One morning, while brushing her teeth, my seven-year-old child blurted out that one of her friends had challenged her to do a silly thing.
My first question was, what was that silly thing? My second question was, did she do it or not?
Much to my dismay, the silly thing her friend dared her to do was to dip her finger in the toilet water. Did she do it? Yes. And my disappointment was bigger than I would have expected.
I was appalled that she had been unable to stand up for herself despite everything I’ve taught her for situations just like this. She knew perfectly well the action was not only silly but gross, but in the end, she gave in. Why?
She explained that no matter how many times she said no, the friend would not drop it, and somehow, knowing that her dad and I were in the other room with her friend’s parents made her feel safer accepting the challenge.
Well, of course, I let her know she can come to us whenever she has a situation like this, to avoid getting pressured into doing silly things without letting us know. I also let her know that if her friend can insist upon doing such a silly thing, she also has just as much right to stand up for herself.
In retrospect, I realized it was probably the toughest peer pressure she had experienced so far, and it won’t be the last. The things her friends might force her to do, whether as a dare or through some other form of bullying, are most likely to happen out of my sight.
And if my child doesn’t have adequate skills to overcome the fear of being left out by her peers, she is all the more likely to succumb to peer pressure and get into much bigger trouble later on.
Research shows that children become more susceptible to peer influence between the ages of 10 and 14 and less susceptible between 14 and 18.
As your children enter their teen years, they will be at their most vulnerable to peer pressure. So, how can you best prepare them to navigate the uncertainties and dangers of this developmental stage?
How to help your child handle peer pressure
1. Educate your child about peer pressure
Surprisingly enough, more often than not, children don’t associate the term “peer pressure” with the challenges they face from their friends.
Explaining what peer pressure is and familiarizing your child with the types of peer pressure they might face will help prepare them to confront it. They will be equipped with the knowledge of what to expect and what to do in various situations.
2. Discuss long-term and short-term outcomes
Discuss with your children the likely outcomes of their decisions when they face peer pressure.
Explore together what types of consequences they might face, whether they succumb to peer pressure or not.
For example, when they give in to peer pressure to do inappropriate things, they might maintain the friendship or avoid teasing in the short term, but at the cost of putting themselves into much bigger trouble.
Let them think about which decisions will benefit them most long-term and choose their path according to their own will.
3. Teach them how to make a stand against wrongdoing
Being a bystander is easier than you might think. Choosing sides in a conflict, and all the trouble that might entail is no small matter. But encouraging them to stand up for what is right and supporting others to do the same can also strengthen their resolve to stand up for themselves when they feel pressure.
4. Teach assertiveness
Give your child opportunities to be assertive and teach them why it is such an important skill to develop.
When your child feels pressured by others to do something they know is wrong, they should be able to say “no” without fear of repercussions or being bullied.
5. Help them express their feelings
When your children experience peer pressure, the first thing that comes to mind should be to express their feelings of discomfort and voice their objections to the pressure. This is such common sense but undeniably hard to execute in the real world.
Encourage your child to practice and be able to say things like, “I don’t like that” or “I don’t want to do that”.
Give your child opportunities to express any uncomfortable feelings directly by saying it out loud.
6. Teach them to seek advice and ask for help
Most importantly, let your children know it is perfectly okay to discuss the pressures they face. Encourage them to ask questions about the pressure they might have already experienced and seek advice about anything they are currently going through. Let your children know you are there to support them through any difficulties, and that peer pressure is something they are welcome to discuss with you.
All children experience peer pressure at some point in their lives. By making the right decision under pressure, your children can avoid potential dangers and negative consequences. Enable your child to face peer pressure by discussing the different types of pressure they might face and the best responses to each situation. Let your child know that no matter what happens, they can always come to you for advice
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