Sometimes peer pressure isn’t all bad

Imagine if you could remove all threat of peer pressure from the life of a child. Teaching would be a lot easier. Parenting would be a lot easier. Or would it? In fact, without peer pressure your job might become surprisingly harder.

There can be a positive outcome to peer pressure!

Picture the scene at your early childhood center: A group of preschoolers have invented a game. They have become pretend fire fighters. They leap from the climber and race towards the slide. Caught up in the action, all five of them zip down the slide –even the child who ordinarily won’t go near one on family outings at the park or a typical day on the playground. He’s astonished to discover that slides are actually fun after all.

Or picture this sandbox confrontation: “If you run your truck into my tower one more time, I won’t invite you to my birthday party.” Never mind that the party isn’t for another ten months, wielding threats about birthday parties is the ultimate in preschool peer pressure. The perpetrator, truck in hand, considers the threat and makes a wide detour around the tower and, just to be safe, around a half-constructed ice cream store as well. Lesson learned.

At times peer pressure can coincide neatly with exactly what parents are working on at home. For example, healthy peer pressure can encourage a child to develop new interests, a hope of many teachers and parents alike. The young truck driver in the sand box decides to try building towers instead of following his current interest in knocking them down. The child who was fearful of slides finds himself enjoying a fast ride on one. In much the same way, a toddler in diapers steps right up to the toilet to be like his potty-trained friends and a child who prefers wrestling to reading, heads toward the book corner because that’s where the other kids are.

Many teachers and parents hope that their children will somehow learn to “fit in” in the larger world.  The child who was warned not to ram his truck into another child’s sand tower learned a valuable lesson in fitting in. He found out there are certain behaviors other children won’t put up with. And that kind of peer pressure sends a stronger message than all the adult admonitions in the world.

What if all these new interests and feelings of fitting in also involve some less desirable behaviors? What if the new tower builder learns to throw sand? The child on the slide finds out about pushing? The toddler discovers the delights of flushing socks down the toilet? Such things happen, of course. Fortunately, over the years your child’s desire to be like you will turn out to be the stronger force. Episodes of peer pressure are temporary, while your love and concern as a teacher or parent are ongoing.

No one can eliminate peer pressure from a child’s life, though perhaps one would want to.  Certainly it will make you uneasy at times and will call for your intervention at others.  If you find yourself worrying about peer pressure, remind yourself of its advantages:  It can expand a child’s interests, help him or her learn to fit in, and even support early attempts at independence.