As human beings, we all need to form attachments. Those attachments begin early as we start to interact with our parents and brothers and sisters. As infants and toddlers, our parents are our main source of love and affection and our attachments are formed from those who care for us most. A natural tendency for all human beings is to be loved and cared about, for without those feelings, we would lose what life offers us most.
If that is true and we all need to feel attachment and love, then how do we develop into strong, independent individuals? How can we say things that might alienate us from others? How do we teach children that disagreeing with friends- even getting angry with friends or occasionally having a big argument will not automatically end a relationship?
Children naturally gravitate toward peer groups. This is a normal part of growing up. Adults do this as well when they network or join clubs. Peers are those individuals who are the same age or in the same group as we are. Peer pressure is the influence that our friends have on us. This is not entirely bad. Our friends can affect us in ways that dictate what we wear or how we cut our hair. That's not so difficult to understand. We all want to feel a part of the group and to be accepted. It's only when peer pressure tries to push us into things that we don't want to do that it becomes a problem.
A peer group has a few important functions for a child. It allows for competition. The child can use some of the skills that he/she has acquired in the home from parents and test them out with peers. Another important function of a peer group is to control the actions that occurs within it. Even a group of pre- school children can show some control in their own group.
There is, however, another side to peer pressure. This is the negative side that most parents fear. Some children can be easily swayed to do what others tell them even if it is obviously wrong. For instance, if a child goes to a new school he/she may do anything to be part of the group. He/she may not have enough self esteem or self confidence at that point to refuse when one of the popular kids tells him/her to play tricks or to be mean or insulting to others. Negative peer pressure is not always related to taking drugs, alcohol or sexual behavior. It may be lying, stealing or cheating that is used as ways to steer others to obviously wrong behaviors.
What can parents do to help a child choose a positive form of peer pressure and assume their own identity? There are many ways that this can be done. Creating an atmosphere of trust and caring where children feel free to express their feelings openly is a start in the right direction. Helping children to feel good about themselves also helps them to resist going along with the crowd.Parents should help children to find something that they do well. Everyone has at least one talent that he/she can excel at. Parents should point this out to the child with support and encouragement. This will help to enforce self esteem.
Two other areas that help children to resist peer pressure and enhance self esteem are assertiveness and social skills. By speaking up and saying what's important, your child will develop self confidence. Social skills include meeting with others and relating to them appropriately. Most of all, parents need to guide children in positive directions. Being a good role model is a way to support qualities in children that help them to form a strong identity and sense of self. Positive modeling can achieve more than even the best parental lectures in the world. Actions speak louder than words.