Part of the problem is that the section of the brain used in making such big decisions doesn't fully mature until kids reach their early 20s, says Richard R. Clayton, PhD, associate dean for research at University of Kentucky's College of Public Health, in Lexington. Yet most prevention programs teach tweens and teens strategies that emphasize "cold cognition," the rational, nonemotional way of responding. But in that moment, when someone asks your daughter to hop into the backseat or your son for the answers on a test, your kid will be in a high-emotion situation that requires "hot cognition," Clayton says, adding, "Needless to say, many of our kids are not as skilled at regulating their emotions as we'd like them to be."
Parents also underestimate the intensity of pressure. A recent poll of 46,000 teens by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America found that dealing with peers is the leading source of stress for kids, ahead of school, relationships, and violence. And parents also forget kids can be leaned on in multiple new ways, by text message, IM, or e-mail.
What's more, kids being coerced have to "size up situations in a few seconds, determine if they want to say no, and then get that across without threatening their friendships," says Scott. "After a half-minute, either their friend starts getting combative, or else the bad choice -- the invitation to ditch math class, for example -- starts to sound pretty good." What teens need is an arsenal of say-no strategies. Which is where you come in, empowering your kid with these secrets for staying strong when the pressure is on.