Peer Pressure: It’s Never Been Just a Teenager’s Challenge
For adults, it’s called “Keeping up with the Jonses”. For little kids, it’s called “Playground Politics”. For teenagers, though, this social force that drives so many decisions, good and bad, is called “Peer Pressure”. Truth be told, peer pressure is a driving force for everyone from the very young to the very old. Few people are able to ignore it. However, learning to positively deal with this influential power is a skill that can be learned, even by those who have long since passed by their teenage years.
It is really easy to succumb to peer pressure of all sorts. Specifically, it’s easier to give in to it than to analyze one’s feelings and then separate the pressure from the decisions that need to be made. Leslie O’Gwynn is a veteran math teacher at Gallatin High School in Sumner County, Tennessee. Her job involves seeing the results of decisions that children have made throughout their lives, as it is with all teachers. She recognizes that not giving in to peer pressure is like eating one’s vegetables. Most people have to be reminded over and over again to do it. O’Gwynn says a significant problem develops, though, “if you can’t make a decision without someone else’s opinion”. Dealing with peer pressure often involves breaking it down into manageable pieces.
Recognize the Problem
Many people might not consider themselves to be terribly influenced by others, but peer pressure is more pervasive than one realizes. “Ewww, smell this!” and “Come on, let’s go over here!” are commonly heard around younger kids. “Honey, I think we should live in a Tiny House”, waiting for likes to a social media post, and buying clothes that look awful but are super trendy are adult examples of the same pressure. No one is immune, and recognizing that it is a common problem is important. O’Gwynn advises that parents also recognize that triggers change as children develop. For older kids, hormones play a big role in the affecting triggers. She reminds parents that “everyone’s done something less than wise in order to attract a mate”. This behavior starts with the onset of pre-teen hormonal changes and tends to continue for many years after that. (For some, it’s a lifelong pattern!)
Model the Goal
Parents probably don’t realize how often they are modeling peer influenced behavior to their kids. Learn to talk through decisions and weigh pros and cons in front of kids (when appropriate!) to help them to see how logical decisions are made. It also helps them to see how to deal with life without the approval of a peer. If the home is a faith-based one, help children to make their faith personal so they have that faith as one of their decision making tools. And, O’Gwynn emphasizes specifically to raise children to be okay with choosing not to drink at least until they are of legal age, so that whether they are bound for college or for their own job and apartment at 18, they are making choices with a clear head.
Parenting after the Pressure
O’Gwynn advises parents to deal with kids who have succumbed to peer pressure by first finding out why they made their decisions. Don’t immediately yell or make them feel incompetent. Bad choices are likely to happen, but every moment can be a teachable one, if the parent doesn’t overreact. And she encourages parents to get okay with saying “no” to unsafe or inappropriate requests when they need to. She says “It’s not wrong! Granted, you can’t always say no; sometimes your no needs to be a modification of yes. But you’re the parent. You get to say no.” And, just because a child’s friends don’t experience the consequences of bad choices, that should not determine how another parent disciplines and teaches their own child.
What our friends and family think about us will always matter. That’s human nature. But we can analyze personal patterns. Limit personal peer influenced behavior. Deal compassionately with kids who are learning how to make choices in their own world of peer pressure. And while none of this is ever going to be easy to deal with, it’s worth the effort every time. Go get ‘em parents.
Leah O’Gwynn Kackley and her husband, Jason, live in the Rez/Fannin area with their three kids. She struggles with this issue daily, especially being of the people-pleaser sort!