Peer pressure: Helping kids to cope with exclusion and cliques

Negative peer pressure doesn’t necessarily mean your child is being persuaded by “toxic friends” to try cigarettes, beer, or drugs. Quite often, children are excluded by cliques and are left to feel miserable, unworthy of friendship, depressed, and unhappy. Most kids would rather be members of cliques, no matter what it takes to be accepted by one. Parents should help their children learn how to appreciate themselves for who they really are, not for what “cool kids” want them to be.

If you suspect your child is being excluded from cliques, under negative peer pressure, or having trouble with being accepted by peers, these are some helpful things you can do:

-Assessing the situation.  Make sure your child is comfortable talking to you. Don’t judge, don’t be assertive, just listen and show empathy. You may find your child’s problems unimportant or silly, but it’s crucial not to ridicule kids and to understand what they’re going through is from their point of view, very serious, and makes them uncomfortable and unhappy. Try to understand what is going on so you can act accordingly: is your child being bullied, ostracized, is exclusion the product of a quarrel or perhaps a game of proving loyalty to clique members, is your child excluded because (s)he doesn’t want to give in to negative peer pressure (unwanted risky behavior) or because of different cultural, racial or, social background? Does your child doubt her/his choices, feel less worthy than others, etc? Once you identify the problem, it’s easier to offer adequate support and to help kids cope with peer pressure and exclusion. 

-Explain how cliques work. Although it may seem from the outside that clique members are good friends, that’s usually not the case. The main focus of “popular kids” is to stay popular and keep their status no matter what. This is demanding, exhausting, and often emotionally stressful. It usually teaches kids all the wrong lessons that turn out to be costly later in life: lack of empathy, lack of self-esteem, desperate need for acceptance from others, following other people’s opinions no matter how harmful they are, and generally not being able or brave enough to be themselves. A clique is often not a happy place to be.

-Realizing difference between clique and true friendship. Popular kids will assert their power over other clique members in just about anything that helps them stay popular. Explain to your child what real friendship is and why it’s better to have true friends who care, respect and support each other, than to be under constant negative peer pressure. Real friends accept each other and care how they feel or what happens to them. Members of popular cliques are often ruthless, selfish, and unable to care about anything but their own benefit. Accepting people superficially and not being able to develop and cherish true friendship can be hard, especially through tough times. Having one true friend who cares and accepts us for what we really are means more than having many peers with no empathy who pressure us to be someone we are not.

-Importance of being themselves.  Encourage kids to be authentic and true to themselves. Help your child to build self-esteem.  Give some examples of people you know whose lives turned out for the worse because they were following negative peer pressure and opinions from others rather than their own wishes and good judgment.  Even when bullied, kids with strong self-esteem will know how to respond in healthy manner, seek proper help, and overcome bullying incidents without feeling deeply victimized.

-Encourage other activities and development of new friendships. When a child is being bullied, under negative peer pressure, or excluded from peers, it’s helpful to open other options; new sport’s, new hobby, or new outside activities will help a child build self-esteem, feeling capable and worthy, and meeting other kids. It broadens a child’s knowledge and can bring joy and helpful positive feelings and experiences.

It’s important to stay aware and involved in your child’s life. Nurturing healthy parent-child relationships, where your child feels safe talking to you about anything without being judged, ridiculed, or punished – is a keystone of successful parenting.


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