“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Philosopher
Peer groups are important for young people as they grow, learn, adapt and adopt. Children need to know how to get along with the social community they are a part of. They need to develop a sense of belonging among those who share similar interests, ideas and values. They need to explore and find out their skills and desires from the innumerous options available. On the above-mentioned life processes of a young one, peer groups play a crucial role.
“Peer pressure” is a commonly used term within the academia, often with negative connotations. So, it is better to ponder over the term “Peer influence” to avoid prejudices. And also, peer influence is a better way to describe how teenagers’ behavior is shaped by the desire to be in a group of friends or peers. In simple terms, when a kid chooses to act in a particular way because he/she might want to feel accepted by the circle of friends.
Peer influence can be both positive and negative. For example, your child if introverted in general, might be influenced to become more active and get involved in community works. This kind of influence by peer group on an individual, wherein he/she is motivated to become confident and acquire new abilities can be seen as positive. On the other hand, children might also choose to attempt things they normally wouldn’t be interested in nor would benefit them in any specific way. Such kinds of activities like breaking rules, adopting an exuberant lifestyle etc., might give them a sense of belonging but in a longer run breaks their self-esteem devoid of their self-identity.
Parents might find the influence of peers in their children when they choose to dress or groom themselves in a certain way; adopt a popular sensibility in the form of music, art and sport; taking up academics either seriously or lightly etc. But the essential point is to check if the kid is being carried away by what seems to be “popular” at the stake of his/her “individuality.
This is when the role of a parent steps in, the ultimate goal being helping the kid find the right balance between “fitting in” and “non-compromise on individuality”. Parents are always the primary support structure for children to open up, to seek help and warmth. This relationship is built by giving the kid the required trust and love.
- Parents should regularly have conversations with their kids and ask them what they expect from their friends and what do they get in turn.
- Parents should refrain from discarding the role of peers with their prejudices, rather discuss what do they personally value and how the kid’s action might eventually contradict those values.
- The key is to boost the kid’s self-esteem and confidence in being able to say “No” at times of compulsion. This again comes with the kid’s ability to prioritize values and needs and to make one’s own decisions.
- Compromises come with the fear of being left out or losing friends. Here, parents will have to let them know that they are important and worthy within themselves.
Parents should let the kids know that they are always an ally with whom they can discuss their relationships and vulnerabilities. Parents, without imposing theirs, should facilitate the kids to form their own value system which will not be compromised by any source of influence. A kid capable to aspire enough through the lens of his/her values will find a place in the peer group with least negative influence.