Sure, the horrors of the holocaust do not compare with the body image, sexual, alcohol and drug use struggles faced by today’s teens and tweens. But psychologists argue that both situations result when ordinary people are under extraordinary pressure to conform to the norm.
In fact, nowadays, this pressure doesn’t need to be extraordinary. Any pressure whatsoever would drive a specific conforming behaviour.
Peer pressure arises from our deep-rooted human need to conform. It is not something kids suddenly learn in teenage years, but rather an innate evolutionary trait that is present from infancy.
When a child falls down, he looks up to the parents to gauge whether or not to cry. If mom reacts in fear, he cackles then bursts into tears. If the mother laughs and reassures, then no tears.
Human beings are herd creatures. We take our cues on how to act from societal norms and information. This is why techniques to protect your child from peer pressure are based on the premise that the more you can boost your teen’s sense of self-confidence, the better protection he/she has against peer pressure.
Here are some simple ways to protect your child.
1. Be a model of self-confident behaviour
If our children get the idea that your self-esteem is built on your image and what other people think of you, that is what they would learn. That’s the behaviour they’ll model.
If we talk about ourselves negatively, our children will hear this and perpetuate it in their own lives. So speak positive words, be confident and aspire to model a life that is based on your personal integrity and passions, and not worrying about what other people think. That way, you set the pace for your child to believe in his/herself over others.
Talking to your child about the meaning of independence also goes a long way in helping them understand that their behaviours shouldn’t be dictated by others.
2. Talk about social media
Social media has come with undue pressure to adults and children alike. It makes individuals do some crazy things for the social clout that comes with having thousands of ‘likes’.
Teach your children that it doesn’t matter whether a person has 8 or 8000 ‘likes’ on a photo or video, he/she would always want more. Teach them not to measure a person’s worth by the numbers of likes or followers they have.
It is essential to teach them that no matter how happy the people online seem, it is ultimately not real. If we don’t explain this to kids, they would be forced to participate in dangerous and inappropriate behaviours that are not intrinsically motivated but based on superficial reward feedback.
3. Model Saying ‘No’
Saying no is a vital life skill which many adults have still not mastered. ‘No’ is an assertive statement and saying it makes it so that people don’t push us around.
Saying ‘no’ sets limits clearly, firmly, and without explanation. Frequently doing this helps your child see that it is okay to do the same.
When you say things like, “No, that’s not fine with me,” you’re equipping your child with the same language he/she can use when someone tries to pressure them into doing something they shouldn’t.
4. Create an environment where your child’s voice is heard
When your child feels as though his thoughts are not heard or considered by you, his parent, it can take a toll on his esteem. Teaching them that their opinion is not as important as those of others.
Prevent this by asking their ideas on family issues, and treating them as valued members of the family. This way, you better equip them to say ‘no’ when they are pressured into reckless behaviour. Their voice matters.
Make sure you don’t force them to share their toys when they are younger. Doing so is unfair and teaches them that their feelings matter less than the image we want them to present to others. Instead, tell them that they should give their friend the toy when they are done playing.
5. Teach them who a true friend is
Don’t fight a losing battle with them over who they choose as friends, this would only drive a wedge between you. Rather, teach them the qualities of a good friend, one who doesn’t bully or make them do wrong, illegal or inappropriate things. As a role model of theirs, also examine your friends and make sure that your friends are the kind of friends you want your kids to have.
Spend time getting to know your kids’ friends. Allow and encourage your children to invite them home. Having his/her peers around will help you decide whether they are good or bad influences. This will also make it easier for you to provide support for pressures your child may be facing even if they didn’t openly ask for it.
6. Allow your child to make you the ‘bad guy.’
This is a policy where you level with your children by telling them that you know it’s hard to say ‘no’ sometimes, but when there is a need to, and they don’t know how, they can always blame you.
For example ‘my mom needs me to babysit my siblings this weekend’ or ‘my dad won’t let me stay out past 12’ or ‘My parents are lame, last time I did something like that, they went crazy’. This helps to protect the child’s social standing while giving them a safe way out when needed.
7. Utilise the X-Plan
The X plan is simple. If one of your children is away from home and finds him/herself in a difficult situation, he/she can simply text the letter “X” to any member of his family, who responds by calling and expressing an urgent need for the child to be home and that someone is coming to get them.
This allows the child to have a very relatable excuse to leave: my ‘uncool’ parents want me home.
Psychologists tell us that we can’t totally remove conformity, but we can raise our children’s awareness of it. We can help them understand that when it seems they are going against one group, they do so with the backing of another.
So when they say ‘no’ to the cool kids, the underdogs become their friends and support them. They will never truly be alone.
Every parent knows that when it comes to raising kids, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but these tips may inspire you to — in one way or another — help your child handle peer pressure effectively and confidently.