“Peer pressure is pressure you put on yourself to fit in.” – Jeff Moore
What Is Peer Pressure?
Any type of direct influence that a peer group makes on a person is considered peer pressure. This influence can be established both verbally and through nonverbal communication. It can also be achieved through direct social interaction or digitally through social media, for example. The results of this influence are changes in behavior, values, and/or attitudes a person might make in order to conform and satisfy the expectations of their peers.
We’re all susceptible to peer pressure but children are particularly vulnerable to it. So it makes sense that this is a particularly burning issue for parents. Perhaps it might help if we explored this phenomenon from a little broader perspective.
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Is It Always a Bad Thing?
We’re used to hearing about peer pressure in a negative sense because any kind of pressure is inherently negative. Still, peer influence can be positive in cases where it leads to improvements in behavior or reinforces good attitudes and values. Peers can affect each other positively in two ways – through encouraging or rewarding good forms of behavior:
“Let’s organize a study group so we’re better prepared for the math quiz!”
Or by discouraging or punishing bad ones.
“Pick up your candy wrapper! You shouldn’t litter, it’s bad for the environment.”
Peer pressure or influence can also be much more complex and can sometimes produce both positive and negative effects. Let’s say for instance your child wants to take up soccer because a couple of their friends are already on the team. Knowing about all the benefits that sports have for children and their development, you decide to support their decision. But youth athletes face a whole spectrum of unique challenges. So even though joining the school soccer team brings some positives, there’s also a chance it might have negative effects on other things. Such as if they start falling behind on their homework or feel more stressed due to their schedule filling up.
Bottom line is that peer influence is a normal aspect of social dynamics and it’s not inherently good or bad. Now that we have a better idea of what we should be looking out for, let’s consider what we can do to help kids become more resilient to negative forms of peer pressure.
What Makes Children Particularly Vulnerable to Peer Pressure?
As a parent, you are trying to instill a set of values in your child. You teach them good manners and try to help them develop useful habits. Essentially, what you’re really helping them build and internalize is a moral code – a sense of what they should or shouldn’t do. However, parents are not sole-contributors to a child’s upbringing. Turns out their friends and peers get a say as well!
Children, much like adults, want to fit in and be approved of by their peers. They’re scared of being rejected, isolated, and made fun of. What they don’t have are the necessary skills to cope, persevere, and not give in to pressure. This is where you come in.
Four Ways to Help Your Kids Cope with Peer Pressure
Now that we’ve narrowed down what we’re trying to do, let’s explore some of the best practices towards reaching our goal. These are the top four ways to help children become more resilient to peer pressure.
1. Talk to them About Peer Pressure
Teaching them about the concept of peer pressure should help them recognize it and make it easier for them to reject. You can use examples from your own life and not just from your childhood. Letting them know about your adult peer-pressure challenges will give them a new perspective. It will show them it’s not just a “kid” thing and it’s something that you can both relate to.
There’s a good chance your children understand the dynamics even though they don’t know about the concept. For most, conforming to peer pressure leaves you feeling powerless – that there wasn’t anything you could have done. That’s why role-playing can be an effective teaching tool, where you can allow them to practice different ways of taking a stand.
2. Help them Build Confidence
Saying “no” to people and risking disappointing or alienating them is not easy. It takes courage, and that’s usually drawn from being confident and believing in yourself. By helping your children develop self-confidence, you’re providing them with the tools to stand up for what they believe in and resist peer pressure.
You can boost your child’s confidence by using positive reinforcement, but there’s more to that than simply praising them all the time. In fact, if your praise is inappropriate or dishonest, it can actually hurt their self-esteem.
In conclusion, positive reinforcement is important but should come from multiple sources. That’s why you should encourage your children to make decisions and do things by themselves. The goal is for them to learn to understand they can actively affect the world and the people around them. Surrendering to peer pressure is purely reactive.
3. Encourage them to Broaden their Network of Friends
The effects of peer pressure are stronger the more you think you have to lose. So let’s say that your child’s social network consists of friends from one single group. Maybe they’re all from the same class or they all learn karate at the same dojo. The amount of peer pressure the child will feel will be much greater because if they’re rejected, a lot is at stake. They’re actually risking having no friends at all.
That’s why you should always keep an open mind if your child wants to try out different things. Get behind their desire to take up dancing, or join the drama club, or even learn a new language! Having friends from different areas of life will make it easier for them to stand their ground.
4. Offer to Be their Lifeline
A lot of the time, children succumb to peer pressure because they don’t feel there’s anything else they can do. Let your child know that they can always count on you if they need a way out. If they’re ever in a situation where they just want to pick up and leave, they should be fully aware that you’ll be there to come and get them. You can also pre-agree on an excuse in case your child is worried about saving face.
Additional Tips on How to Approach the Topic
As you can see, there are lots of things that you can do as a parent. However, in order to really be successful, you need to have the right approach.
Acknowledge and reference your own worries, thoughts, and emotions. Don’t just hide behind such classic lines as, “If Jimmy jumped off a bridge, would you?” Children usually find parenting cliches particularly annoying and even insulting. You don’t want to alienate your kids when you’re actually trying to teach them something.
It’s also safe to say that you should balance your efforts and pick your battles. You shouldn’t be pressing them on everything because there’s only so much they can tolerate. And if you keep focusing on the little things, you’ll be diminishing the significance of the really important ones.
Lastly, try to keep an open mind. Don’t let anxiety cause you to overreact and refrain from making accusations or assumptions drawn from fear. Being able to put yourself in their shoes will give you a better chance of saying things that actually resonate with them. They need to really feel that it’s coming from a good place.
It’s not going to be easy, but you have to try. These types of conversations can be a solid foundation for your future relationship and it’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss.