The Many Faces of Peer Pressure

Say CheesePeer pressure. It’s a term that provokes fear in every parent—fear that children will succumb to the negative influence of classmates and friends to behave in dangerous ways. Parents worry that being liked and a part of the popular group will be more important to their children than working hard, getting good grades, and getting their values at home. Turning into who they think their friends want or expect them to be is the stuff of a parent’s nightmare.

There are two additional and often forgotten aspects to consider about peer pressure: The positive side of peer influence and the affects of adult peer pressure on parents and thus on their children.

  1. Parents tend to focus only on the negative aspects of peer pressure and forget to acknowledge that children must learn the norms, styles and social skills of living in today’s world from their peers. Good friends influence each other tremendously as they talk about and decide so many behaviors they both approve and disapprove of in others. Bullies and snobs influence children in positive ways, too. That’s what I don’t want to be like.

A parent’s job is to accept and support the child to foster self-confidence so that they can navigate the ins and outs of their peers and gain the knowledge and influence that works for their success and further confidence. When parents spend too much time fearing which friends their children will choose, they lose valuable time in learning and accepting who their child really is.

The parent’s influence is best felt through guidance of the child’s navigation through the peer world by helping to problem solve tough situations, listening to the child’s wonderings and worries about friends and peers, providing a sounding board for both joys and sorrows, and offering suggestions and advice when needed—not by projecting one’s own fears and experiences onto their child and attempting to control the child by saying, Here is what you should do.

Positive parental influence requires an open, honest and understanding relationship with the child so communication about peers feels safe. Children will not share their concerns about peer relationships with a parent who they suspect will criticize, worry, lecture or interfere. This parent can ironically push the child in exactly the direction they fear most.

  1. Then there is the world of adult peer pressure. What children witness their parents saying and doing is far more influential to their future behavior than any advice ever given. What parents say about others, behave toward others, and do with their time models powerful lessons whether good or bad.

It’s important for parents to look at the role of peer pressure in their own day-to-day life. So many parents are obsessed by how they perceive other parents and children are doing. “All my friends kids behave so well. Why can’t mine?” Comparisons—either causing the parent or child to fall short or look down on—create negative and inappropriate expectations. Often children with opposing temperaments are compared to one another by worried parents creating impossible expectations.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is a perfect example of adult peer pressure. If the Joneses are scheduling their kids with all those lessons and sports activities, then I should too. S.A.T. prep classes have become an accepted norm. The pressure is on to get a leg up regardless of ability to pay. From fashion to grades, parents would do better to spend their energy on maintaining their own values at home.

How many of us are more concerned by what we think others think of us than by what our children really need? A child is often at the short end of the stick when behavior erupts in public. What the parent imagines a total stranger expects of her holds more influence over her treatment of her child than what her child actually needs.

Then there is the pressure that comes with technology. If you are a parent of young children, you may feel peer pressure to be present on social media. After all everyone is. From taking pictures of your children, to checking your texts and email, to posting on facebook or instagram, most children today witness their parents in the company of their constant companions—cell phones, iPads, and other hand-held devices.

Is technology use peer driven or boredom driven? Parents must pay attention to what their behavior is modeling and how it applies when demanding that their children get off their devices to go and play outside.

Much of what parents expect of their children set up double standards that children see immediately but that parents remain oblivious to. Do what I say, not what I do ignores the power of modeling. It is important to pay attention to what we do and why we do it and to acknowledge the power of peer pressure in our lives as well as our children’s—both for the good and the bad.


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