We tend to think of peer pressure as an issue facing teenagers, but adults — especially parents — are susceptible to peer pressure, too. If you’ve ever received unsolicited advice or a judgmental side-eye, you know how irritating — even hurtful — peer pressure can be.
What is adult peer pressure? Simply put, it’s when others push you to conform to a behavior or belief system that’s different from yours. Don’t want your children watching PG-13 movies, but other parents tell you it’s not a big deal? This can make you wonder if you should change your stance. That’s adult peer pressure. And it can often lead to harmful comparing of one child to another, or of one family’s choices to another’s.
For parents, peer pressure shows up in many ways — comparing our children’s grades, athleticism, awards and achievements, college admissions or choice of future career to those of other kids, for instance. Naturally, we want to see our children be happy and do well. It’s normal to feel pride in seeing them come into their own, and to recognize that our children’s success can shape how others think of us as parents. But when we hold our children up against someone else’s measuring stick, it’s not healthy or helpful.
For example, some parents may feel that their children need to attend certain schools, major in certain subjects or work in certain career fields as adults for them to be successful. Likewise, many of us slip into feeling that we’ve failed as parents in some way if our children don’t perform in the same way as someone else’s kids do. Instead of focusing on external measures, focus on internal measures like whether your kids are flourishing and are happy in the schools, programs or interests of their choosing.
If pressure to measure up to someone else’s yardstick is negatively affecting you or your kids, here are some tips and resources to help you address it:
- Learn to recognize harmful pressure. It’s often helpful to share experiences and get tips from other parents or relatives who have been there, done that. However, a well-meaning piece of advice can quickly turn into a “should” that makes you question your approach, insight or capabilities. This can lead to feelings of not measuring up, and that can be hurtful. Watch this TED talk by Brene Brown about the universal emotion of shame.
- Trust yourself. You know yourself — and your children — better than anyone. If someone else is pushing an agenda that makes you feel uncomfortable or doesn’t seem like a good fit for your family, don’t feel like you have to cave to the pressure. Recognize that they are entitled to their choices and acknowledge to yourself why you feel differently. Check out these tips from Dr. Shilagh Mirgain for staying true to yourself, even in the face of pressure.
- Know your kids. Tune into them — understand their interests, passions, skills and personalities. They may have a different perspective from yours. Be open to seeing things from their point of view. Encourage and guide them as they explore the world and pay attention to what sparks their excitement. This HirePaths blog provides practical actions parents can take to nurture their children’s “sparks.”
- Advocate for what’s right for you. You’re the expert on your family. Trust your judgment and be ok with saying “no” to others. If saying “no” is difficult for you, remember that a “no” to one thing is a “yes” to something else. Dr. Shilagh Mirgain provides suggestions for how to be confident and say “yes” to what’s right for you and your family.
- Find an open-minded community. It’s nice to know you’re not alone. The reason we can be susceptible to peer pressure is because we want to fit in. But a true sense of belonging will not come from pleasing others. Connect with like-minded people, as well as nonjudgmental people who have diverse viewpoints and embrace your differences. Focus on supportive communities and don’t try to shoehorn yourself into someone else’s ideals. This article from the Mayo Clinic explains the importance of belonging and offers tips on how to increase your sense of belonging.
- Model strong behavior. It can be difficult to stand up to peer pressure. Try thinking of it as a teaching tool for your kids. Ask yourself how you would want them to act in a similar situation and show them how it’s done. By doing so, you’re also letting them know they’re your priority— they matter more than the opinion of someone outside your family. This VeryWellFamily article provides useful tips for going against adult peer pressure.
Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to life. True success comes in a lot of different packages. Knowing that can be half the battle. So, no matter what success looks like in your family, celebrate what makes each member special. Embrace each other’s path and cheer your loved ones on along the way!