Is my child drifting away…? I don’t know her anymore! Why is she acting this way? These and many more questions are common with parents who are bringing up adolescent children. So, let’s take a look at what is indeed happening to the adolescent child and parent, the role of peer pressure, and what parents need to do to maintain a healthy relationship with their child during this time.
Why the world view expands beyond Mom
Young children play quite happily together, with the occasional squabbles, which can easily be ‘fixed’ with Mom intervening. Enter the Teenage Years! With the hormonal changes, children start exploring their own identity and relationships with people, in preparation of adulthood. There is turbulence within. Yet the push to independence does not allow for the ‘easy fixing’ by Mom as in the past. Suddenly, friends with whom they share common ground, become far more influential, while parents may occasionally be allowed to guide.
The hormonal changes in girls and boys:
During the ages of 11-14, girls are generally 1-3 years ahead of the boys with pubescent developments. By the 6th standard some girls are already interested in the opposite sex and many are experiencing the effects of pressure from their peers. Only at ages 12-15 do boys experience changes. Overall, young adolescents become self-conscious of looking and feeling ‘different’ as they go through these emotional and physical changes, and they try to ‘belong’ somewhere.
The power of peer pressure:
This need for adolescents to ‘belong’ and ‘fit in’ is why peer pressure can be so powerful at this stage. The media dictates what is ‘cool’, from dress to music to fashion, which is easily picked up by savvy teenagers. These become tools in group identities; hairstyle, dressing similarly, having the latest technological toy, Facebooking etc. Parents, as their children get older and more responsible, start exploring and fulfilling their own personal desires. They become busier. As a result, many adolescents at this time begin to move away from Moms/parents and get closer to peers.
The challenge and the opportunity:
Peer pressure cannot be wished away. Ultimately the experience provides insight and signals maturity. Through pep talks from mentors, teenagers can realise that peer pressure stands as a mirror to themselves. Now is the time to reassess and re-examine their own beliefs and values, which will help them attain their individuality and true potential. With that realisation, the ‘ pressure’ goes and meaningful friendships will be made. Then the balance between ‘being true to oneself’ and ‘fitting in’ can be attained!
Trish Joudrey is a Middle School Counselor, American International School, Chennai