We’ve all been in that situation, where everyonearound us is doing it so it seems impossible for us not to do it, too. Whether it’s cheating, drugs, sex, or even gossiping, it’s inevitable that our kids will face these pressures at some point in their lives. It’s difficult for an adult to resist peer pressure, let alone an elementary, middle, or high school student. So how in the world can we prepare our kids to resist the irresistible? Here are a few suggestions that stem from well-known parenting experts.
1. Put the relationship first
. In his parenting program, Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn discusses the importance of putting the relationship first. Being “right” is not always what is important. In the discipline with our children, we shouldn’t do anything to unnecessarily put a strain on the relationship. When we are disciplining, we need to ask ourselves what our purpose is and if our request is really worth it. Rather than focusing on being a parent who’s always right, we focus instead on building an open loving relationship with our children, they will always feel able to come to us to talk.
My father-in-law is the perfect example of this. He regularly had in-depth talks with his four boys as they grew up and focused on building a loving, trusting relationship with them. Because of this, they always felt able to talk about anything with him, even when they entered their teenage years. For instance, one of his sons told him about how being on the football team, he felt pressured to curse like all the rest of the guys were doing. If the relationship hadn’t been put first, he never would have felt comfortable enough to bring this up.
2. Give choices
. According to the parenting program Love and Logic, we can start giving our children choices from a very young age. For instance, we can ask our 2-year-old, “Do you want white or chocolate milk?” If we don’t give our children options, who will they learn to rely on to make their choices? They will come to rely on others. On the other hand, if we begin giving them little choices from when they are young, they will learn that they are able to make their own choices and won't have to rely on others to do it for them. In the future, when their friends are telling them what they should do, they are more likely to feel confident to make their own decisions.
. In her parenting program Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen discusses the dangers of praise. She says that praise may produce children who are “pleasers and approval junkies. These children may develop self-concepts that are totally dependent on the opinions of others.”
Praising inspires the dependence on the evaluation of others. It places our value on their work. It’s saying things like, “I like the way you did that,” or only recognizing a complete product by saying “You did it right.” Saying these things make children rely on how others value what they did.
Encouragement, on the other hand, doesn’t place your value on what they did. You could simply state the facts about what they did, like saying, “I see you used lots of colors in that picture.” This lets them know that you still notice what they did, but they are evaluating the work themselves. It’s also important to note the effort, rather than the product, like saying, “You must have worked hard!” In this way, you help your child realize the importance is in the inner characteristics, not what everyone else sees. By encouraging rather than praising, we can help our children develop their own self-concept rather than relying on the acceptance of others.
Peer pressure will be all around our children, but by incorporating these practices into our parenting, we can help them become more resistant to what seems like the irresistible.