Social Skills Learned While Young Carry Over Into the Future
One only has to watch pre and early teens dressing alike to know there is a desperate drive toward over-conformity as part of the angst of these formative years. Even younger children have to deal with it. Yet people are often told that, despite peer pressure, parents still have an enormous influence on the choices these young people make.
Peer Pressure as an Issue Faced by Tweens and Teens
Parents can make a difference by not over-reacting to issues of peer pressure. Children go through phases of following the crowd. Be aware of how vulnerable to peer groups children are – especially during the period when they don’t yet understand the balance between group and individual functioning in society.
The best friends phenomenon is perfectly normal – to a point. But where it gets out of hand is when people forget the need to be totally but gently honest about it being a fantasy as well as a fad.
One doesn’t have to be cruel. An adult could say to girls dressed like twins, “Isn’t it special to have a summer dream? Sister fantasies are such fun. They’re probably even more fun than real sisters because there aren’t so many arguments. But I’m glad you kept some things different, because it helps me remember how very special and different each of you are as individuals.”
This doesn’t denigrate the child, but labels the behavior as being in a realm other than reality and probably temporary. Such a response is caring, yet gives a child the vital information that being exactly like a peer won’t protect one from one’s own consequences. It empowers the freedom of expression yet communicates one’s continuing and corollary responsibility to be an individual in one’s own right.
The Challenge of Children Learning to Be Individuals
Peer pressure overdone creates blending and reinforces avoidance of the less than fun part of growing up, offering no individuality.
- The decision to take drugs is often done under peer pressure.
- Yet the decision to stop must be an individual one.
What an awful time to be forced to grow up too fast. Maybe it would be better to grow up a little at a time.
There are a number of good books which deal with this topic. One that can be shared with any aged child is The Three Questions [Scholastic Press of New York, 2002], written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth. It is based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. It can be read together, and helps generate discussion which leads toward clearer understanding of peer pressure and the need to balance it with being an individual.
Flying the kite of peer fantasy is fine as long as one’s feet are firmly planted on the ground of reality. It also helps to continue to hold the kite string. A child does have some fear of one’s own individuality and need for peer approval. Yet this young person must still go through the grotto of separating oneself from parents, and finding his own individuality.
During this process the stresses of peer pressure can cloud the grasp on that string and the ground! So support and encouragement from adults goes a long ways towards helping reduce the negative effects of peer pressure.