Opinion: Kids Feeling Peer Pressure? Sorry, Your One-Liners Aren't Going to Help

Filed under: Opinions

Forget being individuals. Kids just want to belong. Illustration by Dori Hartley

One of the perks of being responsible and caring parents is that we are granted unlimited access to a wealth of phrases I like to call "The Parental Bag of Indisputable One-Liners."

Take, for example, the classic and beloved, "Because I said so." No room for argument there. Or, every kid's favorite, "Don't talk back." Another classic: "I'm going to count to three."

As parents, we employ these powerful word constructs as often as required to both console and control.

But, ask yourself this: In the history of the world, have any of these one-liners ever actually worked?

No. In fact, kids can't stand it when they hear this stuff.

Of course, every parent is bound to experience a day when our child leaves school all gloomy and dejected-looking. You know the scene: You've just picked up your precious bundle and she slumps way down into the car seat next to you. Between her deflated body language and pouty puss, you dare to ask, "Hey, what's up?"

After a series of mouth twists and moody little gestures, you finally glean that she experienced something hurtful and she admits someone made fun of her or expressed some sort of public disapproval in front of her peers.

Usually, kids come down on other kids because of appearance, but peer pressure's nasty spokesperson could just as easily condemn and ridicule something as mundane as the contents of a lunchbox. As a parent, all you know is your baby is hurting, and you don't like it one little bit.

So, what do you do? Why, you pull out "The Advanced Parental Bag of Indisputable One-Liners: Peer Pressure Edition" and hit her with the big one: "Who cares what those kids think?" It's a line that pairs well with, "It only matters what you think" or "They're probably just jealous, anyway."

But why stop there, when, "Don't let them get to you, kid" nicely tidies up the entire self-esteem package?

Sure, the intention behind the words may soothe, but aren't these cliché catchphrases really just a vehicle for your love and concern? As rich in truth as these words of wisdom may be, they're void of meaning unless whomever they're meant for is some exalted being who can instantly assimilate the wisdom and turn it into action. Not. Happening.


The truth is, our kids do care what other kids think. They don't relate to being objects of jealousy (because they don't believe it) and they do let the words and opinions of other children get to them. Kids fall prey to peer pressure and no amount of pep-talking one-liners can organically move children from point A to point B without them processing it on their own, first.

Now, I've always been a freaky individualist. But that doesn't mean my child is willing to fly her freak flag right up there beside mine. She's already let me know she is not comforted when I tell her to be proud of her individuality -- because she wants to be part of the group.

For her and her fellow 12-year-olds, it's cool to be yourself, as long as you don't stick out too much. For kids, being different equals being isolated, and, at this stage in their social progress, isolation isn't part of the deal. Kids don't want to be special amongst their peers; they want to belong.

So, when my child fights for her right to blend in, why should I feel it's my duty to sway her into believing she's better off being an isolated individual? Must excellence always come by means of parental pressure? Between trying to fit in with their peers and the constant push at home to excel, be proud and stand tall, what kids really need is half a minute to figure some of it out on their own.

Can we not assume for one moment that, just as they eventually accepted the toilet over the diaper, excellence and individuality may be something kids will come to know on their own terms, and at the right time?

So, when my daughter gets in the car with the sad-puppy face and tells me so-and-so hates her, or that she doesn't feel pretty enough, I resist the urge to hit her with my one-liner, "Oh honey, who cares what they say?"

Instead, with consideration and respect for her feelings, I console her by saying, "Hmm, yeah. Well, hopefully that'll work itself out soon, right?" Her feelings are validated and the message I'm sending is, "Yeah, I hear ya," as opposed to, "Get over yourself and see things my way."

We want our kids to be perfect living examples of self-esteem, courage, intelligence and beauty. But ask kids what they want to be, and, more than likely, they'll tell you they just want to be kids.

Just like the other kids.

Remember, children are not short 40-year-olds. They haven't figured out yet that their individuality is inevitable. We can't force them into accepting their uniqueness by using quick, positive one-liners only adults can relate to. The only way they'll ever know what it's like to break away from the pack is by knowing what a pack is, in the first place.

And how do I know this is true? Because I said so.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.