Back in the day, peer pressure was easy. There was X thing you knew you shouldn’t do, other kids made you feel like dirt if you didn’t do it, then you either followed the crowd or stuck with your gut and the consequences that followed. We had peer pressure uphill, in the snow, both ways—meaning sometimes we received and other times we applied—which, to be honest, was just another level of said peer pressure. Sometimes societal woes work in tiers, and the best way to avoid one’s own victimhood
was is to join with the masses in picking on another. It may have been easy, but that doesn’t mean we liked it. Peer pressure can be downright ugly.
To be fair, there are exceptions to the rule, those too rare moments where the hive mind is buzzing with support and encouragement—getting kids to overcome obstacles and assorted negativities—that make the world a better place. You’ve seen the videos.
This isn’t about that.
These days, our kids have Peer Pressure 2.0 right at their fingertips. I’m looking at you, social media (don’t forget to share this post on Twitter!). And it isn’t just the children, we all face it, daily. Hence, Facebook, which isn’t really why they named it that so don’t sue me, Zuckerberg. However, despite how it may affect us, and make no mistake, it does affect us, we’re adults (in theory). We have a lifetime of actual experience, personal opinions, and learned knowledge to serve as a lens through which we can better decipher and apply the interactions of the internet. Kids don’t. They are building theirs in real time, out where the original peer pressure still has some pull, but also online where likes, shares, and comments aren’t just the stuff of lazy appreciation, but also the sweet rush of validation and influence; the planting of philosophies and the subsequent swaying of them.
Moreover, the pressure felt by kids on the internet goes beyond the impact of individuals, but also the messaging put forth by sites, games and apps, be it advertising, game situations, or attempts at humor that are inappropriate for any number of reasons. There is no lack of access to situations glorifying/promoting violence, sexuality, drug and alcohol use, or other topics that young children, tweens and teens are not suitably prepared to deal with. Yet, if the proverbial everyone else is doing it they may put themselves in uncomfortable situations for fear of missing out.
Call me old-fashioned, but perhaps the internet isn’t the best place for kids to first encounter such topics.
Parents can help.
The easiest way for parents to help is to be involved and know what it is that your kids are doing online. According to Dr. Deborah Gilboa, an expert on youth development, ” . . . there are great and awful things about the apps and games your kids use. The only way to know is to explore those on your own, on trusted sites like Common Sense and with your child! Ask your child for a tutorial of each game or app they use, and benefit from your child’s expertise about what is good and what is questionable. Engage your tween (even your young tween) in conversation about what the challenges are and how your family can overcome those challenges. And don’t be afraid to say “no” to an app or game. Even if everyone else is allowed.”
Additionally, Dr. Gilboa suggests that parents “pre-test” their children to assess their understanding of the aforementioned (and other) themes. Ask them what they know about X, then let them guide the conversation toward the questions they have, and then engage accordingly. Fun fact, just because parents don’t think a kid is ready for a certain subject doesn’t mean they won’t have it thrust upon them on social media or other online situations. If they have unsupervised access to the internet, even the chat applications in otherwise approved games, then they are ready (even if you’re not). It is far better to talk early on such matters than try to address them after the fact.
But don’t do it because I told you to.
This post is in partnership with Responsibility.org and the #TalkEarly campaign. Our collective mission is to eliminate drunk driving and speak to kids about underage drinking; also to promote responsible decision-making regarding the consumption of alcohol. It is a good cause, and while I am compensated as a #TalkEarly Ambassador, my opinions remain my own. Obviously.
Please learn more about Responsibility.org and #TalkEarly by connecting on social media:
Whit Honea is the co-founder of Dads 4 Change and the Social Media Director of Dad 2.0 Summit. Deemed “the activist dad” by UpWorthy (and one of the “funniest dads on Twitter” by Mashable), he is a regular contributor to The Modern Dads Podcast and the author of The Parents’ Phrase Book—a family guide to empathy that you should totally buy.