“Just because your friends are doing it, doesn’t mean you have to.” These were the wise words of both confidence and caution from my mother. Beyond this counsel, parents sometimes feel helpless preparing their child for possible interactions across peer- and social-related situations. Peer influence is a consistent pressure throughout life, but some research suggests that peer pressure may start as early as four years old. There are things we can do as parents that may actually help our children resist social pressure.
Research suggests children are most vulnerable to peer pressure between the ages of 10 and 14. The pattern holds true for boys and girls across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. During this time of life, adolescents are trying to differentiate themselves from their parents and fit in more with their peers.
Other research suggests that risk-taking increases between childhood and adolescence as a result of changes in brain structure and function. Around the time of puberty, there is a dramatic remodeling of the brain’s dopaminergic system that lead to increased reward and sensation-seeking activities.
What is the best preparation to promote positive decisions in spite of the biological changes that occur as our children grow up? Encourage and nurture strong self-esteem. Self-confidence helps children and adolescents make decisions, vocalize and understand them, and follow them. Remind children that there is strength in numbers. Peer pressure doesn’t always have to be negative. Peers can have a positive influence on each other as well. Encourage your children to befriend individuals who can support them in their choices. And, lastly, talk to your kids about how to avoid undesirable situations. Let young children and adolescents know it is okay to seek an adults or teacher’s advice.
Peer pressure affects both children and adults on a daily basis. Zarbee’s believes in making safe and positive decisions all the time, not just during cough season. Start communicating with your children today to ensure they stand up against peer influenced decisions.