Peer pressure is a big challenge for all kids at one point or another. Can you as a parent help? The short answer is yes, but it requires patience, effort, and understanding.
To help a child with peer pressure, one must first understand the contributing factors that can make peer pressure a problem. What follows are what some of those problems could be and how you as a parent can help.
Possible Problem: Child doesn’t know how to confidently express themselves
Some children don’t know how to properly communicate their wishes, especially when conflict may result. There are a couple of things parents can do to help.
Suggestion: Have a regular time to meet with the child to talk about their life
One thing you can do is to have regular, open, and honest communications with your child about their peers, and their life in general. I suggest setting aside a specific time and day every week or two to just check in with your child. The get-together should be loose and informal, with a lot of listening on your part.
When checking up with them regarding their peers, do so in an inquisitive, non-judgmental way. Your job is to understand clearly the relationship dynamics and the value system of the other children.
Quick Tip #2: Consider adopting a family code that clearly describes the values your family holds. A family code not only allows you to clearly communicate to your child what value system is important to you and your family, but it allows you to quickly assess how in-line your child’s friends are with the value system you wish to instill. For instance, asking your child the simple question “On a rating of one to ten, how closely does Johnny follow our family code?” can yield great insights into the character of your child’s friend.
Suggestion: Practice peer interactions with your child
If your child is having a tough time telling friends that they don’t want to do things that their friends want them to do, you can help them by practicing peer interactions. When planning these interactions, really try to understand what problems the child is having as mentioned in the above section, then offer to play the role of the peers with your child.
This can be done by play-acting scenarios where you play the part of a peer who is pushing your child to do something he or she may not want to do. Then have the child talk to you as if you are the peer. Here is an example interaction, with the parent playing the part of the peer:
Example Practice Interaction
Parent (as peer): Hey, check this out – I swiped this from my older brother’s drawer [shows child imaginary joint]. Here, take a hit!
Child: No thanks, I’m not into that.
Parent (as peer): What’s wrong with you? All the other guys took a puff. Don’t be such a wimp.
Child: Listen, I told you – I don’t like that stuff. If you want to do it, then that’s your business. I’m not into it.
Parent (as peer): OK OK, don’t worry about it, then. You don’t need to freak out. I was just trying to see if you wanted to check it out.
This simple example centers around an interaction involving drugs, but of course, there are many other types of situations involving peer pressure that could be practiced to help your child learn to stay strong in other types of situations.
Real-life scenarios are usually much more complicated, involving kids trying to threaten or cajole your child, but practicing like this can help build your child’s confidence as they learn to think on their feet more and freely express their wishes.
Possible Problem: The child has a weak identity
When a person doesn’t have a clear idea of who they are, they’re more subject to the influence of peers. Of course, with children, almost by definition this is a problem since children try feeling out who they are while they are growing up. Even though children have weaker identities than adults, there are some things that parents can do to help the child be clearer in their identity.
Suggestion: Allow the child to make their own decisions more
Children who learn to make decisions more are likely to trust themselves in all sorts of areas of their life, including situations where they need to stand up to peer pressure. Therefore, you as a parent should be aware of how much you’re telling the child to do things or are actually doing things for them, compared to how much they’re doing for themselves.
As a general rule, try to let your child do as much for themself as they physically and mentally are capable of. Related to this is how you view the child – do you think of them as helpless and incompetent, or immature but full of potential?
Try to think of children as mini-adults using life training wheels supplied by us. The sooner we can get them off the training wheels and riding on their own, the better for all involved.
Suggestion: Rely on ‘systems’ rather than parental badgering
Set up a consistent system of impersonal of rewards and punishments that allow you the parent, to stay out of the loop whenever possible. By this I mean as a child goes throughout their day doing different things, you should minimize having to correct or specifically instruct a child, rather they are guiding themselves because they clearly understand the rules and what will happen if they do or don’t live up to their responsibilities.
For instance, rather than reminding a child to empty or load the dishwasher, have that item on a checklist. Then related to the checklist, at the end of the day if the child gets everything on the checklist done he gets a reward, while if he didn’t then he gets a penalty. In this way, the checklist is driving the behavior of the child in an impersonal way, not you the parent.
When we as parents keep reminding kids to do things it can easily break down into something very personal – with one person of greater power (the parent) constantly having to tell the person of lesser power (the child) what to do. This encourages a passive and dependent mindset in the child and does no one any good. You the parent end up wasting a lot of time and energy micromanaging a child, the child just feels like a puppet, and perhaps worse of all for the purposes of this article, the child gets used to not trusting his or her own judgment but rather gets accustomed to someone telling them what to do.
A mindset that is much more likely to be subject to strong-willed peers.
Suggestion: Give child more experience doing meaningful responsibilities
Having a child regularly perform tasks that help the family can reinforce the idea that they are a real contributor rather than an overly dependent, partially-incompetent person.
Kids of the Past
In the past, it was common for children to be essential members of the family in terms of work that needed to get done. In the distant past, this even meant children would participate in hunting parties or help to butcher and clean meat, fetch water from the river, and help take care of younger siblings, etc.
Even several decades ago, it was common for farm children to have responsibilities like milking cows, hitching animals to plows, and doing other essential work around the house (even today, some children are doing these activities).
The Modern Child
Today, though, most kids grow up with very few real responsibilities, outside of doing schoolwork. And quite frankly, a lot of schoolwork isn’t very meaningful and the kids inherently know this.
So a typical child’s life these days involves doing a lot of academic-related work that adults tell them to do all day long, along with some activities like sports and other things like social media and video games. Overall, their lives are greatly devoid of real, meaningful responsibility.
This lack of responsibility has all sorts of side effects, one being that it holds back a child’s self-image and confidence – just the things that are needed to properly counteract peer pressure.
To counteract this, I suggest giving a child some real responsibilities that really help out the family. In the previous section, I had made passing mention of loading or unloading the dishwasher. This is a good start – that type of thing does help the family, however, it is pretty minor in the whole scheme of things. Here are some more suggestions:
- Cooking a meal for the family once a week
- Mowing the lawn
- Washing the car
- Doing the laundry for the whole house
- Cleaning to pool
There are lots of other things the kid could do as well. In particular, I like the idea of cooking a meal – this is something most kids wouldn’t dream of doing because it seems so complex. They have to deal with a hot stove, measuring various things, combining ingredients, etc. Additionally, the kids could give people a choice of meals and act like they are running a restaurant every week or two.
Suggestion: Give child more free play time
Another thing to consider is how much free play time a child gets. When kids have free, unstructured time to play with other children they get used to dealing with uncertain environments and have to use their creativity to set rules.
This is in contrast to when adults are structuring children’s time because in almost all adult-driven activities the child is told exactly what the rules are, what is expected of them, and what is out of bounds. They are told what the goal of a given activity is and what activities are outside the bounds of achieving that goal.
I am struck by how much of the lives of modern children are taken up by such activities. From the moment they get up and are told what to eat for breakfast, to when they go to school and are told where to sit when they can get up when they can eat lunch, and what they can eat for lunch culminated with a pick-up from the parents after school.
Modern Day Children’s Lives on Rails
For all or much of their day, the modern child’s life is like being on a ride, with them sitting in a virtual cart running along a fixed track. At no time are they allowed to steer on their own and go offroad. This constant dictating of one’s day, year after year, isn’t good for kids. The part of their brain that is used to take a look at the messiness of the world and make something of it as they see fit is not used nearly enough.
So this is a long way of saying make sure your kids get regular free-play time with other kids. Those times should involve minimal adult interactions. Ensure this time gets reserved on their schedule and treat those times as first-class activities, not as mere afterthoughts.
The Loss of Roaming
Related to the loss of free time is the loss of the ability to roam freely. Today’s children are tremendously sheltered and are around their house and adults for much more time than children of past generations. To see what a dramatic difference this is check out this article.
Possible Problem: The child is in consumer mode too much and creator mode too little
All around us are things we consume – food, media, and various forms of entertainment. When we partake in consumption, our minds go into what I call consumer mode. It’s a mode where we sit back and ingest various things in a passive manner. Of course, some consumption is necessary for life and other forms of consumption are just good to relax and recharge.
However, too much consumption has a big negative effect, especially on children. Over-consumption of information gets kids used to allowing external sources to fill their minds while they passively sit back and enjoy the ride (think media, tv, Netflix, and social media) When kids get used to over-consuming, they aren’t using their brains to think about what they want to do actively. It’s my belief that the more children get into the ‘sit back and consume’ habit, the more susceptible they become to peer pressure since peers are just one more information source to passively absorb.
Suggestion: Encourage the child to do more creative activities
The opposite of consuming is creating, therefore it’s important that children get used to creating more. When I say creating I’m not just talking about art (although it could be). I’m talking about all those activities where the child observes the world as it is, determines how they want the world to be instead, and then takes specific action to transform the world in some way.
A child getting more into creating mode has a few positive effects. It gets their brain moving in a direction in which they are becoming proactive over their life, often they are doing something that no one else can do – since they are creating from their own mind it is unique to them, and also it reinforces agency. They are doing something just for them. This subtly builds up their self-confidence and identity into someone who can do something independently of others.
Suggestion: Put limits on consumption
It’s imperative that children have limits on the amount of consumption they partake in. We know this about food, where consumption is quite obvious, but many aren’t aware that consumption of things like games, videos, and other passive activities can have a very negative effect as well. Because of this, I highly recommend you limit consumption on a daily or weekly basis. This could mean using a simple schedule or using a parental control application to lock down a child’s phone, tablet or computer.
Aside from technical solutions, I highly recommend the use of a schedule, since having a schedule allows one to ensure the child has a well-balanced life (ensuring an appropriate amount of time is given to homework, extracurricular activities, free play, electronic activities, and other essential parts of life). Additionally having a schedule allows the child to stay focused in the moment and be much more motivated to do homework.
As mentioned above, a variety of factors can make children more or less susceptible to the influence of peers. If you as a parent understand these factors, then you can help ensure your child remains strong when they encounter peer pressure.
As a side note, you may want to check out Good Friends and Bad Friends which serves as a way parents can communicate to children about the importance of good friends and how to know the difference between real friends and kids who may just want to tear them down.