Understand that peer pressure is all about being accepted in a group. When you realize that your child is trying to find their place in the world, you can begin to learn how to help them fulfill this natural human desire: the desire to belong. When my children were young, I came up with a phrase that helped immeasurably with this issue. Read on...be encouraged.
Don't you love the feel of a baby in your arms? The warmth, the weight, the soft skin...it is a magic feeling and there is nothing like it. Most moms know exactly what kind of person they want the infant in their arms to become and spend a big part of their lives helping them to become that person. Far too soon babies grow, develop personalities, discover preferences of their own and begin to explore the world outside your home. This is how it should be.
Then one day you wake up and realize you are not the only voice in your child's ear. You are not the only one that is influencing their decisions and opinions. You are the primary voice they hear, and you will be for many years, but while they are still quite young there are others that are helping them to understand and appreciate the rich and marvelous world we live in. These other voices will influence the way your children think and live.
This is not, all by itself, bad news. Your children need a wide range of experiences and relationships in order to be well rounded and compassionate people. Encountering new situations and people who are different from us fosters understanding among people and communities. Positive interaction with new people and new ideas will bring our communities and our nation closer to the kind and peaceful culture we long for.
Still, these other voices in our children's ear sometimes bring messages that are in direct conflict with our most closely held values. This is when you may become justifiably concerned. Your children will interact with their peers, and those peers are also expanding their horizons. They may come from homes in which values are very different from yours. This can easily result in your child "trying on" language and behaviors that you find unacceptable or even alarming.
Many mothers report that one of their greatest fears in raising their children is dealing with peer pressure. We can not and should not be right beside our growing children constantly. Even when you limit your children's contacts to carefully chosen friends and family, you can not guarantee that they will only hear your thoughts and beliefs echoed. Helping your child stand strong when the core beliefs are challenged is your job, and there are things that you can do to help them have the tools they need in order to do this with confidence.
Without getting too graphic, let me recount the story of my son coming home from kindergarten with a deeply troubling question. "Mama, what is a ***** *****?" I could feel the blood draining out of my head. I had not heard that phrase until I was my mid teens, and I absolutely would never have said it. Here stood my adorable little boy who knew it was a terrible phrase, but he had heard it at school and he had no clue what it meant. So he asked me. Thank God.
I prayed for composure and responded with as much neutrality in my face as possible. "There are some words," I began, "that are so bad and so ugly that they have no meaning at all. They are just bad and ugly. This is one of those." "That's what I thought." He said. He went on to tell me the whole scenario, and I was really sad that there were children in his class who lived with such language in their home. Words are how our spirits reach out; words show the world what is in our hearts and souls; words matter. How I wished I could speak healing words to those little ones.
"You know," I pointed out when he was finished, "Every family has different rules that they live by. In our family, one of our rules is that we choose our words with care and make sure that they are kind and make other people feel good inside. You know that I don't use ugly words, neither do your grandparents or anyone in our family. It is how we do things. Some families think that using those words is fine, but in our family we use only words that God thinks are nice. So you don't have to worry about those words. Just remind yourself that in our family we don't use them. How does that sound to you? I'm so glad you asked me about this. I'm very proud of you."
And just like that, I had an epiphany about helping children stand against peer pressure. Begin by realizing that peer pressure is all about that deep human need to belong to the group. You can help your child with this by making sure that they know without a doubt that they have a group that they are part of and that they are loved, needed and wanted by that group. You affirm, encourage, and teach by example. You live your life in such a way that your child looks to you for guidance and you give it without having to say anything. When you do need to say something, make sure that your words confirm that your child is an important part of the family and that following the rules is not about avoiding punishment, it is about being part of the group.
Make no mistake: children want to have clear rules to follow, and they want more than anything else to belong to a group that protects and supports them and shows them a positive way to live this life. Create of your family a tribe that embraces and includes, involves and expects, engages and leads in such a manner that your children don't need to engage in behavior that is opposed to your beliefs in order to belong. They already belong. Here are a few other pointers:
When the family is at home together, make sure that there is plenty of time when everyone is in the same space without any media distractions. Engage in some activity together such as cooking, playing a game, silly dancing, playing with the pet, or whatever. Just be together. Make this a habit and not just an occasional event. Children who are alone in their rooms with their computers are isolated from the family. Limit this solitary time.
Embrace the idea of playing with your children. Truly the family that plays together stays together. Even when they are older. Laugh twice as much as you complain. Look for things that your children can teach you. Make your home a place they want to be.
Be accessible and approachable. Your children will come to you with concerns and questions only if you respond with care. If you berate them or come unglued they will stop talking to you. Be calm. Be measured. Listen twice as much as you talk.
So how did my son deal with peer pressure across the years? Pretty well, actually. There were, of course, ups and downs, but one day I heard his team mates teasing him for saying thank you to the girl who brought them water while they were resting on the bench. Without missing a beat, he shrugged his shoulders and responded, "That's what we do in my family." The discussion ended and I knew that we were on the right track.