Beliefnet
From Spiritual Parenting Thought For the Week.

"Peer pressure" is one of those fear-eliciting phrases that send shudders down a parent's spine. "Sibling rivalry," "terrible twos," and "rebellious teens" are in that same category.

Let go of any old associations you have with the "peer pressure" phrase. Banish the picture of some terrible group of kids lurking somewhere out there waiting to lure your child into drugs, sex, and rock and roll. The truth is, and research backs this up, you are more important in shaping your child's values than any group of peers. Another truth is, peers pressure each other to stay in school, try out for the team, share a book, join the choir, and other positive behaviors.

Shift your thinking to how friends might enhance your child's ability to make connections, show kindness, stand up to hurtful behavior, express an opinion, define themselves as individuals, learn forgiveness, and develop healthy boundaries.

Sure, friends may at times try to persuade your kids to do things they don't want to do or know are wrong. As challenging as these pressures may be, they are learning opportunities for children to put into practice what they know to be right and standing up for those beliefs.

 

It's primarily through friends that a child solidifies the ability to make connections with other people, and when we keep the communication open we become a part of that exploration.

It's critical to instill in children a sense of belonging to their families so they won't hungrily seek that connection solely through their peers. When faced with tough social choices--invited to a party where drinking might happen, asked by a friend to cheat on a quiz, encouraged to exclude someone--that sense of being a part of something strong, their family and their family's beliefs, will help kids make the right choices.

The following are ways you can create a strong sense of connection so your kids will weather the waves of social influence and experience positive peer interaction:

*Talk to Me
If an atmosphere of open communication has been developed by the time your child is a preteen, he will feel comfortable discussing peer issues with you. Also, if a specific time for communication is woven into the fabric of your family rhythm-- i.e. Saturday walks in the woods, Sunday brunch, predictable dinner times with conversation, jogging together, building model airplanes, reading the same book--when kids are preteens and teens they will truly count on that time together.

*Self-Esteem
Give your child a chance to stand up for her beliefs in the safety of your own home. Have debates at dinner, listen to her views on an issue you might not agree with, give her a forum for self-expression.

*Positive Groups
Encourage participation in groups that are joined together for positive outcomes, such as youth groups at your church or temple, Scouts, Students Against Drunk Driving, 4-H.

*Secret Communication for Tough Spots
Brainstorm with your child options for uncomfortable situations such as being at a party when the talk has turned ugly or when a friend's parent has had a few drinks before driving him home. Have him call you and give a secret code to use that means he wants to be picked up immediately. One family uses, "Is Paddy feeling better?" Paddy is their dog.

*Friendships Rock
Friendships provide an integral connection for our children as they do for us. Kids find it reassuring to turn to friends for advice and sympathy. By "trying on" new values and testing their ideas with peers, there is less fear of being ridiculed or "shot down" using the behavior in a larger group. Support your child's friendships, and make your home a place they want to bring their pals.

It's important that we don't judge our children's friends or criticize them in front of our kids. It makes kids defensive and pulled between parent and friend. Don't set it up so they must choose.

*Our Family Believes In...
Create your family's clear rules for living. These are formed and articulated from early on so they become part of who your child is.

*Support Intuition
Remind your child often of his strong inner guidance. This compass will guide him throughout his life as he faces many decisions and influences. "Come on we're all going to ..." He can pause, check in with his gut feeling before going along.

*Keep it Real
Our out of reach expectations can crush a child--they just give up. Don't overwhelm your kids with unattainable goals or they'll find acceptance among those with standards they feel they can meet. Applaud and accept your son or daughter today--just as they are.

*Stay Cool
Don't panic if your child nudges the values envelope. Her beautiful spirit hasn't changed. Try even harder to create a closer connection, be open and clear about what you think of her behavior, set clear rules, but don't overreact.

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