“Dad, isn’t this crazy?!” Seven-year-old Lukas marveled. He and his father, Tom, had just finished reading A Strange Gift (Enchanted Collar, No.1) together. “In the book,” Lukas continued with twinkling eyes, “Eli’s Dad is the only one who isn’t crazy. But when everyone else in his kingdom goes mad, they all think Eli’s Dad is mad. Isn’t that crazy?!”
“Yes.” Tom smiled broadly, all too happy to see his son grasping the moral lessons of the book so quickly. “It is crazy, but it’s also true. Just remember, when all the ‘cool’ kids in school tell you that you’re crazy for not doing the same bad things they’re doing, you don’t have to listen to them. It could be that they’re crazy and you’re sane, and that’s why they’re accusing you of being crazy.”
“You’re right, Dad!” exclaimed Lukas. “I don’t have to be crazy like them!”
When Tom relayed this conversion to me later, I was elated. “This is fantastic, Tom!” I said to him over the phone.
“Your son knows how to resist peer pressure.”
“Yes,” Tom agreed. “But I still need to keep reminding him of this lesson whenever peer pressure seems too strong to resist.”
We were all children once. We all remember how much peer pressure we had to withstand as we grew up. We can recall the fear of being rejected by the “cool” crowd when we were young. Unfortunately, as we grow older, peer pressure doesn’t abate. If anything, it intensifies and takes on new forms.
Peer pressure emanates from all corners of our world—billboards, newsstands, television, Internet, radio. It’s everywhere. We are bombarded with pressure-heavy messages almost every minute of the day: Buy this lotion and you’ll look as beautiful as Cindy Crawford; wear these sneakers and you’ll play basketball like Michael Jordan; use the latest iPad and you’ll be as successful as Steve Jobs.
Some of us can resist the peer pressure of keeping up with the Joneses. But just like the wolves in Enchanted Collar who become mad, too many of us in real life succumb to the enticement of advertising and marketing. We shop till we drop, ignoring the silent protests from our drained wallets/purses/bank accounts.
In the fantasy world of Enchanted Collar, Eli embarks on an epic journey in search of a cure for the peer pressure of overspending. In the real world, we undertake the journey of teaching our children to resist peer pressure. If we don’t, not only our bank accounts will suffer, our children will suffer unhappiness, depression, and poor performance in school. Worse, children who give in to peer pressure usually end up engaging in deleterious behaviors, such as using drugs and having sex at a young age.
So how should we teach our children to resist negative peer pressure? Try the following three simple steps:
1. Set a good example ourselves. Children learn more from what we do than what we say. If we’re always busy trying to keep up with the Joneses, we can’t expect our children to say no to pressure from their own peers. If we keep buying the latest designer brands simply because fashion magazines tell us to, we can’t teach our children to resist the peer pressure of spending beyond their means. We have to stand our ground before we can instill the will and the power in our children to resist peer pressure.
2. Help children select the right role models in mass media. Engage in meaningful discussions with your children after you read a book, watch TV, see a movie, or pass a billboard together. Talk to them about what they like or dislike about the characters in stories, shows, or ads. Explore with them whom they want to be like when they grow up and why. For example, the Enchanted Collar books come with a full set of worksheets to help parents guide their children through the moral lessons embedded in the stories.
3. Provide unwavering emotional support to your children. They must have an internal moral compass to steer clear of treacherous paths. They need a solid foundation, an emotional “rock,” someone confident enough to withstand peer pressure. Be that rock for your children. On your car/subway/train trips together, ask them about the events of their day at school. Talk to them about what they did, how they felt, and how they could have reacted differently if necessary. Listen to them with an open heart. Look at things through their eyes. Walk a mile in their shoes. Above all, keep reminding them that when the crowd goes mad, they don’t have to give in to peer pressure and go mad too.