Peer pressure or pack mentality can stir up a lot of trouble for a child who would never think of breaking the law, hurting another person’s feelings or destroying property. A child who obeys parents and respects others may be emboldened to go against everything he knows on a simple dare.
Eleven-year-old Bobby has been sent to the neighborhood convenience store by his mom to buy bread, frozen corn, milk and cheese. Along his route to the store he meets his two friends; they exchange greetings and a few friendly jabs. While walking along they talk about sneakers, their favorite sports figures, and the spooky looking house up ahead.
Ray winks at Sean and presents Bobby with a challenge; they dare him to throw a rock through a window in the spooky house.
“Go ahead, I dare ya!” taunted Ray. “You’re buying corn to feed the chickens!”
“You must be a chicken!” teased Sean. “Bock-bock-bock. Cock-a-doodle-do!”
Bobby is feeling very uncomfortable as he reaches down to pick up a rock. He does not want to look like a coward in front of his friends; he thinks he has no options. If he throws the rock and breaks a window it will no doubt raise his status among his friends. If he does not throw the rock he will be labeled a “chicken” forever.
Every child will face many challenges – good or bad – in a lifetime. Can your child discern the difference?
• Can you climb to the top of that tree?
• What if you break into the teacher’s locker?
• Can you guess what I have in my hand?
• I bet you can’t drop your lunch tray on that kid?
• Can you get the ball in the net?
• I dare you light this cigarette?
• Can you make a prank call to 911?
• I bet you can use this to get high?
Teach the difference between a good challenge and a bad dare. A bad dare is something that is:
• Hurtful to yourself or others
• Harmful to anyone’s health
• Causes embarrassment
• Your parents would not want you to do
Parents can help their children navigate through negative peer pressures by helping them to plan ahead.
Use parents as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Role-play with your child what to say in order to withdraw from a bad situation:
“No way, my parents would kill me!”
“Are you crazy? My parents would ground me for doing that!”
“Do I look stupid? My dad would ground me and my mom would cry her eyes out.”
“You can do what you want. My parents would throw a fit.”
Teach kids to examine both sides of a coin. Kids can use a self-talk of ‘if/then’ to figure out what they should or should not do in any situation. “If I throw a rock and break a window then I may have to pay for it.” “If Ray encourages me to do something against the law then he’s not really my friend.”
Cultivate better friends. Walking away could be the first step for your child in cultivating new, better friends. Any friend who would encourage a child to do something that would get them into trouble is not a real friend. Help your child find better friends whose parents share similar values and expectations. Look for other children who share the same hobbies or interest in sports.
Teach kids to be a trend setter, not a follower. Kids with healthy self-esteem and strong self-confidence are less likely to accept unhealthy dares, bets or challenges.
Reconsider unsupervised “hanging out” in the neighborhood and at the mall. Hanging out or loitering is a more recent pastime in our culture and is not a bad thing unless it stirs up trouble. One child alone may not cause problems but by adding the kid count you are increasing the likelihood of trouble. Shoplifting is often encouraged by friends but when store security catches the child, all the others will scatter. To discourage kids getting into trouble simply add supervision; you cannot substitute a parent’s pair of eyes.
Bobby is a fictional character but the scenario is played out in communities across the country. Coaching your son or daughter can be the key that prevents them from making bad choices and getting into trouble.
Has your child ever gotten into trouble because of peer pressure? What advice could you give to other parents facing this issue? Let us hear from you.
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