Friends form an integral and often an inseparable, indispensable part of a child’s life. Peer influence or the need to be accepted and appreciated by friends is a natural phenomenon of a child’s growing phase, especially during adolescence when the young minds are most susceptible to any kind of outward influence. The need to be more like their peers, to indulge in activities or things which they may otherwise refrain from doing just to conform to the norms of the peer group, and greater importance given to friends than anyone else in the world may be referred to as peer influence. Contrary to popular notion, peer influence is not always negative, it can have a positive impact on your child’s life as well. However, most of the time, peer pressure leads to stark changes in the behaviour of teenagers and young adults, which in turn causes a lot of disturbance in parents’ minds. Your 12-year-old relinquishing his/her own values to fit in with those of his/her peers may worry you, but as a parent, you have a lot that you can do to help your child cope up positively with peer influence.
Here are some ways in which you can play the role of a pal to help your son or daughter feel confident enough to stave off negative influences from peers.
Keep the spark of communication alive:- Adolescents usually tend to shrink into a shell, weaving a world of their own where communication with parents is often relegated to the background. Be an active and interested participant in your child’s life. Know his likes and dislikes, the places he loves to freak out with his friends, what all they generally do when they get together among other things. Keeping a friendly approach will make them feel comfortable in situations where they wish to share some secrets with you.
Explain things with a patient and gentle approach:- In case you feel your child is under any sort of negative influence from his/her peers, do not rush to reprimand and interrogate him/ her. Remember, the person you undermine in front of your child, is often the one whom he/she trusts the most. Any kind of negative judgment may make your child upset. Hence, instead of approaching the topic directly and harshly, talk it out gently by giving your son/daughter the chance to evaluate his/her friend’s demeanour.
Do not make overtly rigid rules:- Imposing rules that go against the person your child thinks the world of, may make him/ her hostile to you. Instead make rules that are reasonable such as coming back home on time, restricting gadget-time or encouraging them to take up certain household responsibilities. If you suspect something going wrong at your child’s peer end, first try to dig into the truth before jumping onto conclusions.
Talk to your son/daughter about what friendship means to them:- Take out time to share facts about what makes a true friend. Explain that a friend who insists or compels the other one to indulge in dangerous acts or things which may be illegal or harmful is not a friend after all. It always helps your child to understand your advice better if your conversation is not opinionated and biased, but based on logic and facts. Encourage them to make friends who would have a positive influence on their lives and help them cope better with challenges. For instance, a friend who could guide and inspire your child to study well, imbue good values, develop self-esteem and stave off risky behaviour can definitely aid in bringing out the best in your child, rather than posing obstacles in his/her progress.
Get to know your ward’s friends:- What better way to get to know your children’s friends than to invite them home? Call them for supper, interact with them, and with your experience and foresight, you will surely be able to identify any negative influence in the group.
Help them develop their self-confidence:- An individual with a good self-esteem is capable of handling the negative aspects of life better. Children with low self-esteem are more vulnerable to getting influenced by others. And as parents, you are the best people around your child to boost his/her self-esteem by appreciating his/her good efforts and achievements, and telling him/her how much you believe in his/her abilities.
Help them develop thinking abilities:- Instruct your child to think before taking any step. Help him/her develop his/her thinking abilities so that he/she can judge the consequences of behavior, especially in situations where he/she feels uncomfortable. Learning to say ‘no’ to friends with a firm stand, instead of merely nodding with a tone of uncertainty, can go a long way in staving off bad influence. For instance, given a situation where an adolescent is being compelled to smoke by his peers, stating firmly “No, I cannot bear the smell of cigarettes” will have a stronger impact than merely saying “No thanks”.
Remember, being too critical of your child’s peers may only lead him/her to go against you and get dragged towards those very friends. Hence, try reinforcing behaviour that is acceptable to you and be firm about the consequences that might occur if they go beyond their set limits of acceptable actions and behaviour. Good and trustworthy friends can indeed come to your child’s aid.
Finally, be an integral part of your child’s life, without being interfering or overbearing. Let them know you care for them and they mean the world to you. Once you establish a friendly and loving bond, you can be sure your child will not indulge in anything by keeping you in the dark.