From earliest childhood we develop a sense of self from those care-givers who bolster our confidence. Every time our needs are met or considered and our expressions recognized we begin to view ourselves as valuable and worthy.
Our confidence grows as we seek reassurance from those people who support us. Over time if our requests are not always met the occasional rebuff doesn’t adversely affect our self-esteem. In fact, if delivered in a respectful manner we learn that disagreement doesn’t harm our sense of self or hinder our self-esteem.
Children come to expect respect from others in their daily interactions. As parents we can encourage them to develop their own opinions and to realize that healthy debate or disagreement is a sign of a strong sense of self.
If we see our children bowing to their buddies’ beliefs or adopting another’s opinions we’re inclined to believe they may be at the mercy of peer pressure. This is interesting, bearing in mind that as adults we very often fail to state our preferences and go along with others’ suggestions rather than speaking out. We tend to say we’re merely going with the majority but that’s not to say that such sacrifice always sits comfortably.
Every time we get together with friends and agree to go for a meal where the food isn’t a favourite or agree to a group theme for the latest fun fancy dress party, we may feel as though a little of us is lost.
Of course there’s a fine line between expressing preferences and being pushy. If voiced in a respectful manner you can remain true to your principles and still achieve compromises that don’t affect your self-esteem.
Peer influences are a normal and necessary part of life and can provide a strong sense of support and belonging. Many parents may view a peer influence in a negative light when it clashes with their own values. Parents and their children will inevitably have many overlapping opinions that form part of their value system, but they will also have differing views.
A child wishing to engage in the same activity as their peers may not be indicative of pressure but rather of a generational difference of opinion.
Peer influences are generally only negative when the child feels as though there is no choice. If they suffer from low self-esteem this may be the case. We can teach our children to expect respect and be confident in their sense of self. As such peer influence is unlikely to be experienced as pressure.