Helping Teens Balance Peer Pressure and Authority Figures

A week ago Abigail graduated from the 8th grade. To most people that’s not a big deal, unless you happen to be a parent. Like most things kids do – sports, school plays, and moving on to the next grade – they’re not terribly significant events in and of themselves but they help shape who we are and who we become.

What’s significant about Abigail’s situation is that entering high school next year will be a HUGE change, much more than for the typical kid. You see, she’s gone to the same school her whole life, Polaris Christian Academy, with basically the same group of friends. There were only a dozen kids in her class and just four girls including Abigail.In the fall she’ll attend Westerville South High School which means she goes from the small, private Christian school environment to the huge public school; from a tiny class to one that will have more than 400! And did I mention that none of the kids she knows will go to her new school? It could make for a lonely, difficult time.In early May she posted on Facebook, “Another awards chapel were im the only one left in my row, 9 yrs of that, hmm getting kinda tired of it :/” As a parent, seeing something like that breaks my heart. Consensus, that desire to be a part of the crowd, is an incredibly strong psychological force, especially for kids. Not being a part of the group is tough for kids because they’re fighting physical pain when they’re excluded from a group. That’s right, being excluded from a group registers in the brain as physical pain! Watch this short video of Dr. Robert Cialdini as he explains this interesting scientific finding.So how’s a parent to deal with this? I believe there’s potentially good and bad in everything. Some “good” things become bad when we abuse them and some “bad” things turn out to be good for us if we deal with them the right way. As a parent one of my responsibilities is to help Abigail learn this truth so she can overcome obstacles and enjoy life to the fullest.All of this started me thinking and I noticed something about her personality. While all her friends were doing things together when they were younger Abigail worked for four years to earn her black belt in taekwondo. When her girlfriends all went out for cheerleading she didn’t because it wasn’t for her. When they all played basketball over the winter she passed to play club volleyball where she didn’t know anyone. While her friends were all on stage for the plays the last few years Abigail decided she’d rather be backstage working the lights.After thinking about this I told Abigail I was proud of her. She didn’t quite get it but I explained that she showed strength of character to be okay with not being a part of everything everyone else did. If she can deal with not partaking in the fun activities her friends were doing and if she can deal with the feelings of being singled out because she didn’t get awards when most other kids were recognized then I have confidence she’ll be her own person as she takes this big step in life and moves into a totally foreign environment in high school. On a similar note; several years ago while at camp Abigail didn’t finish all her food so the camp counselor said she’d have to sing in front of the other campers. She doesn’t like to sing so she dug her heels in and said she wouldn’t and despite the fact that her mom was sitting there watching, and embarrassed I might add, Abigail didn’t give in.Again, I saw this as a learning opportunity. After that incident I told Abigail that mom shared the story with me about what happened and that I was proud of her. She had a hard time understanding that one too. I explained that she shouldn’t just do what everyone asks her to, or tells her to, and that the camp incident was good training. I followed that up by telling her she’d have to accept the consequences that come with saying “No” to people and there would certainly be consequences for saying no to an authority like a teacher.I hope you see where I’m going with this. As I wrote earlier, consensus can be a powerful psychological force at work on us and sometimes it can lead us to do things we ought not to. By the same token authority is a powerful influence as well. Sometimes we do things because someone we perceive to be an authority tells us to. Part of learning to navigate life as an independent adult is knowing whom to say “Yes” to and whom to say “No” to.
So here’s my encouragement to those of you who are parents. Understanding how the principles of influence can be used against you or your kids is just as important as learning how to ethically use them. Talk to your kids about this because it will give them the tools necessary to make better, more informed choices. You’ll be glad you did.
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
3 replies
  1. Sosthenes Kwame Boame
    Sosthenes Kwame Boame says:

    Brian, Abigail is a strong girl and you are doing the right thing by letting her know you are proud of her actions.

    When I was growing up, I was always protective of myself and my parents. If someone told me to take an action that would embarrass me, I didn't do it. Before I became a teenager, we were tenants in someone else's house. Our landlord's wife wasn't very kind to us and I stood up for myself and everyone else when they said negative things about my family.

    My mom still refers to my actions at that time and we share a laugh. I figured Abigail is also a pragmatic/driver type influencer. Am I wrong?


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