Peer Pressure or Peer Influence?

Posted on May 16, 2018

“Mama, Jackie, Saira, Carina, and I have decided that we will all be Belle for Halloween this year! I’m so excited. Can you order my outfit now?” asked 8-year-old Jasmine on Mother’s Day.

“Everybody wants to be Belle, sweetheart. Why do you want to do what everybody else is doing? You should be different and pick something unique,” answered her mom.

“Dad, I’m going out of state for college,” declared John at the end of his junior year.

“I’ve changed my mind about staying in California, because everybody is going to be going away.”

“Well, that’s not what we had decided, and I’m not spending thousands of dollars on travel over those four years, John. You need to pick a school in California,” snapped his dad.

Here we go again! thought John’s mom, rolling her eyes but biting her tongue to avoid conflict. He wants to do what everybody else is doing. I hate that about John! He’s so easily influenced.

Whether our kids are 8 or 17, there’s no question that they’re influenced by their peers. And as parents, we try to steer them away from what we wrongfully term “peer pressure.” Our intention, of course, is to guide our kids to make decisions that fit their own likes, dislikes, personality traits, and ability to succeed. But what do we do when we hear statements like Jasmine’s or John’s? We snap. We judge. We assume that their comments are influenced by others, though more often than we like to admit, we’re annoyed because what they’re contemplating is not what we think is right for them.

Where does this take us? To unnecessary conflicts, arguments, and chaos—all of which hinders our children’s self-reliance, damages our mutual trust, rocks the relationship, and creates unwarranted emotional turbulence, both individually and collectively.

Let’s take a look at each of these results one by one.

 

  • Hinders self-reliance. On the one hand we want our kids to be in-dependent—dependent upon themselves. On the other hand when they declare independent choices, we are immediately ready to steer them away from those decisions, just because we feel they were under “peer pressure.” So we poke them to move in a different direction with comments or sometimes sarcastic or snide remarks. When we do that we are risking …

 

  • Damage to our mutual trust. It is in our human nature to constantly want to grow by our own experiences and impressions. However, when kids express those impressions, and parents shut them down, the kids are less likely to come to us to discuss any issues in the future. Kids will say, “I don’t want to talk to you about this,” or “You don’t understand,” or “It’s different than when you were a kid.” These statements really translate to “I don’t trust that you understand me or will listen with an open mind.” If this situation continues it will definitely…

 

  • Rock the relationship. Relationships with children do not get rocky because parents disagree with children. Kids need our opinions, which is why they speak their mind before making decisions. What rocks the relationship is our harsh tone of voice, derogatory or sarcastic remarks, or blatantly shutting down our kids’ comments without considering where they are at the moment. If we follow this pattern frequently enough, we will undoubtedly end up with…

 

  • Unwarranted emotional turbulence, individually and collectively. If you’re arguing with your kids over anything and everything— as most parents complain they do—you are caught up in emotional chaos. When emotions are in the way, communication is not only affected but actually ineffective. Relationships are built only when we take charge of our own emotions so that we can not only help our children balance theirs but role-model how to do that.

 

So what should we keep in mind in responding to our kids’ comments?

Give them freedom to be influenced while guiding them to their own strengths. Most of our decisions are inspired by others. It’s natural that when someone says something that appeals to us, we are inspired to do follow along. If you feel your kids are influenced by others, know that it is not always a bad thing. In fact, the only time that you need to issue a warning is when drugs, alcohol, or other life-diminishing temptations are involved.

Meet them where they are. Think back to when you were their age; how many times were you influenced by others and thought you would do something but never followed through? So listen without judgment or response. Let your kids finish their thoughts and complete their sentences. Let them sit with their decisions or comments without any refutation from you.

Give them space and freedom of thought and expression. Try statements like, “Sure, if that’s what you want.” What real difference does it make if your 8-year-old ends up dressing as Belle or the Beast for Halloween? Pick your stands when they matter—with the big stuff. And if your child is entertaining going out of state for college, let him or her consider it, especially if the idea is not detrimental and is not taking place in the immediate future. Think how spreading their wings will enhance your children’s growth and life skills. The fact is, most kids don’t know what the right decisions will be for them six months or a year ahead. They live in the now and decide what feels right for them now. Whereas we parents jump ahead and are mentally prepared to immediately squash their passing thoughts and comments.

Parents today are involved with their kids more than ever before. That is why terms like “helicopter parents” and “authoritative parenting” have come into the conversation. However, no growth or good comes from helicoptering humans, especially little ones who are trying to grow and expand. Parenting requires a gentle hand. It demands that we be lighthearted and lenient, not threatening or overly scrupulous.

Our kids are on a journey of self-discovery, and being influenced by peers is very different than being under peer pressure. This is not pressure that is steering them away from themselves. It is simply an influence that helps them entertain choices that are different from those they have made before.

Become conscious, pay attention, be mindful of the motivation behind your children’s comments, and nine out of ten times you will notice that they are being influenced not pressured. It is our constant judgments, rebuttals, and unnecessary comments that teach our kids the art of argument. It is our constant disconnection from understanding their innate desire to grow and expand that teaches them the art of disconnection.