Peer Pressure & the Parent / by Tara Kaushal

October 2011: Bansi Mehta and I list what you can do to help your kids.

Do the very words ‘peer pressure’ send chills down your spine? Do you miss the wonderful days when all you had to do was feed and put the babies to bed? Now they are grown-ups, taking tentative steps and forming relationships in a world you can’t completely control. With friends comes peer pressure—so what can you do?

You know we believe that teaching your kids how to make the right choices—and to face their consequences—is a better parenting technique than making decisions for them. So, instead of banning certain friends and laying down the law, teach your kids how not to succumb to herd mentality and peer pressure. Here are some pointers.

Wipe that Frown Off Your Face!

Of course, no one is as good as your baby. When kids start to develop their own relationships, try not to be extra-possessive or too judgmental about the friends they make. Unless there’s a real threat of bad influence, accept your kids’ friends, flaw et al.

You know that childhood friendships can see your kids through their lifetimes, so develop a relationship of trust with your kids and their friends early on.

Talk, Talk, Talk

Keep the communication going. Firstly, whether or not you’re told directly, when you talk you’ll easily catch clues about what’s going on in your children’s lives. Serious thoughts—about how a series of actions becomes a personality; about a sense of discretion, and the need for critical thinking and questioning in making choices—need not come in the form of a dreaded ‘lecture’; you could just slip them in to casual conversation.

Being clued in also allows you to give preemptive advice on situations your kids may encounter soon—are her friends drinking already? Time to slip in a gentle word about drinking responsibly at the right age.

The More Secure Your Kids Are…

The less likely they are to blindly follow the (social) leader. Insecure kids may prioritise the need to ‘fit in’ over following their own hearts. Making a child secure is an ongoing parenting priority, with no shortcuts or guarantees. We’d love to hear how you provide your children emotional stability.

The ‘Jumping Into the Well’ Story

‘So, if all your friends jump in to a well, will you follow?’ This little question is a golden oldie. If your children are feeling compelled to do something they don’t want to do, this question is the key. While you might get the wise-aleck ‘to save them’ answer, you’ll certainly get your point across—that they ought to choose what’s best for them.   

“All Sachin’s* friends wanted to go for hip-hop classes,” says Shweta* from Mumbai. “He preferred singing but didn’t seem to have a choice in the majority vote.” Shweta didn’t tell 13-year-old Sachin what to do. She helped him reason out why he should choose singing. “Once he understood that he needn’t blindly follow the herd, he followed his heart.”

Tried this line yourself? How and why—and did it work?

You Just Don’t Approve

Sachin felt compelled to do something he didn’t want to do. But what if your kids are considering doing something you don’t want them to do? By the time your kids encounter peer pressure, you’ve (hopefully!) already instilled your family’s values in to them. However, it can certainly make them waiver.

Try reasoning out their choice. Rajiv* sat down to explain to 15-year-old Ansh* why he couldn’t drive until it was legal, even if his friends were. “I heard him out,” says Rajiv, “but he just wasn’t ready to see the mature point of view.” If you still can’t convince your kids so see your reasoning, well, just remember the bottom line…

You’re still the parent! The home is not a democracy, so put your foot down.

This article appeared on Yowoto—a now-defunct parenting website startup that I helped incubate as Editor-in-chief—in October 2011.

While I’m now a firm childless antinatalist, my politics weren’t fully formed when I took this short-lived assignment to explore the digital side of publishing (though it was never a good fit). Nonetheless, some of the articles I wrote at the time are interesting.