How to Help Your Child Strengthen Against Peer Pressure

How to Prepare Your Child for Peer Pressure

Our children are our most prized treasures, and we know that we can take on anything we need to, if it means their well-being and happiness. We invest time and effort into giving them a good home and rearing them well, go the extra mile in giving them guidance, and sometimes reverse-engineer the impossible so we can be there when they need us.

As parents, though, we are also not blind to the fact that we are not the only important people in the lives of our kids. They are their own individuals, and they should be given the freedom to make their own choices. Their friends, for instance, are theirs; there is nothing we can say or do that can effectively drive a rift between our children and the people they associate themselves with. If we force the issue, additionally, we will only succeed at driving a rift between them and us.

Coming to Terms with Peer Pressure

All that said, however, we still worry. Peer pressure is a powerful force that can sometimes shape a person’s life … for the worst. We know, because we’ve been there; we’ve seen how it works, and we have personally experienced its pull.

What we need to realize, though, is that we – as parents – have to come to terms with peer pressure ourselves, so that we can help our children manage it well. Here are a few key things we need to remember about peer pressure:

  • It has several forms. According to a professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, there are at least two types of peer pressure: implicit and explicit. Explicit refers to the dynamics that result from external sources, while implicit peer pressure is the internalization that children take away from the dynamics. Take for instance, a child who goes to school on his first day sporting clothing that is largely different from that of his or her peers. After a few days at the school, the child tells his or her parents that a change in clothes may be necessary. This could be influenced by the possibility of the odd clothes being made objects of ridicule of the other students (explicit peer pressure), or the child’s own desire to fit in and be just like everybody else (implicit pressure). So when we think about peer pressure, we should remember that it is not only present in the way we have come to associate it with.
  • It influences brain development in teens. A study by researchers at Temple University found that peer pressure influences the parts of the brain that are involved in risk and reward. In other words, adolescents are more likely to engage in risky behavior if they are with friends, compared to if they were on their own. As parents, we should take this into consideration, where providing guidance is concerned.
  • Our children will be exposed to it. There is no way to protect our children from peer pressure, short of sequestering them from society. We have to be able to accept that we need to let them go and forge their own way. The prospect seems scary, but this freedom is critical to the growth of our children.

Helping Prepare Our Children For Peer Pressure

So with all of that out of the way, let’s get down to it. How do you prepare your child to deal with peer pressure at school?

  1. Establish good communication.

    A core factor to guiding our kids through the forces that shape them at school is constant, open, and honest communication. As parents, we hold sway over all the other influences that our children are exposed to, and it is important that we let our children know that they can come to us for anything.

    You do not have to be an overbearing parent, and you do not need to keep tabs on your children all the time. Just establish a pattern where you take the time to sit down and ask your children about how their day went, or what they did. Be on the lookout for signs that could indicate a problem, whether it’s trivial or not. These conversations should be used as a gauge for how our children are feeling.

    In return, encourage your children to ask you questions. Sometimes, it takes getting insights into other perspectives to shape the way our children see the world, and decide things on their own.

  2. Instill good values.

    It is also recommended to establish a strong foundation for values, and make sure that your household is living up to them. Set down reasonable rules that communicate what is acceptable and what should be avoided, so your children are guided by an intrinsic knowledge of what to do if they find themselves in situations that are not entirely pleasant.

    What we inculcate in our children is always the blueprint that they will consult, throughout their lives. As parents, it is our duty to make sure that they know what they should, in order to be healthy and happy individuals. For instance, if our kids know that they should always feel safe and secure, they will be more likely to choose non-threatening friends and situations.

  3. Be involved.

    Whenever you can, be there. This is different from just holding the usual dinner conversation, and asking your kids questions about their day. Being involved means being a constant presence that they know they can turn to, if they need help.

    This means taking the time to go to their functions, finding out about what they like or dislike, and yes, getting to know their friends. These things do not only send out a signal that you are there for countenance and support to your child’s eyes; they also let their friends know that you are there to provide guidance and protection.

Finally, let your love show through in everything that you say and do. Love is the force that gets coded right into our systems, and it leaves a mark that nobody – not even the meanest group of kids at your child’s school – can ever undo. 

Sources:

http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/peer-pressure.aspx

http://www.funderstanding.com/theory/child-development/peer-pressure-and-the-young-adults-brain/

https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/ages-stages/teenager-adolescent-development-parenting/teens-peer-pressure/#.WTHJQOvyvIU

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.01035.x/full


About the Author: M Pimental

M is a happily married Filipino mother to three wonderful little daughters, ages: 8 years, 5 years, and 4 months old. Her daily life is a struggle between being the Executive Content Director for Project Female and deciding who gets to watch television next. She specializes in creating and editing content for female empowerment, parenting, beauty, health/nutrition, and lifestyle. As the daughter of two very hardworking people, she was brought up with strict traditional Asian values and yet embraces modern trends like Facebook, vegan cupcakes, and the occasional singing cat video.

One Comment

Andressa

I loved this article. I’m writing a blog post about how peer pressure influences teenagers and what YA authors should know about it. Reading this has helped me a lot and has given me a few good ideas. I’ll try to link to it for my readers who want to learn more about the topic. Thank you for sharing! =)

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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