3 Strategies to Help Our Children Resist the Relentless Pressures to Conform
Whether it is the powerful pull of popular culture, social media, or the unrelenting influence of peers, the pressures on our children to conform are enormous. In an effort to belong and fit in, our little ones can bow to the pressure of these external cues – even when it doesn’t feel right. Our greatest concern is that conformity can lead to risky behaviors during adolescence – including alcohol and drug abuse.
The best response to resist these pressures to conform is to cultivate a strong inner voice in our children. Here are three strategies:
One: Start Early. At about age four our kids are already starting to conform as a way to fit into a world that is becoming more social as they enter pre-school. The reality is that all children will be vulnerable to peer pressure and influence. The good news is that conscience is beginning to develop around the same time. In other words, they are starting to feel that “little tug” when they don’t tell the truth or do something wrong.
This is a great time to introduce them to their small voice (that little tug) that lives within – offering an internal point of view that will serve them over a lifetime. As parents this is also a great time to shift from telling and correcting (serving as their conscience) to building their capabilities to think things through on their own. In our family life, we tried to promote the development of the inner voice by asking our kids: What does your small voice say you should do? Whether it was not wanting to share a prized toy or not wanting to go to a classmate’s birthday party, the idea was to get their little conscience involved indeveloping good behaviors.
Two: Keep the Dialogue Going. The reality is that peer pressures increase as our kids become school age(and especially during the tumultuous adolescent years). Cultivating a strong inner voice to counter these pressures represents an important direction in life that requires on-going development. Parents play a critical role in keeping the communication channels open and supported by a positive dialogue.
Consider the example of your 9-year old daughter who is being pressured by a friend to help her cheat on an exam. Your daughter confides in you but you over-react and call the parents of the other girl. Your daughter feels even worse by getting her friend into trouble. A better solution would have been to talk through options with your daughter that would allow her to exercise her inner voice (e.g., offering to help her friend study for the test but making it clear that she would not help her cheat).
Resisting peer pressure can be supported by encouraging your child to speak up when they feel peer pressure. We want our kids to see us as a safe harborfor discussion. One tactic is to share your own experiences – serving as a positive role model. For example, you might reveal how you are learning to challenge your boss in positive ways – instead of conforming to his half-baked ideas.
Three: Build a Village. The simple truth is that we can’t do it alone. Start an on-going discussion with a group of like-minded parents. Make it a book club that focuses on positive parenting resources. Also, make sure your schools are involved – where the source of peer pressure is often most significant.
Teachers, administrators and counselors can play a vital role in not only teaching our kids and attending to their mental health – also spending time cultivating the inner voice.
Whether it’s an inspiring speaker telling their own story or a respected teacher sharing strategies for saying “no” -- children learn best from the respected adults within their lives.
The idea is to surround our kids with positive influences that shape and strengthen their inner voice while including them in a loving community emboldens them when the pressures to conform seem overwhelming!