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Entries in Peer Pressure (2)


Tweens, Teens & Popularity: Is Peer Pressure Always Part of the Package? by AmbroIf you talk to many parents of tweens and teens you may be surprised to learn that a portion of them actually cringe at thought of their child becoming popular. For many folks popularity signifies risk taking and maybe even danger. They envision the popular group drinking at parities or drag racing around town. The popular tweens are often depicted as mean and sometimes downright cruel. Now keep in mind that this picture has been painted in part by Hollywood. Tween and teen flicks seem to relish in the idea that the popular crowd is often up to no good.

Research however, portrays a different vision of what it means to be popular; one at which most parents would be pleased. Popular kids tend to be smarter, nicer, and more talented than their lesser-revered peers. They are natural leaders who speak their mind in way that can sway a crowd. Popular kids are often charismatic but not intrusive.

Part of discerning the difference between what researchers have found and what parents worry about lies in defining what being popular actually means.

For researchers, popular is synonymous with well liked. In middle and high school however, being popular is more consistent with the kids who have ‘it.’ It means the kids who have the ‘right’ clothes that they wear with style. These kids are considered cool without even trying. They run in pacts or gaggles. The girls have the look, while the boys ‘got swagger.’ The in-group is often exclusionary to a fault.

In Middle school the in crowd can be fluid. One day you are in, and the next you are out. The struggle to remain top dog can be stressful and overwhelming.

In high school an interesting transition usually occurs. Close-knit cliques often mark freshman and sophomore years. During the junior year however, as the focus begins to shift toward the future, cliques start to break off and open up. Senior year is often about unification. Classes come together as they look toward the future. The most popular students senior year are often the students considered the most successful. These students are going to the top schools and/or have the best prospects for a bright future. It is interesting that these students are the picture of what researchers define as popular.

Should you worry if your tween or teen is part of the ‘in’ group? Does admission require risky behaviors? Well thankfully, not necessarily.

Once kids become tweens parents have less influence on with whom their child will choose to hang out with. What parents probably don’t realize however is that they have far more influence over who their kids choose as friends than they think. Tweens and teens tend to pick friends who have values consistent with their parents. Just because they choose friends who are more like them however, does not preclude a propensity to engage in high-risk behaviors at times.

Peer pressure is certainly a valid concern. Continued conversation is the key to ensuring good decision-making. Your kids take their cues from you. What you say really does matter.

Regardless of where your tween or teen sits in the school pecking order, peer pressure is a part of middle and high school life.  A strong communicative relationship with your child offers the best opportunity to ensure that his judgments are sound. Although the pressure to fit in with friends can be strong, the values and lessons you teach directly and by practicing what you preach can have a greater impact on your tween or teen than she may acknowledge. In reality then, it is not necessarily the peer pressure that comes along with being popular that can cause your tween or teen to engage in high-risk behaviors. Tweens and teens are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors when they lack the support and guidance from their parents. The power of a positive relationship with your tween or teen cannot be underscored enough.



Peer Pressure: Understanding Why Your Tween Says ‘Yes’ When He Knows Better by AmbrosIt is not uncommon for me to receive a panicked call from a parent about their tween’s misbehavior. Quite often I receive a call me right after a parent has hung up with the school, or the coach or another parent, etc. The parent often sounds overwhelmed and confused, annoyed and agitated. “Why would he do something so stupid,” a parent will ponder, “I know she knows better,” another bemoans. I can usually attest that the parent is right, that the behavior does not fit their seemingly sensible tween. Of course I always inquire about the circumstances under which the egregious behavior took place. More often than not, the tween in question was with a gaggle of friends when the infraction occurred. Ah, the power of peer pressure.

Tweens are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure. Tweens are at the tender time in their lives when they begin to pull away from their parents in an effort to test the waters on their own. Going it all alone can be too scary, tweens tend to turn to their friends to be find some direction. The difficulty is that their friends are also trying to find their own way. There is always safety in numbers right? Well, usually.

Tweens are also at a time in their lives when they are particularly concerned about what others think about them. They worry that they are always being judged, especially by their peers. Tweens will go to great lengths to avoid being singled out or embarrassed. On occasion, this may lead a tween to act in an uncharacteristic way, especially if he is being encourage to do so by a group of peers. It is at these times that a tween may throw caution, or rather good judgment to the wind.

So, how can you counteract these brief lapses in judgment, how can you prevent such incidents from occurring at all? As always, it begins with a conversation. Communicating your concerns to your tween can make a difference. Despite your tween’s desire to pull away from you, your opinion still matters plenty.

You should speak frankly and clearly with your tween. Let her know you are concerned that there may be a circumstance under which she would be pressured by her peers to act in an inappropriate or risky way. Validate your confidence in his strong values and good judgment. This may empower him to stand on his own.

If your tween does act in an inappropriate manner, be sure to talk with (not at) her. Verbalize your care and concern. Be sure to listen to what she has to say. Discuss the downsides of his behavior.  Be clear and consistent with consequences.

The most important lesson you can impart is that your tween learns from his mistakes. If you can help him acknowledge the power of peer pressure, you can help him focus on prevention. When/if she is in a situation in which she doesn’t succumb to the influence of her peers, be sure to acknowledge her good judgment. A little positive reinforcement goes along way.