As parents we fear the day when the voice of our kid’s peers trumps our parental voice. And it isn’t just the voice of peers. It is also the voices of social media and pop culture that we fear. To be honest the latter two scare me more.
My girls are 4, twin girls, and currently I am able to control the outside influence in their world. Yes, they listen to my parental voice and I do not take this for granted. Like many 4 year old girls they play princess and mermaids – the empowered kind that rescue themselves not the Disney ones that wait to be rescued by a man or give up their identity to be with a man. I have exerted my parental voice and shared my values with them regarding the princess/mermaid story lines I favor. I get to pick what movies they can watch and for now that works, but having spent my professional life as an educator, I know that won’t last.
At some point their adolescent brain will turn off my parental voice. I completely understand that this is a developmental milestone my girls will need to go through as they seek social support groups outside of the home. This is an evolutionary step that other mammals go through as well. Dr. Siegel writes in his book, “Brainstorm”, “Associating with our peers during this time is vital for our survival. There is safety in numbers as we, “leave the nest,” and help one another brave this new world.”
I also know that peer pressure in its simplest form is merely the act of listening to an external voice. That’s right – if we wash away all the psycho-educational terms, we get to the core of peer pressure – listening to an external voice. Now think of this as it relates to parenting. If I tell my girls what to do all the time I am in essence teaching them to listen to an external voice – my voice. I may think this is okay because my parental voice has their best interests at heart, but that does not matter as it is still an external voice.
For this article I am mainly referring to negative peer pressure. I acknowledge the existence and power of positive peer pressure. I mean after all, I work out much harder at my Cross fit class then I do at the Y on my own for example.
When I make all their decisions, solve their problems and prevent them from making mistakes I am teaching them to listen to an external voice. It may be a sensible external voice rooted in love and life experience, but none the less it is a voice that is not theirs.
What we need to do as parents is guide our children in developing a strong internal voice. This is the most effective defense to peer pressure. You see, when our child turns off parental voice, and they all do, if we have supported the development of a strong internal voice in them, then that is what they listen to. Not the external voices of social media, pop culture and peer groups, but their own internal voice that we have helped shape.
So, yes I do exert my parental voice like when I only allow movies that represent empowered girls, but I also give them a zillion opportunities during the day to listen to their own voice. To begin to build their internal voice that will allow them to blossom into the amazing women I know they can become.
5 Easy Steps to Help your Child Build a Strong Internal Voice?
1.) Give them lots of choices throughout the day. Small choices like “Do you want to brush your teeth at the kitchen sink or your sink?”, “What would be best for you to clean your room – on Saturday or Sunday?”, “Will you be going to school with your clothes on or in a paper bag?” Choices make them think, it gives them a share in the power dynamic of human relations and it helps them build the 10 second decision making muscle.
2.) Allow your children to make mistakes especially when the consequences are low. Nothing builds a strong internal voice like learning from your mistakes, understanding cause and effect thinking, and allowing the consequences to do the teaching.
3.) Complement effort rather than outcome. Focus on how hard they worked on the assignment not just the letter grade they got on it. By doing this you build a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset in your child. Your child will develop an internal voice that values hard work, tenacity, facing challenges head on and a desire to learn.
4.) Allow your child to solve their problems. Be there in a loving and supportive way but be prepared to say, “What do you think you are going to do about it?”, “How are you going to solve this?”, or “Feel free to solve this any way that does not make a problem for you or anyone else?”
5.) Involve them in the process of designing their own consequences. Research by Charlotte Geary at the University of Virginia found that 16-year-olds whose mothers undermined their autonomy during conflict resolution were high in susceptibility to peer influence. According to the research, teens who participated in joint decision-making (talking things through with their parents) were less susceptible to peer pressure at 18.
So remember, the next time you want to tell your child exactly what to do, ask yourself, “How can I approach this situation in a way that will get them thinking and building their internal voice?”