When you think of your sweet child fending off social media pressure, does your heart nervously flutter a little?
Does the thought of these negative influences leave you hoping (praying) they’ll solidly, confidently, know themselves and the RIGHT thing to do?
Can we give them the tools to see through negative influences with superman-like laser vision?
Peer pressure is reaching new levels of influence in this digital age, where bullying can happen behind the veiled, impersonal curtain of an electronic device.
By the time our children have their first Facebook account, we hope to have instilled in them enough of a sense of self that they can objectively evaluate any peer-to-peer situation. We hope that they already have a strong foundation in communication skills, and firm grasp of their personal values. We hope that they internally know the right things to do, and are confident in the courage of their convictions.
This will give them the voice required to face interpersonal challenges and the ability to stand up for themselves, and those around them.
We can help our kids develop that strong sense of positive self-image. By starting early, and with a few language tricks, we can plant deep roots from which a strong, independent, confident, sense of self will grow.
Self-image in Toddlerhood. Is that a “Thing?”
Self-image is definitely a “thing” is toddlerhood, and *gasp* even before! According to Dr. Sears, in his piece 12 Ways to Raise a Confident Child, it is never too early to start, and the sooner the better. He states that the lack of a positive self-image often leads to behavior problems, and that “In the early years, a child’s concept of self is so intimately tied up with the mother’s concept of herself that a sort of mutual self-worth building goes on.”
So, start with your own sense of self worth.
*Groan* I know, but stay with me here… in the middle of the exhaustingly intense infant and toddler years, taking some time to work on yourself can be a key element in the long-term positive esteem for your whole family.
Teaching our child that they matter because we show them that we matter is fundamental, though not always easy if we are still struggling with discovering our own self worth.
Phew! Working on ourselves is heavy, but if our kids are worth it, so are we, right?!
Besides working on our own happiness, what can we actually DO to give our little ones a foundation to build their sense of self?
Create a sense of belonging to your family
No matter what your family looks like, this is foundational. When our children know that they have strong roots with us, the forming “trunk” of their tree is allowed to grow strong. With a strong “trunk,” the forming branches have the freedom to find their way.
Early on, simple inclusive statements like, “We are the (fill in your last name here) Smith’s!” allows our children to rely on belonging to our family group.
Cleverly, invite values to your family party
Build upon the sense of belonging by integrating what I call “value declarations” into your inclusion statements. This not only reinforces the sense of belonging, but clearly establishes the values that are important to your family too. Try declaring something like: “We are the Smiths and we are problem solvers!” or “We are the Smiths and we believe community service is important” or “We are proud, even though we are quirky.”
Use value declarations to set lofty expectations
Set the expectation bar high by declaring whatever you might hope for your family. Try something like, “Our family dinners are a chance to decompress with those around who love us” or, perhaps most importantly, “We have so many things to be grateful for.”
If we make these inclusive declarations when our kids are still young enough to unquestionably believe us, hopefully, these value expectations will become part of the fabric of who they are when they’re all grown up.
Ideally, this strong sense of belonging will lead to a decreased need for peer approval – that desire to “fit in” at the cost of personal integrity. Little by little, these messages sink and firmly take root.
When it is time for peers to influence our kids, there is no shaking the foundation; it’s rock solid.
Continuing to Build a Positive Self-Image throughout Childhood
Continuing to affirm our children’s worth and innate goodness is tricky in our praise-for-every-single-tiny-accomplishment filled world. The superficial praise is not what builds a strong sense of self worth. If anything it can undermine a firm sense of personal integrity by offering big commendations for mediocre accomplishment.
Get the “scoop” by encouraging the “dish”
My children’s favorite thing to report at the end of the day, beginning in pre-school, was “who got their card flipped” for bad behavior at school.
While some might frown at this, considering it tattle-tailing, I encouraged them to talk about their observations. In fact, I encouraged them on with the same palm-rubbing-together enthusiasm as the Wicked Witch of the West as she lured Dorothy and Toto – “Tell me MORE my pretties!”
Take the teachable moments
Even as 3 and 4 year old children, they are already keenly aware of inappropriate behavior by their peers. I seize these teachable opportunities with alacrity.
It is a great starting place to talk about why the behaviors were inappropriate, how the behavior affected them and the rest of the class, and what my child felt about the situation.
This is our chance to discuss how unacceptable classroom behaviors aren’t consistent with our family values. These conversations are another chance to throw in more of those value declarations. Try something like, “(Timmy) sure is lucky to have you as an example about how to (focus on your work) … (or, know when it is ok to chat) …(or, be a good friend) … (or, show kindness toward others.)”
Use descriptive praise
This article by the Child Development Institute discusses the idea of descriptive praise to affirm our children, helping them learn the skill of positive self-talk. This ability to have positive internal dialogue correlates with happiness later in life (just as negative self-talk correlates with depression and anxiety).
Descriptive praise is really just pointing out a positive trait, effort, or achievement, followed by the value it represents in your family. For example “Wow, you wiped down the table without even being asked. That shows initiative. I love it!”
This method works even when a child is struggling. Try something like “You are really focused on that math, even though it is taking you a long time to finish. That shows persistence and perseverance. That determination always pays off.”
Adopt the “it takes a village” approach
Use tools available to you to reinforce these positive language ideas. Dr. Wayne Dyer, speaker and author of many titles about self-growth, has published a lovely children’s book entitled Incredible You! 10 Ways to Let Your Greatness Shine Through. Read it together and let it start a conversation, especially if you struggle with the words to use with your kids.
Affirming values, reinforcing positive behavior choices, and helping your child recognize behavior that isn’t consistent with the foundation you’ve laid for your family are key in the childhood years. This early influence on values and identifying the types of behavior consistent with being a good friend allows you to help them identify those traits in others. Hopefully, they will not only be good friends themselves, but also be able to establish constructive friendships, and steer clear of negative pressure from peers.
Can We Still Work on Self-Image in the Teen Years, or Is It a Done Deal?
Ultimately, the foundational work we’ve done to help our child build a strong sense of self is put to the test in extreme ways through the tweens and teens. This is especially true now, with digital media being a huge part of their social lives. Does that make your knees knock with nervousness, or what?!
Say what? Earth to teenager … come in please!
Communication with teens and tweens can be strained at best, and nonexistent at worst. Encouraging openness with your teen can be a tricky business as they work diligently to be independent. Ahem… I’ll repeat for emphasis… keeping the lines of communication open with teens can be a VERY tricky business, but is so, so important.
A few shifts in communication style can make a huge difference
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk is profoundly helpful if you’re struggling (and even if you’re not, it is still a great resource for communicating with husbands and bosses, too, not just kids!). Another good one is Between Parent and Teenager by Dr. Haim G. Ginott, which talks about letting go a little (gasp!) in order to continue to guide our independent teens in the right direction.
Enjoy time with your tweens and teens.
Find some common ground and something fun to do together. It is easy to feel good about yourself when surrounded by people that enjoy and love you, even for teenagers struggling to be independent.
Continue to talk, talk, talk to them, and really listen to what they say. They might need this even MORE than before, even as it feels like they push us away.
Lay this good, open, loving, belonging as their foundation for social interactions. If they experience good relationships and communication skills at home (even if you have to brush up a bit) they’ll know what to look for in peer relationships and will avoid destructive situations.
Feeling the Social Media Pressure; Now What?
Our hearts sink to whole new depths when our children come home and tell us about a challenging situation. Have we given them the tools to stand up for themselves? How can we help without being “that parent” that is always calling the school? Though sometimes our intervention might be needed, there are some ways we can help behind the scenes as well.
Don’t let your kids’ social media activity elude you
Social stuff is hard enough without the anonymity of a screen to hide behind. Set the expectation that social media is something you will to be involved in. Get them talking about the sites they’d like to use (or are already using). The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued this article discussing talking to your kids about social media and sexting. It is a helpful read when thinking about starting a conversation.
Again, tap into the “village” approach
Discuss the mistakes you hear other kids have made, including long-term consequences. Let the rules of the social media sites help. Many sites have set a minimum age of use at 13. Partner with these recommendations to delay younger kids from creating profiles before they’ve gained some maturity and life experience.
Spin yourself up
Keep “in the know” about the latest social media trends, and create yourself a profile if needed. This way, we keep an eye on things on the “inside.” There is a lot more out there than facebook and Instagram. Take a look at some of these to figure out if your child is using any of the newer social media apps –
- 15 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook
- Snapchat and 7 More Iffy Messaging Apps Teens Love
- Moms, you oughta know: 11 social media apps teens are using now
- What Mobile Apps are Popular With Tweens and Teens?
- 7 Apps Children Love Today That Parents Need To Be Aware Of
How about Plain Old Peer Pressure?
Social media pressure may be the latest “in” thing, but the good old peer pressure is still alive and kicking. Have we raised our kids to be strong enough to withstand it?
Alison Bell Teen Magazine has written an excellent Blog entitled: 20 Ways to Avoid Peer Pressure. Her suggestions help your child avoid the pressure if they find themselves in an uncomfortable peer-to-peer conversation or situation.
Teach kids to question their way out of a questionable situaiton
One of Ms. Bell’s suggestions is to, “Ask 101 questions of the ‘pressurer’ (For example, if a pal pressures your child to smoke, have your child ask her why she smokes, how long she has smoked, if she minds having ashtray breath.)”
Teach them how to say no without becoming a pariah
Ms. Bell also talks about saying no, but then backing it up immediately with a quick positive statement. Ms. Bell’s example is, “If you’re turning down an offer to smoke weed, say something like, “I like my brain the way it is, thanks.” Other tips might be to say “No” like you mean it – repeat repetitively if necessary, get away from the pressure zone and try to avoid stressful situations in the first place.
Keep those support channels open 24/7/365
We want to encourage our kids to seek support if they need it. This could be from us, but don’t hesitate to “use the village” here again. A teacher, reliable friend, school counselor, or other trusted relative are other safe places to turn.
The bigger the network of support for our kids the better. The more supported they feel, the more secure they will be in their sense of self. The more secure they feel in their sense of self, the easier it will be to avoid destructive peer pressure situations.
So, back to that foundational stuff we started with: The early years are so, so important. Knowing ourselves as parents is vital. Working on developing your own strong sense of self is the perfect place to begin. That is really the “seed” that starts it all. After that, grow some “roots” for your family by creating a sense of belonging. Encourage the “trunk” to grow solid and strong with personal values. As your kids turn the corner into the independent teen years, when peer pressure is intense, keep the lines of communication open.
As young adults, when our parental daily influence might dwindle, all of the foundational work will ensure that our children continue to grow right and strong. Their “branches” will reach for the sun and the stars.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick contemplation exercise today, answer these questions. Be as honest as possible. This is not a test. It is merely an exercise to see where you stand.
- Do your kids have a strong sense of family belonging? Have you shared your values with them? Do you explicitly mention what traits are desired and which ones don’t fit into your family’s fabric?
- How often do you offer descriptive praise (rather than just saying “Good Job!”)? When was the last time you had a conversation with your older child about peer pressure? You can start by asking how they would respond to some hypothetical situations. If you feel some guidance is needed ask, “Would you like to know how I would handle that situation?”
- Do you ask your kids about behavior they observe in children around them? Do you talk to them about how those behaviors affect the group, and how they make them feel? How can you use these observations as a springboard for a teachable moment?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Prioritize making your family a fun place to belong. Decide what values are important to your family. Look for any opportunity to positively reinforce those values in daily life.
Work on communications skills, and evolve how you communicate with your children as they grow. Keep talking (and listening) … and talking (and listening) … and then do some more listening.
Examine your own self-confidence. How do you feel about your own self-image? Parenting is humbling, and our interactions with our children are often a mirror for our own issues. These wonderful little people are great incentives for getting on our own paths to stronger sense of ourselves.