Parents can remove the power of peer pressure in their children's lives. Regardless of the age of your children, they will have a desire to fit in, to be accepted and to be liked by their peers. It may seem harmless in their early years, when for example, your 5 yr. old decides she wants a doll that walks and talks after playing with her little friend Molly who has one or when 11 yr. old Billy suddenly refuses to wear p.j.’s to bed because none of his friends did at the sleepover he recently attended!
But it is through these seemingly innocent situations that the pattern begins, the pattern of allowing the choices of others to influence their choices. And this is where parents need to be diligent and alert. From an early of an age as possible we need to be alert to the danger of our children falling into the trap of wanting to be “like” their friends in order to be “liked” by their friends.
Just as we need to encourage our children to make choices based on their true preferences rather than based on what we like and do, it is also important that our children understand this applies to their friends as well.
It is the parent's job to guide them to get in touch with their feelings and ultimately the true reasons for their choices. This is the first step toward creating internal armor that will serve to protect them from the less innocent intentional negative peer pressure that frequently appears during the teenage years.
There are several key components for parents to focus on.
It is important to convey the message through communication, your actions and attitudes that you in fact want them to choose what they want. All children look to their parents for guidance about themselves and how to relate to the world around them. And for the most part they will take on behaviors they feel are pleasing to the most important people in their lives, their parents. Plain and simple, you need to empower your children with your “permission” to choose what feels right to them based on their preferences by encouraging and expecting them to do so.
We need to guide them in making choices by leading them through their options with specific questions geared toward the situation at hand.
For example, when my granddaughter, Kaitlyn, was in the first grade she learned about a program called “Locks of Love” that provides human hair to make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to illness. A family friend, who is a hair stylist, approached Kaitlyn and asked her if she would like to participate as a donor because she has a very unique beautiful shade of blonde hair. A minimum of 10 inches in length of hair is required and then of course you have to consider what you will be left with once the 10 inches is cut off. Kaitlyn decided she wanted to be able to have her hair left at shoulder height, which meant she needed to let her hair grow about another 4 inches. She was excited to do this and we were very proud of her decision.
Several months later, she came home from school with exciting news to share…several of her friends had their hair cut and styled over the Christmas break. It started with one friend and soon several followed in her path, all looking very cute in their new hair styles and now Kaitlyn wanted to join in! “I want to have my hair cut and styled, long straight hair is babyish and I want my hair to look more grown-up!”
Kaitlyn went on to share how different her friends looked. I listened to all the details, who got their hair cut first, which hair stylist they used …etc. and then in a non-judgmental tone asked Kaitlyn if she had decided to withdraw from the “Locks of Love” program. She admitted that in the excitement she had forgotten all about it. I asked her to spend some time thinking about why she wanted to cut her hair right then rather than to follow through with her plan to wait until her hair reached the required 10 inches.
I remember her struggle. She really wanted to be “like” her friends and she also really wanted to help other children. I asked her to consider why she felt it was so important to do what her friends had done. And then I posed the big question, “Do you really want your hair cut or do you just want to be like your friends?”
Initially, Kaitlyn realized that she was content with her hair and felt strongly that she wanted to donate hair to “Locks of Love”. She also felt swayed because she wanted to be a part of the excitement her friends were sharing over their new hair styles.
I expressed my desire to see her choose what she truly wanted based on what was important and meaningful to her. And then I let go of it and allowed her to choose.
Kaitlyn decided that she did want to have her cut and styled in the same layered look her friends all had.
I made the appointment. While at the hair salon waiting her turn, we looked through magazines of different styles that she could choose from but she was adamant that she wanted exactly what her friends had…and so that is what she got.
She looked adorable of course. As she was admiring her new “look” in the floor to ceiling mirror and I was paying the stylist, the attendant came in and began sweeping up all of Kaitlyn's hair that was lying on the floor. It was a lot!
On the ride home, I commented at how pretty she looked and how grown up the new style was. I noticed she only responded with a half-smile and nod. This was not her typical way of responding, I asked her if she was okay, maybe she wasn’t happy with the way her hair style turned out? She said in a very soft almost sad voice, “I should have waited. All of my hair that was cut off just went into the trash and it could’ve helped a sick child!”
The sight of her hair being trashed, the reality of her choice and what that meant to someone else hit home in a big way. I could only hug her and tell her I loved her as it would not have been beneficial to Kaitlyn for me to disagree with or minimize her new found revelation in an attempt to make her feel better. This was a lesson in peer pressure for Kaitlyn.
I simply reminded her that life is all about learning everyday to be better than you were the day before and that I was proud of her for being open to this very valuable lesson of being clear about the reasons for your choices. We continued the conversation of how easy it is to get caught up in the excitement of something new but that it was almost always a wiser decision to not react immediately based solely on the excitement...that it was much better to take the time to examine your thoughts and ideas to be sure you are making a choice based on your own true feelings and preferences.
A healthy and awakened parenting mindset encourages and honors the individuality of every child, thus creating a strong sense of self-worth, confidence and self-esteem...all of which are the key elements in the internal armor necessary to remain true to who you are, rendering influence and pressure from outside completely powerless.
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