...jumped off the Ouachita River Bridge, would you?
Oh, how many thousands of times did my Mom say that to me? It was her response to "everybody was doing it", every time.
And, if I'm remembering that far back, then I'm making up for Way Back Wednesday (which I missed yesterday because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself).
Just once, I wish I'd had the strength to answer honestly..."Yes, if everybody jumped off the Ouachita River Bridge, I probably would too. Peer pressure is just that important to a kid."
Peer pressure. That overwhelming need to find somebody to conform to. Somebody expressing their individuality that was also an expression of my own, and that I could mimic. Because really, there just aren't that many personality archetypes out there to mimic. So, the best I could do was find one similar to how I felt. Usually, that was the misfits. Or, the smart kids that didn't want anybody to know they were smart.
Peer pressure was strong and got me to ruin a great pair of shoes, just because no one else understood that they were an expression of me and who I was becoming. Peer pressure is unrelenting and it can be cruel, especially to a child.
I think as an adult, I find peer pressure to be more frighteing than cruel. Will they like me? Will wearing this make me fit in, or stand out? Is this appropriate? Should I say what I think? Should I keep my mouth shut? Is what I have to say important enough to say it and possibly be out of synch with my peers?
Peer pressure has caused me to keep more things to myself than I can count. And, now I'm seeing peer pressure from the other side; as a parent. As a parent, I want so many things for my kid. But, part of being a parent is to recognize the part that peer pressure is going to play in her life. For example, right now, she's all into T-shirts and Polo shirts. Plain jeans. Because that's what her best friends wear. But, I know that soon, those best friends are going to change what they wear and we're going to have to start buying a new wardrobe.
Can't be helped. I know it's coming. Thankfully, she gravitates toward girls who are similar in shape and build and their Mother's are steering them toward clothes that look good on that shape and build (not slinky spaghetti straps and short-shorts).
And, there's peer pressure to not study; not be smart, same as when I was a kid. And, she needs to be given the opportunity to follow that peer pressure, while at the same time, learn to expect the consequences of that behavior. Freedom and consequences. She needs those because I want her to know how to deal with people when she's an adult. And, maybe she won't make some of the mistakes I made.
And, parenting means applying my own kind of peer pressure, because being a member of a family is also about being a member of a peer group. And, you either conform to that peer group, or you struggle against it. And, I don't want my kid to struggle against my peer group. I want her to want to be part of it, just like she wants to be part of her other peer groups. And, that means expanding myself to accomodate her. Because if I don't, she's not going to want to be part of my group. And, she's not going to want to imitate me. And, I want her to want that.
I know for me it was confusing and it was hard. Hard to fit into the peer group of my family, while also expressing myself. And, I know that over time, my peer groups became more reflective of my family's values. And then, as an adult, I changed peer groups again to be more reflective of my own values. And, I hope that my child will do the same. Because that's how adults express their values. And, I hope that I will be accepting of that. Even when it's hard.
There's a bible verse that goes something like: teach a child in the ways that are right and as an old man, they will not depart from it.
But, that requires that a parent have faith. Faith that their child is listening. And faith they will remember. After they've gone out and made their own mistakes, they will remember.
My question is whether I'll be able to steer my child to peer groups that will reflect her values and help her have the personal power to stay out of peer groups that would change her values. Cuz, no matter how much I complain, I kinda like her values. She's a good kid. And, she tries hard to fit into my family peer group. Oh, she's lazy, and she can have a very smart mouth and she cries at the drop of a hat. But, I challenge you to find me a pre-teen that doesn't. Okay, find me a happy pre-teen that doesn't.
Peer pressure. Do you fit in?