Peer pressure! It is everywhere, in every human circumstance we can imagine! There is no real way to escape the issue of peer pressure. Eventually, you will have to face it.
A question to raise: Do you have the tools to meet, greet and defeat this infectious human dynamic? In our culture, everyone is being pressured to compete. Bigger is always better, but not necessarily right.
The pressure we feel to keep up with our neighbor can be debilitating and even life threatening. Where do our children learn the social rules they feel compelled to live by? Who are their teachers?
Many teens will acknowledge coming from good families, but admit most of what they know about socializing they learned from friends and the street.
When was the last time you had a conversation with your high school coed about sex, drugs and alcohol? Not a lecture or class, but rather a real conversation where you shared your concerns and genuinely listened to your son or daughter's concerns without imposing fear, shame, blame or guilt?
The issues today are very different than they were in 1970. Many of our young people have experienced things in relationships at twelve and thirteen that some of us didn't confront until we were twenty.
Where are children learning about the appropriate social behaviors regarding relationships? Who do they look to for role modeling and mentoring? As parents, have we created an open line of communication regarding the issues of dating, sex, drugs, alcohol and social diseases?
We live in a culture that endorses the mentality that "if it feels good, do it, no matter what" and "if two people give consent, no matter what the issue, how can it be wrong?"
Many of the social choices our children wrestle with are not issues they are comfortable bringing to us. Most don't want to be judged or put down for what they believe and see as socially acceptable, even if some of their social choices go against our belief systems.
Before many of our children reach their first class on a school day, they have to deal with a range of social choices. What do I wear, who am I going to connect with, have lunch with and hang out with after school?
Before homeroom, some students will be planning what classes they will cut, when they will cut and what they will do when and if they cut. Cutting in and of itself is not the end of the world. However, if it becomes a pattern, it is a problem. Some students feel it is their right to cut if their work is done and they feel class is boring and a waste of time.
Too often, as parents we enable this kind of behavior because we are willing to cover for our children and write notes excusing this kind of behavior. That kind of behavior protects our children from being held accountable.
Unfortunately, in our community when many of our high school coeds cut, they are not just going to lunch or doing a kind deed. Usually, they are up to no good. We are not helping them by covering up their poor decisions.
JC was an excellent student up until eleventh grade. He maintained a 3.9 grade point average. He was well liked by his teachers and his classmates. At the beginning of eleventh grade, JC started to change friends. He was self conscious that most people thought he was a nerd. He could not talk to anyone about those feelings. He started to hang out with a wild crowd. He was funny and they appreciated his dry sense of humor. They started to include him in their misadventures. He loved that sense of belonging and adventure.
By November of his junior year, this new crowd was cutting class on a regular basis. JC came out of his shell and gave some pointers on how they might cut, get over on the system and not get caught. Initially, JC's strategy worked.
While they were cutting days at a time, they were not going to prayers. They were hanging out at a sump in a wooded area not far from their high school. They were drinking and smoking weed. JC never drank or smoked before he connected with his new friends.
After he got caught, his parents went ballistic. He lied and said they went to the mall when they cut. He never admitted to smoking pot or drinking.
He stopped cutting because his parents said they would only cover this one time. He did not want detentions on his record. However, he continued to drink and smoke pot. JC was slick and continued to get over on them. He was going to class under the influence but was getting over on his teachers because he continued to do good work and act reasonably cooperative in class.
A number of his classmates noticed a change in his behavior. The gossip on campus was that he was out of control, but the peer pressure around his reckless behavior was so intense that everyone kept their mouths shut.
JC continued to get over on his folks. He also continued to get high with his new friends. One Friday afternoon, he cut out of school with a handful of friends. They had started drinking at 7:30am. By 4:00pm, JC had passed out. Initially, his friends just left him passed out on the floor of a local home. When he seemed to stop breathing, one of his friends panicked and called 911. That deliberate call saved his life. He was rushed to Stony Brook. Due to the large quantities of alcohol he drank that day, he developed alcohol poisoning. The ER doctor said he could have died.
That experience really shook up that group of high school coeds. For awhile they calmed down. They stopped cutting and for the most part only drank on the weekends. JC was forbidden to hang with this group of friends.
His parents insisted that he go to counseling. He went under protest, but eventually started to open up. He expressed to his counselor how self-conscious he was and how he felt he really could not talk to anyone about the pressure he felt.
Before he started drinking, smoking and cutting, he felt like he was such an outsider, because he did everything right. His peers would make fun of him. He had no coping skills. Once he started engaging in his negative behaviors, his need to belong was fulfilled.
As he wrestled with death because of peer pressure and poor decision making, he realized that he needed to work harder at communicating his feelings, especially his painful ones, with his parents and those he valued most in his life.
His parents realized they needed to be more attentive listeners to what JC was saying and not saying. They needed to listen without judgment, blame and shame.
Teenage peer pressure is not easy to overcome, while you are still trying to discover who you are.
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