Dealing with peer pressure

Peer pressure can have a long-lasting impact on your growing child’s personality, writes Radhika Mitter

Children should be made to feel good with their skills and encouraged to work hard and gain the confidence to do better in all their activities in keeping with their aptitudes.

All kids need a little help, a little hope, and somebody who believes in them.

— Magic Thompson

Bringing up children in the modern day is becoming more and more challenging, as the competition begins early even at primary school and psychological problems develop because of intense academic pressure. Parents say that children are becoming difficult on account of the growing influence of media, social networking, and easy access to electronic gadgets. However, the primary reason leading to all this is ‘peer pressure’. Unfortunately, the influence that peer pressure has on children is less talked about. While peer pressure can be a positive influence on children, there are times when it leads to some negative influence as well.

Reality check

Here’s a simple example. Manav turned five years and moved to a regular school from a play home. Manav’s mother learnt from her friends that some of his classmates have already joined so-called extra-curricular activities like swimming, tennis and guitar classes. She heard other mothers talking about their children’s days that are typically filled with activities so that they will have all-round development. Manav’s mother chose not to fall prey to this competition.

Abhinav’s mom, on the other hand, being anxious about the all-round development of her child, enrolled him for swimming and tennis classes. At the end of one year, Abhinav was becoming irritable and started falling sick often. The physician ruled out physical illness and referred the child for counselling. The counsellor advised the mother that he couldn’t take the stress of facing the challenges of performing in academics and sports activities at the same time.

The counsellor explained that children face new challenges in the school as they are expected to perform well in the classroom, and when they engage in extracurricular activities, they are expected to follow rules and excel there as well. Where children are let free to play with their peer groups, they don’t have the stress of proving themselves. Abhinav’s mother paid heed to the counsellor’s advice and let the child be in the peer playgroup.

Present-day nuclear home parents come under pressure to see their kids achieving laurels right from pre-primary school days, and subject not only themselves but also the children to reel under peer pressure. It is unknown to many that parents happen to make their children feel peer pressure. When a child enters the preschool age, parents unconsciously compare the child to other kids’ development and tend to insist that the child must imitate his peers. When kids enter pre-primary school stage, the comparison grows. It makes the child think he is not good enough.

The pressure escalates when the students move to higher classes and they are judged by their performance in the exams. Children must be enabled to recognise and believe in their abilities and not choose to take up subjects simply because their friends have chosen those subjects. This tendency drives them to join competitive coaching classes and succumb to pressure.

What can parents do?

How can parents help children choose what is good for them and what is not, even if it means that they cannot be part of a group of friends? First and foremost, it is imperative that parents enable their children to develop self-confidence. Kids who feel good about themselves are less vulnerable to peer pressure.

When can you, as a parent, start instilling self-confidence in kids? This has to start from the toddler stages of a child. When the toddler tries to take his first step to walk, he tends to fall or hit against some object. There is nothing wrong in comforting the child, but parents mostly admonish the object or the floor for the baby’s fall. The child learns the first wrong lesson that some external matter caused his failure and not the fact that he or she is still in the learning phase.

Scientific research over the last decade has discovered three main characteristics developed in childhood that help people succeed later in life. These are grit, curiosity and growth mindset. Students must be encouraged to move away from a fixed mindset to the growth mindset. When a student is not scoring well, he should be taught that capabilities can be developed with hard work and focus. As parents, we should encourage and not shield our children from failure. As parents, we must allow the kids to learn early that actions have consequences and life is not always fair. Hard work, rather than parental influence, is what will ultimately bring them success and satisfaction.

Parents must instil values and teach the children to compare themselves with selves, not with others. No one knows other’s full story, and there’s no need to feel bad for not being as good as them or feeling justified in being better or worse in any area. Everyone walks his own path and has his own lessons and challenges to face. The more one focuses on oneself, the better one will become. When children enter adolescence, they face more challenges with academics and stiff competition from others. It is important to emphasise the fact that failure is just a bruise and not a permanent scar.

Talk, talk, talk

Parents with high expectations from their teens must have free communication with them, must be encouraging them to work hard, and be of support when they fail by not unduly comparing them with their peers. As parents, it is natural to feel anguished to see our children suffer, but they could develop more resilience over the years, maybe with some peer pressure.

Progress in any endeavour requires some comparison with a standard or an ideal. Comparison with a strategy in mind for better performance in keeping with the unique capabilities of the child may reveal a path to improvement rather than a generalisation which brands the child as ‘no good’ or ‘incapable’. This requires tact and not racing to hasty conclusions.

Children should be made to feel good with their skills and encouraged to work hard and gain the confidence to do better in all their activities in keeping with their aptitudes. Learning from peers is to be appreciated but aping or trying to be in another’s shoe is to be discouraged from the initial years.

A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking. This is because her trust is placed not on the branch but on its own wings. It is the primary duty of parents and teachers to instil the qualities of grit and hard work and make the children rely on their own strength like the self-confident bird.

(The author is a special educator and counsellor)

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