When I hear the words peer pressure, I picture a group of kids singling out one person, taunting them, and making them feel small if they don’t follow in their footsteps. But I’ve learned that peer pressure isn’t always peers doing the pressuring. A child’s self esteem is what determines what they do and who they surround themselves with.
A child that has high self esteem generally stands their ground, stands up for what they believe in, and usually doesn’t have a hard time saying no. On the other hand a child that has low self esteem is more likely to cave in certain situations and their choices negatively impact their lives.
Before writing this article I spoke with two different teens. One who was confident and one that struggled with insecurities. They shared with me their background, family history, and their likes and dislikes.
When sitting with a 14 year old named Blake, I learned that he comes from a two parent home, does well academically, has good role models, and his self perception is very positive but equally humble. Like most teens Blake has had his share of mistakes but nothing serious enough to warrant being grounded for more than a week or two. When speaking with Blake’s parents they said that although small in number, Blake’s friends were honest, trustworthy, and happy. They enjoyed hanging out at the mall, participating in sports, and listening to music.
The second teen I spoke with was also a 14 year old boy named River. River comes from a single parent home due to his father’s incarceration, he lacks positive influence and people to encourage him, and he is in his second year of the 7th grade. Unlike Blake, River has experimented with drugs and alcohol, has been arrested due to theft, and is currently being treated for a sexually transmitted disease. Although I was impressed by his honesty, I was also saddened to hear about his low self esteem and the way he devalued himself. The friends that River surrounds himself with are often in trouble with the law because of their poor choices. They do enjoy positive activities but the thrill of seeing what they can get away with is more appealing than music or video games.
So how as adults can we help them? Making ourselves available and spending quality time with them can actually help them feel valued. If we make it a point to be involved with their school activities that shows that we are interested in them. And if we sit and just listen to them they’ll feel acknowledged and cared for. There are also things to avoid in our relationships with children. We should never put them down by calling them names. We should never ignore them or their feelings, and we should never tell them to not do something if we ourselves are doing it.
Children of all ages need to feel important and cherished. Although life will have its challenges and not every child will have high self esteem we as parents can make a difference by being their cheerleaders and offer encouragement, reminding them that they’re special and loved unconditionally.