Helping Children With Peer Pressure
Peer pressure can take many forms over the course of childhood, occurring in groups from early childhood through young adulthood. Helping children navigate their way through relationships and social interactions often takes more than simply telling them to accept themselves and others for who they are. This month, we will discuss how open and ongoing communication with children on either side of peer pressure can lead to more effective and meaningful guidance in their relationships with others.
Situations involving peer pressure consist of two parties: A person or people attempting to dominate or control some aspect of a relationship; and a person or people susceptible to bending to the opinions, demands or influence of others. While many may tend to sympathize with the pressured party, both sides suffer from internal problems that interfere with their ability to healthfully engage in relationships.
The key to helping a child in either position depends on the emotional reasons for the child's behavior. Therefore, it is important to get a sense of what may be driving your child's desire to conform or put pressure on others to follow.
For children who like to apply pressure to conform, controlling parts of their external world may provide some (temporary) relief from feeling a lack of control in other aspects of their life. Their dominance may feel empowering.
For children inclined to conform, there may be inhibitions interfering with their ability to comfortably access and assert their own ideas and opinions. For these children, following may feel safe.
Regardless of the reasons, a parent's ability to help his or her child will depend on how well the parent knows what feelings are behind the child's actions, and how open and honest the parent-child communication is.
Helping Children Who Pressure Others
Parents who learn that their child has pressured or tried to influence others may feel tempted to lecture their child about why his or her actions are wrong. In this case, however, consequences and lectures run the dual risk of shaming a child and closing the doors of communication. Parents can consider a more collaborative approach by showing their child that they truly believe he or she is a good person who cares about other people. Parents who convey this over time are more likely to reach their children.
Helping Children Who Give In to Pressure
Children who give in easily to the ideas of others are often inhibited in other ways as well. Perhaps they worry excessively about hurting others' feelings, or maybe they don't feel confident enough to stand up for their own ideas. Generally speaking, giving in to pressure is just one instance of a broader pattern of behavior. It can be helpful to identify, tactfully and gradually, the various instances in which a child is inhibited. Offering a child the opportunity to discuss his or her understanding of this inhibition and continuing tactful questioning will encourage the child to think more deeply about his or her reasons for the behavior.
When to Seek Help
Children need more help with relationships when they seem stuck in problematic relationship patterns that don't change over time, even when offered guidance and encouragement to try to understand the patterns. A careful evaluation with an expert in children's emotional development can determine what kind of help may be needed so the child can begin the process of forming healthier and more constructive peer relationships.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.