The experts talk a lot about the power of peer pressure and how to help kids resist its pull as they enter adolescence. We are taught that the peer group has a remarkable and sometimes frightening ability to sway our kids away from the path they know to be right – the one we work so hard to keep front and center in their lives.
But what doesn’t get discussed nearly as much is how peer pressure and the tendency to go along with the crowd continues through life and can defeat us when we become moms and dads.
A case in point: Shannon, the mother of two boys from Portland, wrote that she was upset and confused by something that had happened with a couple moms in her son’s class. Billy, Shannon’s fourth grader, was invited to a sleepover party by a known troublemaker and overall bad influence. She said no to the invitation and her son accepted her answer without much of a fuss.
Later that week she got talking to a couple other moms in the school parking lot. Neither of them wanted their kids go to the party either. They all agreed that based on past experience, it would be poorly supervised and fertile ground for trouble.
Shannon told them that she had said no and encouraged them to do the same given their strong reservations. After some discussion, they were all on board. But the next thing she knew, the moms had changed their minds and their kids were going to the party. It wasn’t that they couldn’t say no to their kid, they couldn’t say no to their friend.
The two moms confessed that they were afraid of the upset and conflict that might arise if they declined the invitation. They decided to just go along with it and hope for the best.
When Shannon asked why they didn’t just bow out gracefully, claiming a previous commitment, they were aghast. “I won’t tell a lie!” was the response. Putting their kids in a situation they knew was neither safe nor healthy seemed like a better choice.
Even though Shannon had stuck to her guns and done what she felt was right, she ended up feeling isolated and “out.” Then she began to question whether she was being overly protective since all the other mothers seemed to be okay with it – even though in her gut, she knew she was right. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
In this situation there are actually two things going on: the pressure to follow along with our peers and the tendency to avoid conflict at all costs. Women in general often feel uncomfortable making waves, not because they are biologically wimpier than men but because they are socialized to be accommodating. Thankfully, this is changing and girls today are more comfortable being assertive. But many adult women still struggle with this.
Let’s face it: whether we are 16 or 70, we all want to fit in. We all want friends. But once those kiddies show up in our lives, the cost of not being able to fight the pressure to go along with the crowd skyrockets. It’s no longer just the effects on us that we have to worry about if we lower our standards and bow to the group. Now we have to consider how our actions will impact the safety and well-being of our kids.
Some of the more common parental peer pressure traps that snare us every day include:
- Letting kids go to parties or activities that are inappropriate or where supervision is questionable because our friends do.
- Giving parties where rules are lax or non-existent because our friends do.
- Letting teenagers drink or smoke pot at our homes because the other parents do.
- Allowing girls to wear makeup or sexy clothing when they are too young because our friends do.
- Letting kids have computers and T.V.’s in their rooms because our friends do.
- Bending our own rules when we are around parents who have looser ones.
The thing to acknowledge is that we don’t always make bad parenting decisions simply because we have a hard time saying no to our kids. Sometimes it’s more that we don’t want to be odd (wo)man out with the other moms.
So how can you get more comfortable about following your own moral compass despite the influence of your peers? Start by paying attention to your feelings when you get into situations like this. If you begin to feel uncomfortable with what is being discussed, take notice. Check whether concerns about being different are causing you to question yourself and your values. Are they making it more likely that you will let others dictate what’s going to happen?
One of the best things to do is to take a good look at the other parents in your life and figure out which ones seem to be most on track and responsible when it comes to parenting. Wean out the ones who are constantly in crisis or who seem to make decisions that are inappropriate or irresponsible. A person who might have been a perfectly acceptable friend before you had kids might not be such a good fit now. Don’t forget: your peers matter! Surround yourself with good influences and depend on them for support.
In order to stand up for your own ideals, you don’t need to make a stink, you don’t need to shout, or to pass judgement. You must, however, learn to be discerning – to figure out what’s right for you and your family – and to stick to that truth calmly and courageously. You can definitely learn how to channel your “inner mama bear” and do what’s best for your children despite the potential social impact on you.
This is not a skill that can be learned overnight, but it can be practiced every day. And sometimes, if you follow your gut and do the unpopular thing, you are going to feel the sting of being the outsider. And that’s okay. You can do it anyway.
I would love to hear stories on this topic from you. Let us know how you’ve handled this kind of thing in your own life. Please share!