Life is like a theatre.
At all times we are assessing the story, the stakes, and the status roles of each person on stage. We’re evaluating who the heroes and villains are, who we are affiliated with and who we have dominion over.
And it’s this constant social and psychological play we engage in that leads to peer pressure.
Adults can relate...
It’s not just children - adults too experience the incessant need to “keep up with the Jones family.” We’re constantly evaluating the stakes of peer pressure in our minds: What will people think of me? Who’s wealthier? Is this dangerous? Will it give me the status I want? What will I tell my spouse? Is this right?
No one is immune to it.
But the difference between adults and children is that, while none of us are perfect, adults generally are better equipped to handle peer pressure. For children, it’s a whole new world. Their entire lives they’ve been living off one script — the one their parents gave them. Then one day friends enter the picture and children are challenged to compare scripts. To look at how they’ve been living compared to how their peers are living.
It can be a very emotional time. So here’s a run-down on what you can do as a parent to teach your kids to handle peer pressure.
Understand the children's internal narratives
We never want to assume children are “just plain mean.” A more productive approach is to seek to understand the internal narratives at play in children.
For example, when your child is being bullied on the playground (or perhaps is the bully on the playground), follow the advice of Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny and Ron McMillan in their acclaimed book Crucial Conversations: ask yourself “why would a reasonable, rational and decent person act this way?”
Approaching peer pressure of all kinds from this angle with your children helps you all to see others with more compassion. It also gives children the understanding needed to make smart decisions.
A child who’s bullying might be doing so because they need help, they feel unsure of themselves and they just want attention. That said, no one is perfect. Children may make mistakes and succumb to harmful peer pressure. That’s why it’s important to…
Set clear & consistent boundaries
Stephen M.R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust tells a story about his teenage son getting pulled over by the police. Covey told his son ahead of time that if such an event were to occur, he would take his son’s license.
When he did get pulled over, Covey felt tempted to err on the side of mercy and let his son keep the license anyway. But he knew deep down that if he did not follow through on his word to enact discipline and take the license, he might gain his son’s favor in the short-run, but he’d lose his trust in the long-run.
So it is with setting clear and consistent boundaries with our children.
Children need to know what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is not acceptable. And with it, they need to understand the consequences of engaging in unacceptable behavior and that they can trust we will carry it out.
This knowledge of boundaries combined with their habit of asking “why would this person do this?” will give your child a clear lens through which to see peer pressure and make important daily decisions. It gives them a way to evaluate situations as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, and act accordingly.
It’s also the foundation for trust.
Trust toward the self is the greatest gift you can give your child
Peer pressure is tough. It comes with the territory of being human. We’re always in situations, both spoken and unspoken, that cause us to evaluate our social status and make decisions about how we want to be perceived.
But as we’ve said, giving your little ones a knowledge of boundaries combined with the habit of asking “why would this person do this?” will give them a clear script they can use to navigate peer pressure.
And, as they make smart choices consistently throughout their youth, they will come to trust themselves, you and others.
And that is the greatest script you can give them.