Are You Influenced by Parental Peer Pressure?

parents eating together at gathering

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We talk to kids about the importance of not giving in to peer pressure, but many of us may not realize just how much we ourselves may be influenced by other parents. While it's often helpful to get advice and information from other parents, we may sometimes be swayed more than we realize by parental peer pressure.

For example, parents who don't think their 7-year-old should watch movies that are rated PG-13 may feel pressured into allowing him to go to a party where a PG-13 film will be shown; and if that film is something like "The Dark Knight," and if your child wakes up screaming and has nightmares for weeks afterward, it's not a good thing.

Just as parents may tell their child that they should try not to let peer pressure influence their actions, it's something parents themselves need to keep in mind.

And just as it can be very difficult to go against the tide for children, it can be tough for adults to do, too.

The Impact of Parental Peer Pressure

The next time you feel pressured into making a choice or doing something you don't feel is right for your child or your family, ask yourself these important questions:

Are You Following Your Heart?

Is your decision based on your own experience or beliefs? Or are you always bending to someone else's? Is your parenting decision what you really think is best for your child and your family or is it something you're doing to fit in with other parents in your social group? 

When you make a call about something—say, how to handle defiance or whether or not kids should drink soda—think about what's behind your decision. If any of the parents in your social circle or in your family are saying a soda a day for a child is fine but you think that sugary sodas are unhealthy for kids, stick to your guns.

Your child will probably protest that other kids are allowed to have soda regularly, but you can explain that this is what you think is best for her health and best for your family.

Did You Do Your Own Research?

Is your choice the result of your own research into the topic? Whether it's how much independence to give kids, what and how much tech access kids should have, or any of the other hot-button parenting topics that often generate debate, there's lots of research out there to help parents form their own opinions about a particular issue.

For instance, if some friends or family members advocate spanking but you don't agree because overwhelming evidence shows that corporal punishment can have very clear and real negative effects on children, make your choice based upon facts rather than on what other parents may believe.

Are You Doing What's Best for Your Child?

This is an important question to ask yourself when making a parenting decision. If your child hates scary movies but a birthday party he's invited to will feature a spooky film, for example, do not allow yourself to be convinced to make your child go. It's important to respect your child's individual needs, and standing up to parental peer pressure will show your child how he can handle peer pressure from other kids when it happens to him.

Are You Being Influenced?

Are your actions unconsciously influenced by what the other parents are doing around you? Sometimes, we may go along just to get along, and not even realize that we are doing things we normally wouldn't do just to fit in. For example, if you're at a party where parents are drinking a lot of alcohol, you may easily have more drinks than you would normally do at home.

Could Your Decision Be Harmful to Your Child or Yourself?

This is a very important one to ask yourself. If you are, say, at that party where there is a lot of drinking going on and parents aren't paying attention to the kids playing in the swimming pool, this is a situation that is dangerous for the kids. By saying no to alcohol and staying close to the pool—and speaking up and encouraging your host to have a sober parent be a lifeguard—you may be preventing a tragic and terrible accident.

Are You Confident in Your Decision?

Is peer pressure steering you toward behavior you don't support or want to be a part of? If some of the parents you socialize with were acting like mean girls, gossiping, or behaving in other negative and toxic ways, it is up to you to decide whether to go along with something that you feel is wrong or to stand up for yourself and deal with the negativity in a positive way, such as by trying to steer their bad behavior in a nicer direction.

How to Go Against Parental Peer Pressure 

As human beings, we are all inspired and influenced by each other. Here's what you can do make sure you're affected in positive ways:

For example, if other parents have great organization tips to help you get your child to bed on time or streamline your morning routine, that's something to welcome into your home. Or if the parents in your neighborhood, school, or church or synagogue or other religious or community group are coming together to volunteer and help others or work on a charitable project, it's a great thing to be inspired by and join in. 

But if parents in your social circle are allowing their own kids to sip alcohol in grade school in an attempt to get kids less interested in drinking (something that research clearly shows does not work and does not prevent binge drinking later on), just say no.

Ask yourself if parental peer pressure is influencing something that's ultimately good or bad for you and your child. 

Make a mental checklist of your parenting strengths. Be confident in yourself and your decisions. Are you able to get a healthy dinner on the table on most nights and gather everyone together for a family dinner? Do you listen to your child and make him feel like you are someone he can confide in? Do you have a strong relationship with your child? Count all the things you are doing right as a parent and trust yourself.

Tell the parent or parents who may be trying to get you to change your mind about something that you appreciate their interest, but that you're respectfully going to go your own way. Chances are, they probably do think that they're trying to be helpful. But be firm about your decision and explain that it's something that you have decided works best for you and your child and that it's something you've considered carefully.

Ask them to respect your decision just as you respect their choices. Then, find things that you do agree on and focus on those aspects of your relationship. Remember that you are setting an example for your child that she'll likely follow when she has to handle things like cliques and peer pressure. How you handle parental peer pressure will teach your child how to handle peer pressure in her own life.

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.