Peer Pressure: The Only Cure is Self Confidence
Peer pressure is part of growing up and it’s hard to avoid. While writing yesterday’s article about school supplies and excessive branding I reflected on some of the things peer pressure demanded of me as a kid. What was cool when you were a kid? What things, if seen with (or without), would make you either cool or a laughing stock? In my third grade class it was all about what lunch box we carried. I was cool because I had a Dukes of Hazzard box. But by 5th grade it was uncool to be seen with a lunch box; brown bags became a sign of maturity. Throughout it all the contents of one’s lunch box was of equal importance. Was your sandwich wrapped in a napkin? In a plastic bag? Or, best of all, were you one of the kids whose sandwich got packaged in an individual sandwich shaped Tupperware? All of it mattered when I was in school, and it was all stupid. Stupid and, for years I thought, completely unavoidable. I eventually found the truth behind the futility on my own, almost too late, after years of struggle. It was a moment of revelation when I discovered the apocryphal importance of peer acceptance. School was nothing more than a daily struggle to fit in. It wasn’t about education.
How to Avoid it:
The only way to combat peer pressure is with self confidence. Sounds easy, right? March to the beat of your own drum and other nice sounding platitudes. Obviously it isn’t easy or everyone would do it and there would be no such thing as peer pressure. We’re all aware that a major part of growing up is learning how to socially fit in, and humans aren’t so far removed from monkeys as to make chest thumping and the production of the right pitched shriek obsolete. The kids with cool clothes and the correct lunch box unknowingly act out evolutionary status struggles. To some degree, and in very limited ways, the struggle is legitimate as it teaches us something about navigating through the minefield of human to human interaction; but, unlike monkeys, we humans constantly enter new phases in our lives where old statuses become passé. The struggle kids go though in school is essentially meaningless. In fact, it’s oftentimes the ones at the top of the pile who find it most difficult to make the change. If you’ve been back to a high school reunion you know what I’m talking about. The ex-jocks are insurance salesmen with fat ugly wives while the ex-nerd has a hot wife and drives a Ferrari. Sorry, bub, sticking a person’s head in a toilet doesn’t help in the real world.
The one, and most important, lesson many of the shunned kids learn in school is that there’s no point competing in a contest that has no reward. It’s better to be an astute observer of other people’s games than it is to be an active participant. The school struggle for status has no reward. The kids who become successful adults all realize one fundamental truth. These kids compete in a different contest, one with surprisingly few participants but which is the only one that matter, the race to a good education. The truth is, he who gets the best education has the best chance of success. It’s shocking, I know!
The Secret of Success:
There are a number of ways to get through school relatively unscathed. The first extreme is to just not give a damn about anything but education. Dress like a nerd, talk like one and act like one. Join the D&D club and run for class president every semester without the slimmest hope of victory. You’ll make friends with the other nerdy kids and you’ll get by fine. It’s a smart way to go. The second way is to try to do everything. For instance, the cheerleader who gets perfect grades and is the captain of the debate team. She runs a charity in her free time, plays a mean violin, and holds a part time job to help pay for her college fund. I wonder where these people get the energy because I could never do it. But they exist and, just like the nerds, they have their priorities straight. They’re cool only as a byproduct of being a million times better than everybody else in every conceivable way. Kids fall into every shade of gray between those two extremes. Some will find a niche away from the peer pressure storm. Most will not.
The last way I know of to stay out of the fray is to be a Home Schooler. Home schoolers are a lot like the nerds except they do their nerdy thing at home rather at school. Homeschooling parents don’t like the idea of their kids being influenced by silly trends and distracting nonsense. We make sure to keep them focused on the true prize at home — education and success. They’ll meet kids and have friends in the same way every other school kid finds a group of peers; I’ve proven in a past article (read it here) how socialization is not an issue with most home schooled kids. Home schooled kids get all the benefits of a good education without any of the undermining distractions. As with public school though, homeschooling has its own dangers. A good homeschooling parent will recognize their children’s need to be given the freedom to learn and fail on their own. The danger with home schooled kids is their parents can become so focused on guidance that they miss the necessary element of self discovery that’s so important to grow. The good parent will instinctively know when to let loose the reigns.
Peer pressure has everything to do with chest thumping and nothing to do with the skills that make successful people in adulthood. Avoiding it relies on your child’s willingness to buck the trends and simply do what he knows is right. Peer groups are necessary for most kids to feel comfortable and express themselves. But, not all peer groups are constructive. In school it’s oftentimes the kids with the fewest brain cells who run the show. Being able to recognize their inferiority is a good start on a kid’s journey to adulthood. As parents we should try to guide our kids away from meaningless trends and instead keep them focused, regardless of the consequences, on education.
My question to you, readers, is this: What do you do to keep your kids focused on the prize? How do you help steer them away from meaningless distractions, and how do they respond to those attempts? Do they understand the futility of excessive peer indulgence?