Every parent’s distress in the upbringing of a child is the possibility of losing control of their child’s behaviour.
I recall instances that nearly pushed me to change my children’s schools just from the convictions of my children against what we had taught them in favour of the teachers.
That sway in influence from another is like the unexpected sharp thorn which pierces your foot at the opportune moment when you thought you had everything under control.
Even the littlest of influence like pronunciation of specific words, my resounding voice and warnings to my kids has often failed my temper as I reassuringly domineer that of the teacher.
Parenting only right and proper it when the influences in behaviour are dictated by the parents or guardians. But what if that influence is lost to the influences of the peers of our children?
A friend was recently dazed when his 13-year-old became the center of attention during a family occasion. Her cousins kept pointing at her cropped up disproportional buttocks as wiggled and paddled around the compound.
Noticing the odd change from what their daughter’s ‘behind’ looked like on exit from home, a quick check of the young adolescent revealed, tons of stashed toilet paper wrapped in a cloth used to accentuate her buttocks.
Caught in the act, the child responded, “…but many girls at school do it, even my best friend does it…”
Bits of YOU
While you and I may mostly be carried away by the physical changes in our children’s development and growth, we might tend to ignore their mental or cognitive changes.
Lynda Nakalawa, a Child and Adolescent Psychologist at Akili Mental Health and Coaching Consultants Uganda Ltd says the between the ages of 10-20, life is marked by various changes.
From about age 12, children start to question a lot of the things as told by their parents and teachers. This may start as early as eight years in some depending on the exposure like television, social media etc.
“Some big underlying questions for children at this age are ‘Who Am I’, and ‘Where do I belong’?” Nakalawa reveals.
Learning follows a trajectory. From birth to 12 years of age, the child’s mind is comparable to an ‘empty jar’ theory (head) or the blank slate, according to Michael Jaggwe, the executive director, Inspire Counselling Services Limited.
“What you write on it will form behaviour for a life time. There’s a competition to write on this blank page by two forces…parent/peers. He who writes more on this page will influence behaviour for a life time,” he emphasizes.
Jaggwe argues children right from birth are exposed to peer influence though it becomes pronounced during adolescence; a period of confusion and rebellion yet in post adolescence and adulthood, the child will normally revert to what they were taught between 0-12 years.
Peer pressure according to Jaggwe is any influence from a child’s friends in the environment they interact with frequently but peers. It also includes parents and family members.
It is natural for children to start detaching themselves from their parents as a transition into independent adults but as this occurs, Nakalawa notes, they tend to attach to the peers to find identity.
“Their peers’ opinions will become more important… and what a child does is often what they think is acceptable to their peers…thus peer pressure”, she says.
Most people think peer pressure is bad but Jaggwe reminds us that some pressure is good as well.
A child can learn to abuse people because of peer pressure, but also learn to be respectful because of the same.
Just as adults are constantly exposed to both negative and positive forces, so are children.
“Peer pressure will expose a child to a particular behaviour. If a child adopts a particular bad behaviour and are not punished, they’ll think it’s normal and carry on with it. The parent’s role is to either reinforce that particular behavior or discourage it through positive or negative rewards ie punishment or praise,”Jaggwe said.
Some children may be able to withstand peer pressure in some areas like experimenting with sex and drugs, yet not be able to withstand the pressure to use bad language and vice versa.
Children who are not pulled by peer pressure tend to have a very high self-esteem and according to Nakalawa, they “understand why they do what they do, and often receive balanced, fair and loving feedback on their actions”.
Both Nakalawa and Jaggwe accentuate the parent’s role to undo any negative peer pressure that may have been filled in these kids’ jars by being present and following up on their children’s behaviour all time
Measures to counter bad peer influences
- Parents must fulfil their responsibility to guide and correct to avoid creating a void for peer influence.
- Being good role models (children age 0-12) learn more through modeling -seeing and less talking.
- Reward good behaviour and punishing bad behaviour
- Building self-esteem in children
- Engage and talk to children about peer pressure
- Reducing exposure to television/social media
- Parental guidance to certain TV/Media programs
- Schedule Peer counseling sessions etc