Peer Pressure: And the only way to stop it
What you can do when things feel completely out of control
I was heartbroken when I was seven years old. My best friend had stopped talking to me for no reason. I still remember crying into the night, wondering what I had done wrong. She was my family. She really was my family. My parents weren’t around and I was in a boarding school thousands of miles away from them. I had known this girl for only a few months but I had somehow made her the family she should never have been. And suddenly, I was lunching alone with no one to really share my plight with. I shoved those feelings down but the hunger for acceptance didn’t leave me for a long time.
I would do anything for my friends. They had inserted themselves neatly in the empty corners of my heart. I would do anything for them. My parents’ caution fell on deaf ears. I knew they were right but I turned the other way. I was lucky enough to not self-destruct in any sense (there was no social media ensuring my self esteem was at rock bottom at all times) but I did follow others when I shouldn’t have. I did lean on them more than I should have. I did have a false sense of belonging in places that weren’t mine. And when you try to hold on to places and people who are never meant to be your foundation, there is only one way it pans out — heartbreak.
Peer pressure is a dangerous affliction. Your child should not want to emulate their friends or rely on their approval. Your child should not look for identity in places and homes that aren’t theirs. The only way to stop them from spiralling into the arms of strangers is to give them a home, a safe place to be themselves and your unconditional acceptance.
So, how does this pan out in real-life situations when you are in the thick of drama, especially of the teenager variety?
When your teenager comes home and slams the door, instead of banging on it and reprimanding them for their behaviour, say:
“I see something is upsetting you. I’m here when you want to talk about it.”
If they ask you to leave, say:
“I’m moving out of your room to give you space, but I’m right here outside the door, waiting. I just want you to know I’m here.”
There is a way of stopping the door slamming altogether. When your child is under 10 years of age and throws a tantrum, ‘misbehaves’ and ‘acts out’, instead of shaming them and sending them away to a ‘silent corner’, or giving them a time out, STOP. Connect instead and look at the feelings beneath the behaviour. Children don’t know how to express their complex feelings. Their brains are not developed enough to regulate yet. Say this:
“I see you’re upset. I am here for you. You’re a good kid having big feelings. It is not okay to slam a door. It is okay to cry and be upset.”
The only way children learn to emotionally regulate is through you teaching them by regulating and soothing them.
This is the secret. There’s nothing earth-shattering about it. But then it is earth-shattering in its simplicity. Connect, empathise and don’t shun and shame.
Shame is, as per Dr Brene Brown, highly correlated with a bevy of afflictions, including bullying, aggression and addiction.
When you accept your children for their ‘big’ feelings and create a safe space for them to be themselves, the dangers of peer pressure WILL organically disappear.
They will learn to work through their feelings because you taught them how to; they will have a full cup of love to dip into when they’re questioning themselves, because you have filled it with self worth; they will never hand their heart so completely to a friend or rely so deeply on anyone for connection, validation, identity and self worth. You would have gifted them a whole sense of self. You: their home, their source of unconditional love. No one else will matter.
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