Peer Pressure: Be Your Child’s Partner Against It
“But everyone else is doing it!!”
- “What brand of soaps do we use at home?”
- “Mom, I can’t wear white Bata shoes to school! What will my friends say?”
- “I don’t want to go to school by bus anymore. All my friends come in a car.”
I could not believe that I was hearing these remarks by my nine-year-old. It certainly woke me up from the illusion that I was all prepared to be the parent of a pre-teen.
My first reaction was to tell her how absurd she sounded. The image of my child following the crowd rather than being an independent thinker bothered me. Instead, I decided to research the myriad nooks and crannies of peer pressure.
What Is Peer Pressure?
Simply put, peer pressure is the influence of similarly-aged children that causes a child to do something merely because everyone else is doing it – sometimes against his or her better judgment.
“One of the most important developmental tasks of childhood is finding ones’ place in the peer group. Acceptance and approval of age-mates is critical for children, even as early on as five years. The term ‘gang-age’ would not be an inappropriate on to use for childhood, ” says Prof. Priya Kher, a Master in Counseling Psychology from Adler School of Professional Psychology (Chicago, US) with a decade’s experience in teaching and counseling.
Some Startling Insights
In my quest to help my child deal with peer pressure, I talked with other parents and found that I was not on my own. Here are some of the insights I derived from these discussions -
- Peer pressure, whether constant or occasional, is an inevitable part of almost every child’s growing-up process.
- There is nothing worse for a young child than being perceived as different from the peer group. It is normal to copy friends in latest fashions, choice of friends and academic approach – and, infrequently in later years, negative activities like smoking, drinking and even drug use. Because of peer pressure, a child may engage in both relatively harmless and potentially dangerous activities.
- Peer pressure isn’t all bad. We all had experienced hitches on the path towards maturity, and our children are merely figuring out who they are, right versus wrong and how they will fit into this world. It’s easier for them to face these challenges when they choose friends that have similar values, upbringing and goals.
- Having peers with the right objectives can influence your child to be more goal-oriented. For instance, peers with the qualities of kindness and loyalty can help instill these qualities in your child (I remember my daughter devouring books by Roald Dahl as she and her friends competed with each other in a summer holiday reading spree).
- Many well-intentioned parents make it worse by comparing their children negatively with their friends. This can affect a child’s self-esteem, increasing the risk of falling into the peer pressure trap. How successfully a child deals with peer pressure depends a lot on how that child’s self-perception.
- We cannot protect our children from experiencing peer pressure – but we can equip them to deal with it effectively. We can do this by giving them the gift of pride in their own judgment about when it is okay to go with the flow and when it is critical to walk away.
How To Help Your Child Deal With Peer Pressure
Listen Compassionately To Your Child
“She is so rude and bossy. She always manages to push ahead of me in any school activity.” Resist the temptation to make your child feel better at all times. These rejections can be painful for any child, and it hurts to see our children in pain.
Nevertheless, avoid derogatory comments about other kids or telling your child that it is too small an issue to be upset over. Instead, nod and share similar instances from your own childhood. You can’t make the pain disappear, but you can surely empathize with your child and acknowledge his or her feelings.
Don’t Back Down From Your Values
You overhear your child talking to another friend about a classmate – “Did you see the kind of worn-out clothes she was wearing? I can’t imagine calling her for my birthday party.”
There will be many occasions when your child will test your values and exhibit behavior quite contrary to them. Paradoxically, they will still look to you for moral guidance! Constantly lead by example. Stick to your own beliefs – and walk the talk.
Teach Children To Stand Up For Themselves
If your child complains of being constantly picked on in class, try role playing. You be the offending classmate and ask your child to try out various responses – laughing it off, ignoring him or standing up to him. (Of course, you have to intervene directly if your child in any real danger.)
Tackling Situations Involving Peer Pressure
- Tell your child – “Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable with something that your friends say is okay, it simply means that it is wrong for you.”
- Ask your child to imagine situations of possible peer pressure situations, and how he or she would you deal with them
- Develop a secret ‘PP’ (Peer Pressure) code to bail your child out of situations without losing face in front of friends. For example, your child might call home from a party saying, “Can you come and take me back home? I have a terrible earache”.
- Teach your child to be comfortable and confident with saying “No”.
- Encourage your child to have a wide variety of friends, and to cultivate those with courage, conviction and positive interests. Having even one dependable partner helps a child stand up against peer pressure.
- Acquaint yourself with all your child’s friends and their parents. Invite them over for a pizza and a film so that you can all interact in an informal setting.
Encourage Your Child’s Self Esteem
The tendency to compare and compete comes early with kids. That is why they show off so much. Your child may be convinced that he simply can’t survive not going to Singapore for these summer holidays or not wearing the latest Reebok sneakers – simply because ‘everyone else is doing it, too!’
However, true self-esteem often has nothing to do with being part of a group and more with being an individual. You could help your child evaluate such situations beyond the immediate feeling level by asking questions like - “Are these the friends you really admire?” and “Do you think they will stand by you in tough times, too?”
Finally, develop a close relationship with your child. This is the primary weapon against peer pressure in every parent’s arsenal – and it is your by right! It doesn’t take much, either.
Copyright © Shalini Sharma
Photo credit missyt