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Using peer pressure to your parenting advantage

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

The bright side of peer influence

You likely remember your parents warning you about the dangers of peer pressure. “If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?” or other some such admonition. But, lo and behold, when the social dynamic was different -- say you were hanging out with the honor society kids -- suddenly your parents were admonishing you to do what they did. Huh? Wasn’t the influence of the honor roll kids “peer pressure,“ too? Double standard, much?

The bright side of peer influence

Well, yes, it is a bit of a double standard. Peer influence goes both ways. It can be positive and negative. And as a parent now, how can you use peer pressure to your advantage? It starts with understanding that peer pressure can be your friend, and encouraging healthy environments and relationships so you can take advantage of positive peer pressure.

1Not all peer pressure is negative

Not all peer influence is negative in nature. Not all peer pressure persuades your child to the dark side. Peer influence also can persuade your child to study a little more, be a little nicer and generally make good choices. It's not foolproof, of course, but it can be used to a parent's advantage. When your child is surrounded by positive examples and the pressure is to make good choices, then that is definitely is a parent's advantage!

2Make time for high-value activities

Think about the kind of values you want to instill in your child and the environments in which healthy, positive choices are most easily made. With that in mind, look for structure and activities for your child that reinforce those values and create those environments. And be present so you can see the dynamics yourself and steer them if necessary.

3Encourage constructive relationships

From the earliest ages, being observant and involved in your child's friendships helps your child to understand what makes a healthy friendship and how to be a good friend. From talking to your child about what it means to be a friend to developing a relationship with the families of your children's friends, understanding who, where and what can help you and your child develop the confidence that the social circle your child is a part of is a positive, supportive environment. At least mostly.

4It's not about competition or comparison

When your child is in an environment where peers are making healthy, informed choices, and your child in turn is making generally healthy and informed choices, be careful about making too many comparisons between your child and his or her friends or promoting competition among them. "Joe did this, so you should do at least that or more," does not necessarily promote the supportive environment you want for your child! And kids often have enough of an internal voice wrestling with such comparison and competition -- pushing in this way could backfire.

Peer pressure doesn't have to be negative. Helping your child to create a social circle of well-mannered, kind and similarly valued friends is an effort that can reap many rewards. Kids naturally are concerned with what their peers think of them, and if their peer group would look down upon some of the less than optimal choices a kid might make, that is to your advantage as a parent

More on peer pressure

Helping teens combat peer pressure
10 Ways to help kids really say no and buck peer pressure
Parents are the perfect antidote to peer pressure

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