By Michelle Garrett, MS, LMFT
When our children are little, we are the most powerful influence in their lives.As our children grow, however, we begin to watch our level of influence decrease.As kids enter school, their peers gain in influence over them.As they begin to move into the world, socially, academically, and hobbies and sports, it is completely natural for them to grow in independence and learn how to be successful in this world.What dictates “success” for a child or a teenager doesn’t always involve the best decision-making, though.
Moving into the teen years, we, as parents begin to take a “back seat” in influence.It is a hard truth that I have heard over and over.I’ve learned this
professionally and have watched it play out in the lives of my own four kids.We pray we’ve taught them well and that they make good decisions.But,
there are real pressures out there.Let’s take a look at what this all means.
So often we think of peer pressure as a bad thing.Every one of us knows someone who came from a good family, someone who had everything going for them,
but then the got in with the “wrong crowd.”Peer pressure isn’t always negative, however; and, seeing it as a negative force is fear-based, potentially
assuming that we or our child may in some way be powerless to it’s effects.
Here are some basics about peer pressure:
Peer pressure can be negative, but it can also be positive.
The powerful effects of positive peer pressure are part of what brings us to church, or to join a club or a sports team.
Peer pressure, like influence, can be powerful, but it also subtle.
Subtleties like time spent with someone, or observing choices another makes can be very powerful.Think about the importance of relationship:If you know
another person cares for you and can relate to you, that’s effective and subtle.
Peer pressure is more effective if we are isolated.
This is true with positive peer pressure and negative peer pressure.Think about the first story of negative peer pressure: Adam and Eve.Making friends
with the snake wasn’t going to lead Eve in a good direction.Isolation didn’t help either.NOTE TO SELF:If I am making a decision that I don’t want to discuss with those that care about me most, my warning signals need to be going off.
We are social beings, with the power to influence and be influenced.This is precisely why we hear things like, “Show me your friends and I will show you your future,” or “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with...”
As a parent here some important thoughts on peer pressure:
- Teach kids to know themselves and their goals.Help them to see how decisions they make and people they hang out with will interfere with their goals.This is important.They most likely will be more motivated to reach their own goals than they will be to reach yours.
- Be willing to have the difficult conversations with your kids.These conversations will be had by your kids:Make sure it’s you that does it first.It will make it easier for them to come to you when they need it most.
- Teach your kids know how to identify their influence and leverage it for good.Remember, influence or peer pressure can be direct or subtle.Your teen can lead directly by starting or joining a group at school.Or they can lead more subtly, by how the choices they make and how they treat others.
- Equip your kids to lead and influence for good.Multiple studies and programs have taken place in schools across our country equipping and empower teens to teaching teens how to positively mentor, lead and influence their peers.These are things we can also teach at home. Check out these two TedTalks: Risa Berrin Hijacking the High School Peer Pressure System. And, Leyla Bravo-Willey’s Positive Peer Pressure in Schools. These programs teach students positive social and emotional skills, leadership, how to have difficult conversations, teaching compassion, SMART goals, healthy choices and wise decision-making.
- Here is a great challenge: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Romans 12:9-13
- Who you surround yourself with matters.Enough said.
**This article can also be viewed on the finds.life.church website.
Michelle Garrett, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the State of Oklahoma and, also a clinical member at Transforming Life Counseling Center.