Rye Youth Council’s Youth Educator, Jessica Lodato, recently talked with Rye’s 4th graders about peer pressure, and how peers influence each other's lives in both positive and negative ways. The following is how she talked with the 4th graders about peer pressure.
What’s a Peer?
A peer was simply described to the fourth graders as someone of the same age.
We explored who would be peers to them, and who would be the peers of their parents or teachers. We discussed the ways in which peers can have a great deal of influence over how we behave, dress and even think about things.
If we think about it, we might find that the clothes we choose to wear in the morning might be influenced by what we see others wearing the day before, or maybe we choose a food on the lunchline that everyone else seems to like.
We also spoke of the ways in which peers may influence us negatively without our realizing it. For example, we may not be mean to another kid, but we may not be so quick to include them either, if others aren’t. Or maybe we have a nice group of friends with whom we have a lot in common and who like to do similar things, but as a group may become intolerant of change -- and we may sacrifice things we like to remain part of the group. We spoke about what that can look like and the fact that as we grow and have new experiences, friendships can change and that is natural and ok.
But what about peer pressure?
Truth is, it can be hard enough for an individual to make a decision on their own, but when being influenced by a number of other people, that decision can become even harder.
The children explored the ways in which kids can negatively pressure one another, such as when a peer tries to talk someone into lying or excluding someone, or doing something that can be harmful to themselves and others.
Fortunately, not all peer pressure is negative. As a class we explored how peers can be a good influence on each other, such as when they encourage each other to work hard or to be kind. We referred to this as positive peer pressure. We also touched upon those tricky moments when peer pressure can be either positive or negative depending on the people involved and the circumstances of a situation.
So how do we know when peer pressure is negative?
Well there are a few different ways. We ask ourselves, “Is what I am being pressured to do:
Another important question to ask ourselves is, “How does the idea of what I am being pressured to do make me feel?”
We talked about identifying the moment when things “just don’t feel right.” When things don’t feel right it can be a strong indicator that our peers may be trying to influence us in a negative way. The kids defined this feeling as our “gut feeling” or “conscience”, and we discussed our need to trust in this feeling.
Sometimes negative peer pressure can be as simple as hanging with a crowd who can’t accept our acquiring a new hobby or friend. They may pressure us to not be true to ourselves, and/or threaten to withdraw their friendship if we change or want to add someone new to our lives. These moments provide a great opportunity to practice not giving in to negative peer pressure.
Staying true to our likes and dislikes and remaining grounded in who we are is great practice for when we get older and negative peer pressure takes the form of something that can be more harmful or dangerous.
Avoiding negative peer pressure
Negative peer pressure can be tough to resist, but it’s made easier with a friend. Finding a friend who has the same values as oneself can be a good tool to resist negative peer pressure. There is something powerful in having a friend who can say “I’m with you, let’s go!” It’s why the adults in our lives caution us to “choose our friends wisely.”
When we are experiencing negative peer pressure it is ok to simply say “no.” There is absolutely no reason to explain why. It is ok to just say no and walk away. Sometimes when kids start to explain why they are saying no, it opens the door to a conversation that can persuade them to make the wrong choice. Encouraging your child to simply say no, or no thank you, and walk away can mitigate their being influenced into making a bad decision.
Self respect and a healthy sense of self-esteem do wonders in helping young people stand up against negative peer pressure. As parents it is so important that we keep revisiting these themes with our children. Keeping and creating open dialogue about how our children feel about themselves, talking about their strengths and perceived sense of self-awareness and respect, are great building blocks to making good decisions. This is the headspace where we want them to be when negative peer pressure knocks on their door.