Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Friendships becomes even more important to your child once she starts school. There are a number of reasons for this.
First, she spends a substantial amount of time with children her own age now, both at school and in her leisure time at home, either in the evenings or weekends. Naturally, she wants to be one of the crowd. Second, a great deal of learning occurs in classroom assignments that involve pupils working in groups or pairs, and she wants to be liked by her classmates. And third, she dreads the thought of being left out by her friends.
That’s why peer pressure starts to have an effect on her. The increased significance of friendships in her life means that she tries to conform to the standards her friends set in order to gain popularity and avoid social rejection.
Now she insists on having the same logos on her clothes as those of her friends, or buying the same comics, or listening to the same music. Peer pressure makes her follow the social standards set by her group of friends, often without question.
And her response to peer pressure can be extreme. For instance, she may be hysterical when told she can’t have the new toy that all her friends play with at the school playground. To you, it’s just a toy, but to your growing child, it’s almost like a club membership badge.
Likewise, she may be overjoyed when, for instance, you allow her to join the ballet class, just because all her friends go there, too, and she is afraid of being excluded by them.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Peer pressure can have both positive and negative effects. If your child mixes with, say, a group of high-achieving educationally-orientated pupils who are very keen to get good grades in their classes, that type of peer pressure is very positive. To be like them, she’ll study hard and be academically focused. On the other hand, if the peer norm is to be cheeky to adults and to neglect homework, your child’s own attitude will start to reflect that viewpoint soon.
With peer pressure exerting such an influence – and it grows even more powerful during the teenage years – your child’s choice of friends at school and locally has an impact across all areas of her life. Where possible, guide her in her friendships. Of course, she will choose her pals herself, but gentle advice from you could point her in the right direction.
Use subtlety to encourage friendships that you think could result in positive peer pressure and to discourage friendships which might have a negative effect. At this age, she listens to you.
Point out to your child that she can be popular and yet make up her own mind about things – she doesn’t have to conform blindly to peer pressure unless it’s what she wants. She does have a choice. Many children are attracted to someone who has independent thoughts that stand out from the crowd. Help her gain the confidence to develop her own thoughts and ideas where possible.
However, you should also recognise that peer pressure is very strong in school. So deal sympathetically with her requests for the latest craze that sweeps the school playground.
And if you find she misbehaves or lowers her standards in order to keep up with her pals, don’t simply reprimand her. Let her know that you understand the pressure she experiences, but add that you would like her stick to her principles anyway, rather than simply react to her peers’ expectations.
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