There is a saying: “The fruit reveals the tree.” As parents, we want our children to be happy, healthy and thriving. And, we know that in many ways, their outcomes are a reflection upon us as parents and as people.
But, we also know that we are not the only influence in their lives. They will be influenced by teachers, mentors, karate instructors, grandparents and many other adults in their lives. And, of course, they will be affected by their friends and other children in similar age groups.
Enter “peer pressure.” Peer pressure can be both a positive and a negative influence. I had distinct memories from childhood when it was acting in either direction. Most times I was able to resist the negative, but sometimes I was also able to withstand the positive.
However, most of the time when we think of peer pressure, it’s in a negative sense.
Peer pressure is the direct influence on people by peers, or the effect on an individual who gets encouraged to follow their peers by changing their attitudes, values or behaviors to conform to those of the influencing group or individual. (Wikipedia)
So, through research and experience, here are four ways I’ve found as useful to help “harden” children against the negative forces of peer pressure.
Communication – As parents (and coaches) we need to be good listeners. Kids need to feel heard and understood before they need to listen to an answer. This is easier said than done since we are eager to provide a solution or in some cases a reprimand and a correction. Be sure to take the time and listen.
This will instill confidence in your child, especially as they grow up, to confide in and communicate with you. They need to know and feel that they can come to you with anything and that they will be supported through the challenges.
Values – I think values may come from a different place for many families, but while there may be some differences, helping our children understand why we hold these values is vital. They must be integrated into their lives and ours. Consistency and clarity are essential to their adherence. How will they know what to do and when to do it? Start with simple rules and use story, allegory, and experience to explain the “why” behind these rules.
Teens and even pre-teens will push back against what seem like arbitrary edicts. But, consistency, along with the channels mentioned above of communication, will help ensure that they have a roadmap of right and wrong when you’re not around.
Engagement – I understand life gets busy and the demands put upon us are high and from many directions. But hasn’t that always been and won’t that still be the case? I think so. However, the rapid increase in technology and connectivity is an inhibitor to engaging in real relationships. When you can be there for your kids (and partners), be there.
They’ll know you are around, interested and invested in their activities. If they know that would they do matters to you; what you think about what they do will matter to them. Furthermore, you’ll be exposed to and get a chance to meet the people influencing them, superiors, near-peers, and peers included.
Martial Arts – Martial arts isn’t seasonal. It is year round. Logistically, busier children tend to stay out of trouble. They do better in school and have less opportunity to be exposed to negative peer pressure. It also provides structure and a framework of consistency even when school is out of session during summer break.
Finally, like attracts like. Martial arts studios tend to fill with families that share similar goals and values. Consistent participation in a martial arts program can be an effective way to reinforce the benefits that you are looking to instill. The new friends and attained skills will build confidence and resilience against negative peer pressure. Martial arts isn’t just a health fitness activity; it’s focused on character development and building life skills.