Helping Kids Resist Peer Pressure

01/04/2018 09:01 am ET

We teach our children to stand strong against peer pressure, yet we start teaching them to cave to pressure at an early age.

I’ve recently seen my 12-year-old pressured by grown men to do all sorts of things he found questionable:

· Throw plastic soda bottles off a roof

· Light fireworks

· Drive a boat

These are all things that many kids his age do. These are all things my son was uncomfortable doing. I stood beside him and helped him stand up for himself and eventually stepped in and made the men go away.

As parents, we spend a lot of time teaching our children to stand up to peer pressure. I think that saying “no” to a kid your own age is probably a heck of a lot easier than standing up to a full-fledged grownup pushing you to do something outside of your comfort zone. It seems to me that by the time kids reach an age where their friends might start pressuring them to engage in unhealthy activity, we have already trained them to push down any reservations they have and go with the crowd.

As a child, I sailed every summer with my father. At his age, I could steer a boat and raise and lower sails. I don’t think there’s anything inherently dangerous about it. But I helped my kid say no to steering a boat—something I think is fun and safe and that he’d enjoy immensely—because I want him to always trust that inner voice that says, “this doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

I know that as parents it is our job to push our kids out of their comfort level every now and then. Sometimes they need a little help gaining independence. It is only by trying scary things and surviving that we gain courage. But that pressure coming from a complete stranger is something I want him to be leery of—even if what they suggest isn’t illegal, immoral, or dangerous—because one of these days it might be.

We tell children that if an untrusted adult is pushing them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should say no loudly and run away. Yet we allow adult acquaintances to cajole our children into doing things that don’t feel right to them. We too often say nothing when someone mocks our cautious child, because we don’t want to seem rude.

I don’t want my son to learn to swallow his internal warning signal. I rely on his good judgement every time he leaves the house. If I want to trust him to navigate this world which is filled with both good and sinister people, I better reinforce his standing up for himself on the little things. Being called rude is not the worst thing that can happen to him in this world.

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