Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Funny Thing About Peer Pressure

My 13-year-old daughter recently had a party.

She and a dozen friends from school and church flocked to our yard to roast hot dogs and S'mores over a bonfire, run around screaming, and collectively go "awwww" every time I came outside with the baby to refill the chips.

We practically live in the woods and it had been drizzling off and on all day up until the party, so the mosquitoes were out in full force. When girls arrived, I sprayed them down liberally with DEET so the mosquitoes wouldn't eat them for lunch.

As I approached one cluster of girls in the driveway and asked, "Who needs bug spray?" an awkward silence fell over the group as the girls shot each other furtive looks.

What? Was there something in my teeth? Had I inadvertently walked into a classified conversation?

Several uncomfortable seconds passed, and then one girl said quietly, "I do."

There was an audible rush of relieved laughter, and then several other girls chimed in with "Yeah, me too."

And that's when I remembered what it was really like to be 13.

Those middle school and high school years are a doozy. They're filled with experiences that are both wonderful and heartbreaking, but perhaps no experience is quite so agonizing (or so universal) as desperately wanting to fit in and being afraid of being different.

Peer pressure is real, which is why articles about "the x plan" were just making the rounds on the Internet. Basically, a parent and a child work out a secret text message (in this case, the letter 'x') that means "come get me right away, I feel uncomfortable here and want to get out." That way, they can escape the situation without having to look like the weirdo or the baby or the goody two-shoes.

And I get it, I do.

If it's hard to be the first to admit you need bug spray, how much harder is it to be the only one who doesn't go with the flow when you're faced with social pressure to do something you don't want to do and the stakes are higher?

Maybe if our kids learn to be forces for good in the world, peer pressure isn't such a bad thing after all.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

All the same, I'm not sure that a secret x-plan is what I want for my daughter. I don't mind being her excuse, but what about the next time that situation comes up?

And more importantly, what about the other kids around her, the ones who are also uncomfortable with what's happening but are scared to speak up? What happens to them?

My daughter is a young woman who is stronger, smarter, and more thoughtful than I was at her age. She's internalizing a solid set of morals, and she's got a good relationship with her parents and a great, down-to-earth set of friends. Her church youth program is amazing and has told her a million variations of "Stand for what's right, even if it means standing alone." She's being given tools that I never had at her age, and I have great hopes for her.

Yet I know that every kid messes up and does things against their better judgment, and every kid goes along with the crowd sometimes when it would be better not to.

So I can't say for sure we'll never work out a secret text for emergencies. Who knows what the future holds and I'd rather she have a secret exit plan if she needs it  but I hope she never does.

I hope when she feels pressured to do something that makes her uncomfortable, she can reach deep down within herself and find her voice to say I don't want to watch that movie. 

I don't want to get in that car. 

I don't want to take that drink. 

I don't want to play that game.

In the years ahead, my daughter will encounter other situations like that mosquito-filled evening in the backyard. The details will vary, but the paralyzing fear of being different will be the same. And I hope she overcomes that fear and speaks up.

Because what if no one had?

The funny thing about peer pressure is that it works both ways. Someone has to be the first to raise their hand high and ask for the bug spray. Once they do, there are often others who can suddenly find the strength to save themselves from getting eaten alive  even if only by nervously giggling, "Me, too."

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Ann-Marie Ulczynski said...

Yup. Here's a story from a friend of mine. . . Her daughter was in junior high, on the bus on the way to school. She was very well endowed (especially for that age). The guy behind her on the bus poked her and said, "heh, heh, heh, I can see your bra strap." She turned around, stared him in the eye and said, "I can see you're an idiot." And that was the en of that. Not that I scansion name calling, but I love the strength and way that she dealt with it.

Jenny said...

I believe that if you teach your kids the right things, let them know you're there for them but don't pressure them into talking, be comfortable to talk to and let them know they won't be in trouble for telling you the truth (like there was alcohol at that party...) then they will do the right thing

Queen Mom Jen said...

Welcome to the teen years my friend. They really are a doozy. I have blocked 13 out from my own experience, but my own kids try to remind me daily about teenager-hood. I have 2 of them right now and a potty training kiddo. It is all awesome!

Terra Heck said...

I have a blended family of six kids. They range in age from 14 to 23. Personally speaking, boys are easier to raise than girls. My boys are super open with me in regards to what they do or what they have done. I think having positive role models, experiencing life with others in the church, and providing kids with resources are all great ways to deter from peer pressure. Unfortunately, however, peer pressure is around most of the time and it takes a super strong person not to give in when presented with it so often. I think the 'X' plan is a good idea.

Crystal said...

I love this so much. Especially, "what about the other kids around her, the ones who are also uncomfortable with what's happening but are scared to speak up? What happens to them?" You're not just standing up for yourself. You're standing up for others!