What is Peer Pressure? | 4 Ways to Handle Peer Pressure at Middle School
The idea of peer pressure rightly becomes one of the foremost concerns of parents when their children hit the middle-school mark—will they fall into a bad crowd? Helping your child through this period of their social development, in which they are arguably the most impressionable and vulnerable, can be crucial to the healthy development of their core beliefs, values and habits.
Understanding Peer Pressure
As a parent, it is important for you to understand the type of social environment that your child is entering into in middle school. Different types of peer pressure come with different groups of children across various spaces, and being aware of the types of peer pressure your child might be facing is essential for you to be of help to them in navigating it.
👉Positive Peer Pressure
An environment of positive peer pressure is the most ideal one for your child to experience during their years of middle school. It is found in a friendship, or a set of friendships, through which children influence and push each other to engage in behaviour that is considered healthy, such as working towards doing well at school, or working on maintaining good mental health. Environments like these are usually found in school or in study groups, or through spaces where children meet for extracurricular activities.
👉Negative Peer Pressure
Negative peer pressure is, on the other hand, found in social environments in which children encourage or pressure each other into taking up unhealthy, dangerous or unethical behaviour. This could range from extremely risky activities like substance abuse and other illegal activity, to detrimental attitudes like a lack of interest in studying or a habit of disrespect towards teachers and elders.
👉Direct Peer Pressure
Besides positive and negative peer pressure, the methods children go about pressuring their peers also has a significant impact on behaviour. Direct peer pressure involves straightforward and intentional demands from a child’s peer(s), to do certain things or to conform to certain views. It may involve repercussions for not adhering, such as expulsion from a friend group or other forms of social discord.
👉Indirect Peer Pressure
Indirect peer pressure is more subtle and usually less intentional on the part of your child’s peer(s). It usually involves non-explicit influences. For instance, your child may look up to certain peers and friends in their circle, and feel the need to adopt the habits and attitudes that these friends choose to engage with, even without any spoken prompting from these peers. The repercussions to not accepting this sort of pressure are not as dire as with direct peer pressure, and it is thus easier for children to resist.
How to Navigate Peer Pressure
1. Fostering Communication
Having established lines of open communication is a key first step to ensuring that your child is not succumbing to negative peer pressure. This means creating for your child a non-judgmental space to share with you their struggles, concerns and questions, especially regarding social situations. To facilitate this, you should make sure to listen and advise your child without judgement or anger as far as possible. This will create a parent-child relationship in which they are not inhibited from approaching you with their problems, and through which you are kept aware of any peer pressure they might be facing,
2. Nurturing Critical Thinking Skills
Another crucial aspect of guarding your child from negative peer pressure is fostering in them, throughout their childhood, a mind that thinks critically. Critical thinking is the ability to view situations objectively, and make judgements based on sound reasoning. If your child is inclined towards thinking this way, they will be more likely to reflect maturely on their decisions, especially when confronted by social pressure. When told, directly or indirectly, to do or believe something, their response will be to try and understand their peers’ motivation for asking them, to work through their own motivations for doing or not doing it, and to think about the potential consequences for themselves.
3. Stimulating Self-Confidence and Assertiveness
Two other major factors that will decide how peer pressure affects your child is their level of self-confidence, and their willingness and ability to assert their own opinions. Healthy levels of self-confidence and esteem will make your child more likely to stand by their own beliefs and decisions, rather than allowing that of others to influence them extensively. They are more likely to see themselves as independent individuals, rather than feeling like they need to conform to the crowd around them. Developing a habit of communicating clearly and being assertive will make your child more comfortable with speaking up and establishing their boundaries when among peers, reducing the chances of them falling into habits they do not want to pick up.
4. Learning to Look Out for Healthy Relationships
Finally, teaching your child about what healthy friendships should look like will make them appropriately discerning about the company they keep, and help them quickly identify if any of their peers are potentially bad influences for them to be around. If your child understands that good friends will not directly or indirectly push them towards unhealthy behaviours, they are more likely to find friends that help them become better versions of themselves, rather than friends who will push them into adverse habits or ways of thinking.
Dealing with peer pressure is a common and natural part of your child’s social development. Preparing them to face it by nurturing critical thinking, self-confidence and discernment, and always keeping yourself in conversation with them about it, will help them steer clear of the worst effects of negative peer pressure.