The world is often a hostile environment for children. Most adolescents experience a significant amount of alienation, and all are susceptible to peer pressure.
To help your child resist the pressure of others, you will first need to examine your life to make sure the same trap does not ensnare you. Otherwise, you may be giving more instruction to your child on responding to peers than you realize.
We believe there are several core convictions related to the trap of peer pressure that parents need to hold.
The quality of your relationship with your child is the determining factor in how significant peer influence will be.
The family must become the harbor in the storm. No matter what the world says to them, they know they can find love there. We often tell our children, “Nothing you can do will make me love you any more and nothing you can do will make me love you less.”
Children need to be needed at home. They long for approval, for a deep sense of belonging, for importance, for order and security. If they don’t receive these things at home, they will seek them elsewhere.
Never underestimate the incredible impact—negative or positive—of peer relationships.
When our daughter Ashley was 13, she came home from school one day and described the pressure she was feeling from peers. She told us that they were making her feel like she was standing alone on a wall. Some of her friends were on the ground below, trying to get her to do something she didn’t want to do, chucking stones, and pulling and tugging on her, trying to knock her down. And even though she felt horribly alone on that wall, Ashley withstood their attempts to discourage her.
The family must become the harbor in the storm
We told Ashley that when peers try to pull you off the wall they are ultimately trying to get you to drop your standards to fit in with the herd, so that the herd can feel good about the choices it’s making. We applauded her for standing strong.
Another way to counteract this negative herd instinct is to use positive peer pressure to your advantage. You may want to consider challenging one or two of your child’s friends to be a good influence on your child while at the same time challenging your child to be a positive influence on them.
Don’t relinquish your right to influence and even control your child’s relationships.
You are the parent. Maintaining control of those who influence your children is within the bounds of your authority. As friendships begin to take shape, steer your children in the direction of positive peer pressure and away from negative influences.
Get to know their friends and his or her parents to gain some idea of their values, beliefs and convictions.
You do have to handle this carefully, because if you are overly controlling, you can drive your child away from you and directly to the relationships that concern you.
On one occasion we explained to our son Benjamin (then 15) that we didn’t feel a certain friend was a good influence on him—the boy’s life reflected a home that was very unstable and it was clear that his influence on Benjamin was far greater than Benjamin’s influence on him. He felt we were being unfair, but we carefully explained our concerns. Then we prayed with him for his protection and wisdom in handling this friendship.
We have found that if we are eliminating a relationship our child enjoys, we have to step in and aggressively spend time with our child and meet his needs. Ultimately, of course, as your child grows older he will increasingly choose his friends on his own, and these teaching times with him now will influence his choices later.