When our children are little, we’re the most powerful influence in their lives. They look up to us, trust us, and think we are amazing. They want to be just like us. And we take full advantage, displaying all the positive role modeling we can around them: Oh, I just love to eat my vegetables, don’t you? Getting a good night’s sleep is so important that I always sleep all night long, whenever I can—yes, bedtime’s the best! We dream they’ll grow up finding themselves constantly surrounded by a group that always exhibits such positive peer pressure on them.
As our children grow, however, we begin to watch our level of influence decrease. As kids enter school, their peers gain in influence over them. As they begin to move into the world, socially, academically, and through hobbies and sports, it’s completely natural for them to grow in independence and learn how to be successful in this world. What dictates “success” for a child or a teenager doesn’t always involve the best decision-making, though.
Moving into the teen years we, as parents, begin to take a back seat in influence. It’s a hard truth that I’ve heard over and over. I’ve learned this professionally and have watched it play out in the lives of my own four kids. We pray we’ve taught them well and that they make good decisions. But, there are real pressures out there. Let’s take a look at what this all means.
So often we think of peer pressure as a bad thing. Every one of us knows someone who came from a good family, someone who had everything going for them, but then they got in with the “wrong crowd.” Peer pressure isn’t always negative, however. Seeing it solely as a negative force is fear-based, potentially assuming that we or our child may in some way be powerless to its effects.
Here are some basics about peer pressure.
Peer pressure can be negative, but it can also be positive.
The powerful effects of positive peer pressure are part of what brings us to church, or to join a club or a sports team. It’s what helps us stay within societal boundaries. We can keep one another in check through positive peer pressure.
Peer pressure, like influence, can be powerful, but it can also be subtle.
Subtleties like time spent with someone, or observing choices another makes can be very powerful. Think about the importance of relationship: If you know another person cares for you and can relate to you, that’s effective and subtle.
Peer pressure is more effective if we are isolated.
This is true with positive peer pressure and negative peer pressure. Think about the first story of negative peer pressure: Adam and Eve. Making friends with the snake wasn’t going to lead Eve in a good direction. Isolation didn’t help either. NOTE: If you’re making a decision that you don’t want to discuss with those who care about you most, your warning signals need to be going off.
Here some more important thoughts for parents on peer pressure.
- Teach kids to know themselves and their goals. Help them to see how decisions they make and people they hang out with will interfere with their goals. This is important. They most likely will be more motivated to reach their own goals than they will be to reach your goals for them. We are social beings, with the power to influence and be influenced. This is precisely why we hear things like, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future,” or, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
- Teach your kids how to identify their influence and leverage it for good. Remember, influence or peer pressure can be direct or subtle. Your son or daughter can lead directly by starting or joining a group at school. Or they can lead more subtly, through the choices they make and how they treat others.
- Teach your kids how to say “No.” You might not have considered helping your kid think about how to say “no,” and what saying it would mean to their peers. Your child might feel like it’s impolite or rude not to go along with their friends. Help them find diplomatic or even humorous ways to decline. “I’d better not. That sounds fun, but my mom would kill me if I said yes!” Help them practice if they’re timid. Help them to understand that saying “no” can help them exert positive peer pressure on their friends. It can make them an influencer!
- Equip your kids to lead and influence for good. Multiple studies and programs have taken place in schools across our country equipping, empowering, and teaching teens how to positively mentor, lead, and influence their peers. These are things we can also teach at home. Check out these two Ted Talks: Risa Berrin’s Hijacking the High School Peer Pressure System and Leyla Bravo-Willey’s Positive Peer Pressure in Schools. These programs teach students positive social and emotional skills, leadership, compassion, wise decision-making, and how to have difficult conversations as well as SMART goals and healthy choices.
- Recognize that you do still have influence in your child’s life—and cultivate it. Stay connected to your child as they approach and navigate their teen years. Talk with them regularly. If they won’t talk after school, get into a routine of taking them out regularly for ice cream and a drive. Or catch them just before bedtime—they seem to get chit-chatty just as we get sleepy! But, it’s a good opportunity to find out what’s going on in their life. Instead of asking how their day was, ask them to tell you two positives and two negatives. Or ask them, “On a scale of 1-10 how good was your day?” And then ask, “Why?” Being available and keeping your connection strong will provide the best opportunities for you to continue to speak into their lives.
- Here is a great challenge for your child, and the best way for us all to show positive peer pressure: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:9-13 ESV