Children are exposed to an incredible amount of negative peer pressure in public schools, and one of the reasons parents teach their children at home is to avoid that pressure. Yet, schools are for the most part merely a convergence of peer expectations. The field of peer influence is much larger than the school classroom and playground. To teach children thoroughly to react appropriately to peer values, several defensive and offensive strategies need to be used.
Radio and television programmers stay up-to-date with what appeals to various age groups and pattern their programming accordingly. Advertising agencies also play a big role in depicting the characteristics of the "in crowd." Your child merely has to walk into a clothing store or look through a magazine to be drawn to the clothes that will make him acceptable to his peers. He hears the newest vocabulary on television or picks it up from billboards and other advertising mediums. On several occasions I caught myself saying to one of my children, "Where did you hear that?" of "What does that mean?" A typical reply was, "Oh, Dad! Everybody is saying it." My first impulse was to blame their friends or to wonder what their friends' parents were doing with their children. After I started listening for the peer talk, I realized I did not need to go out of my own home in order for my children to be exposed to negative values.
Peer identity is based on three main factors: symbols, attitudes, and conformity. Symbols can include hair and clothing styles, jewelry, or any number of gestures. Negative attitudes are expressed about everything and everyone that does not fit into the peer pattern. Conformity to the peer group is absolutely necessary, and that means not conforming to adult expectations. Be award of those things that your child should avoid so that he will not be identified with the wrong crowd, while at the same time don't shelter him so much that he is needlessly labeled as weird.
Several defensive strategies can be employed to encourage proper attitudes about peer pressure. For example, one of the main reasons a child seeks peer approval is a lack of b affirmation by his father. A child looks to his father for approval. I was recently at a home education convention when I noticed a boy looking at some of our books. He stopped at a story in one of our readers that evidently he remembered with great fondness. He wanted his dad to look at it, but Dad was talking to his friends. Finally Dad was ready to move on and the child said, "But Dad! This is that funny story I told you about." Dad said, "I'll look at it later." I will never forget the look of disappointment on that boy's face. This father got caught up in his own peer world and probably did not realize that he was giving a message that said, "Your interests are not important." I would dare say that if a friend of his son's happened along, the child would have shared it with him and gotten the feedback he wanted. Building an awareness of what is significant to your child is one of the most important skills you need to develop to show your approval of him.
How you handle discipline also affects how your child will react to his peers. If he is conforming to your direction because of brute force, he will learn a surface value system and will be left defenseless with his peers. Yet, he will feel insecure if you are too permissive. If you are consistent in guiding him with assertive authority, not merely relying on superior force, he will gain enough respect and security that he will stand alone if necessary. Dealing with him in wisdom will help him develop a thinking system that will produce discernment. Punishment is biblical and necessary, but applying it in love and giving immediate follow-up of instruction are vital.
When a child is confronted with negative peer pressure, usually the question "Don't you trust me?" is raised. Trust is an issue that needs careful consideration. You need to give special attention to understanding the character of your child. Deciding when he is ready to cross the street on his own, to ride his bicycle to the corner store, and then to drive the family car and to date requires a careful examination of his maturity, his display of skills, and his previous behavior during trust situations. These decisions should not be based on what his friends are doing. To give in to this pressure is the beginning of a life-long pursuit of peer dominance. On the other hand, a child should not be over-protected and denied trust that he is ready for.
Anticipate issues before they become panic confrontations, and communicate the rules in advance. Don't wait until your teenager requests to use the car on a rainy, stormy night. He may have been planning this event for some time, and his judgment may be blinded by his excitement. Planning would take this problem into account. The requirements for using the car should have been settled long ago. He would know that certain conditions could come up that could cause him to alter his plans. He would have made alternate plans in case problems arose and been prepared to tell his friends they have to use Plan B.
A misdirected emphasis on a child's success is also a reason a child may turn away from his parents and seek peer approval. A great deal of pressure can be put on a child, especially by his father, to be successful in areas in which he does not have the personality, abilities, or aptitude. Some of this pressure is pride on Dad's part. How many sons are driven to be good in sports or girls to become cheerleaders because this is an important status symbol? Music, art, and performance activities can be problem areas too. One of my sons was deathly afraid to be in a play or give a recitation in a program for years because when he was five years old he was given a last-minute piece to say in the Christmas program. I was sure he could do it! Besides, think how it would look when he did a good job by my prompting. Well, needless to say, he panicked and forgot his part, and everyone snickered. On the other hand, when a child has an aptitude for a particular skill, he should be encouraged and prompted to develop his talent. The important factor to keep in mind is to be objective and refrain from applying pressure based on parental pride. Check with someone who will give you an honest appraisal of your child's talents before determining what your expectations should be.
Many times a desire for the wrong type of success is taught by parental example. If you spend too much time working for external success and higher standards of living, your demeanor becomes the pattern for your child's values. You can tell him all the right things about materialism, but if he sees it is important to you, he will gravitate to it. One current peer culture is completely driven by materialism. One has to wear the right name brand of clothes or drive the right car. Even a young child many times feels he must have certain toys and lots of them, or he thinks he is neglected.
Above all, your child needs to see a sense of balance in your own relationship with people of different ages. Do you have positive, enjoyable encounters with children and teenagers? Are you attentive to older people, especially your parents? Do you show respect for law officers, the preacher, and other authority figures? Your attitudes will greatly influence your child.
Parents also need to use offensive strategies in dealing with peer pressure. One of these is to teach your child to handle ridicule without taking offense. This begins when he is young and the neighborhood bully gives him a hard time. You do not necessarily need to teach him self-defense, although it is not wrong to teach your child to protect himself. Yet, he must be taught how to stand confidently and firmly for his beliefs without getting angry. He needs to learn that scoffing and ridiculing are usually tactics used by insecure people. His confidence is a powerful tool for dealing with threatening peer situations. As parents you need to teach these skills to your child early in his life.
Regardless of the precautions you take, the time will come when your child will be confronted with a situation in which he must take a stand. Teach him how to handle himself confidently with verbal and nonverbal communication skills. He has to be prepared with both b defensive and offensive strategies that will give a clear message. He has to be able to say "no" with conviction in his voice, with firmness in his stature, and with facial expressions that cannot be misunderstood. If he is b and firm is convictions and handles himself well, he most likely will be admired.
When I was a principal of a Christian school, I had to be strict with the students regarding the dress standards. My son was upset because he heard his friends saying some pretty negative things about Dad. I asked what he personally believed about these standards aside from how I felt. I told him to tell his friends what he thought rather than trying to defend me. He was astonished that, when he took his stand, some of the other students admired him and said they agreed with him. Those that were going along with the griping just to be a part of the group quit griping too.
Peer pressure is a reality that will not just go away. It is a battle against the world system's bid for conformity and influence on our lives. Home schooling along will not remove the threat. The subtleties of advertisement and the interrelation between casual friends and group expectations of behavior all need to be combated. As parents you have a perfect opportunity to instill in your child the qualities that will help him stand against peer pressure.