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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Peer Pressure... How Early Does This Crap Begin?

Students in my YA lit class consistently rate peer pressure as one of the most insidious problems of teen students, and I find that disturbing. But when does peer pressure begin?

The picture above, is it the cutest child in the world? Why yes, it's my daughter Noel. Who inexplicably decided to get her ears pierced this week. (see red ears in picture).

She is five and has very stubborn ideas and opinions. Once she makes up her mind, don't try to change it...but somebody is changing it.

Let's start with her hair. Last year about this time, I cut off all my hair, very short. Noel was very upset, to the point of crying and saying I wasn't her mommy. (which made me cry). Anyway, though she has very thin hair, over the last year she refused to let us cut it. Since my husband gets the kids ready for school in the morning, we really wanted to push the cute shorter hair, but no, she insisted, she cried, she refused. A few weeks ago the girl next door got a shorter hair cut. When I took Ezra to get his hair cut I told Noel I wanted to get hers trimmed, I was in mid sentence going, "it will make your hair healthier, it won't look any different, we'll just cut the very ends off," When she suddenly decided she wanted to get her hair not just trimmed, but cut!

All that begging, bribery, logic, all the crying when I brushed her hair (the child has the most sensitive head in the world), did nothing, but the girl next door...yeah, sign her up for a hair cut.

And about the earrings...I have a pretty impressive jewelry collection, and she's asked me about the holes in my ears before, and I always told her that we'd have them pierced when she wanted to. Out of nowhere, last week she wanted to go immediately. I know there had to be a catalyst, and I know it wasn't some little-kid-pusher going "get your ears pierced or we won't be friends any more..." though I did have one of those in my class way back when..."wear jelly shoes or I won't be your friend anymore... you can't be in our club..." oh, the nightmares.

So, the thing is, this is my child who I would expect to be less influenced by others because of her natural stubbornness. My other one loves to make people happy, and that worries me a little.

As parents, our biggest concern is how do we instill our kids with enough self esteem that they don't make mistakes because of peer pressure. Making mistakes because of your own curiosity or desires are bad enough... but somehow less reprehensible when you look back on said mistakes (not that I made any, Hi mom!) than making mistakes because someone else wanted you to do something and you just gave in.

But how do you get kids to have that self esteem? I don't even know! We're obviously they coolest parents EVER and our 5 year old doesn't even listen to do parents of teens cope with all this?

I plan to spend this summer going to Chuck E Cheese and the zoo and pretending that the teenage years will never arrive...even if they might be good for my own writerly research. It's okay, I can just use my imagination! I don't need angst in my own house!

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Blogger amy said...

I think the problem is that kids get very mixed messages about peer pressure. If a kid asks, "why do I have to wear fancy clothes to this place?" we might say, "everyone will be wearing fancy clothes -- you'll look funny in a dirty t-shirt." Or if a kid asks, "how will I know what to do when I get to my new school?" we might say, "watch what the other kids do and just follow along until you get settled."

Even if we don't explicitly say these things, kids are going to understand pretty quickly that, in unfamiliar situations, it's a good idea to check out what other people are doing and try to match it -- that's not evil, that's just what it means to be a social animal. Nine times out of ten, it's an excellent way to learn and to get along with your peers. The question is, how do we help the recognize the times when it's okay to strike out on one's own?

April 25, 2010 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger bethany said...

No, I don't think it's evil...I'm just astounded at how soon what other kids think becomes the defining factor. I know it's huge for teens, for middle school kids...maybe I should've expected it for my five year old :)

Watching kids grow up is such an odd/crazy experience! But I'd be a lot more okay with just sitting back for the odd/crazy ride if I wasn't always worried that I'd do something wrong and screw up their futures (not to be melodramatic or anything!)

April 25, 2010 at 12:40 PM  

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