I’m not saying your effort to put a stop to it is wasted, or that you should accept whatever will help them fit in. I’m saying that to be truly effective in helping your teen walk the right path, you need to establish a relationship (because that’s what they are desperately looking for). Your relationship will fill the void that is driving them to seek acceptance elsewhere. Through that relationship you’ll be able to share in a more meaningful way why those things their peers are doing or promoting are wrong. After all, unlike younger kids, teenagers are beginning to reason, so they need to know the “why’s” not just the “thou shalt not’s.”

There are at least five things you can offer your child that no peer can match. Let me share these with you, and encourage you to begin making these vital connections using your unique resources as a parent.

1. Unconditional Acceptance – no friend can provide the depth of unconditional acceptance a parent can.

2. Value – only you can affirm that they have innate value, no matter what they do or how they look.

3. Wisdom – your teen will learn to value your wisdom if it is shared in discussions, not in lecturing.

4. Experience – you’ve been through many of the same things they are facing and can help them get through it.

5. Time – you have more time with them, and time is the crucial ingredient in building relationships that matter.

Research shows the presence of a strong family relationship is one of the most important elements that builds resiliency—the ability to resist negative peer pressure—in teens. You can’t change a teenager by controlling them. You can only affect lasting change by touching their heart. So, spend time together. Talk to your children. Even more importantly, listen to them.

Peer pressure doesn’t justify bad behavior. But by understanding the enormous influence it has on our teens, we can try to understand and prepare them ahead of time to resist those bad influences. Whether your child is four or fourteen it is never too late to start building a strong relationship that will help them do right even if their friends don’t.

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.