Studies show that children who have a strong self-esteem are better at resisting negative peer pressure and influence. How can parents best support their children in making positive choices as peer influences arise? School counselor, Michelle Bradley, explores this question.
Contact Michelle: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve: 00:33 Peer relationships – peer pressure. Joining us today is Michelle Bradley, a school counselor at an international school in Switzerland. Full disclosure, Michelle and I are married. I had the opportunity to observe Michelle as she planned a program for her students around peer pressure and I thought it would be a great topic to explore with parents. Michelle, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today.
Michelle: 01:04 Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Steve: 01:06 I’m wondering for starters, would you give us a definition of peer pressure?
Michelle: 01:12 Peer pressure is basically the feeling of being pushed into doing something, but that of course could be good or bad.
Steve: 01:19 So there is such a thing as positive peer pressure or peer pressure having a positive impact?
Michelle: 01:26 I think I’d prefer, rather than the word even peer pressure, is peer influence. There is positive and negative influence. We are all positively or negatively influenced by our peers, our friends, our colleagues. Friends influence friends and the trick is to know when that influence is leading you down the wrong path instead of the right path, and then having the courage to do something about it.
Steve: 01:55 So I know that one of the slides that you used had this statement on it: studies show that children who have a strong self-esteem are better at resisting negative peer pressure and influence. Could you elaborate on that?
Michelle: 02:11 I think that for years, we have thought that one of the negative consequences to peer pressure or bullying is that it impacts a child’s self-esteem, but research is really showing that it is, in fact, actually the other way around. If you have a low self-esteem, you are far more susceptible to being negatively influenced by peers. And if you think about it, it really kind of makes sense, because if you have a low self-esteem, you’re desperately seeking the approval of other people. And that may be conscious or unconscious, but you you’re desperately trying to receive validation and to avoid ridicule.
Steve: 03:02 So that validation makes me susceptible to following somebody down the wrong path?
Michelle: 03:11 Yes. I’m going to do what you’re pushing me to do because I desperately want your approval.
Steve: 03:17 Your attention.
Michelle: 03:19 Yes.
Steve: 03:19 Makes sense. Makes sense. You talked to students about the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and I thought that was a great insight. I’m wondering if you’d walk us through that and then maybe extend into how parents can use that process to guide a conversation with their child.
Michelle: 03:44 So it really strikes me sometimes that when I’m speaking with students who have acted out in anger, they say, well, I can’t help it. It’s just how I feel. I just felt so angry, that is why I did what I did. There’s this sense that something happens and that causes feelings. Actually, there is a step in between there, no matter how small of a split second it is, but something happens and you have thoughts. And those thoughts are what create the feelings and the feelings create the behavior, thus the behavior or the action that you have reinforces those thoughts.
Steve: 04:30 So if in that second, I can catch my thinking. My rethinking or reframing my thinking influences my feeling and then my action.
Michelle: 04:46 Absolutely. So thoughts are the words that are running through your mind, and they’re the things that you’re telling yourself about what’s going on and about yourself. And there are many different thoughts that you could have for a single situation. And we know that. We know that two siblings can have very different memories of a situation when they were young in the house. I certainly know with my brother, to hear us talk about the same situation, you would have to think that we were talking about the two different sets of parents. So those are your thoughts. And feelings come and go when different things happen to you. So you might feel happy or angry or sad all in one day. And some of those feelings are uncomfortable, but none of them are bad. Everyone has these feelings from time to time.
Michelle: 05:42 And this last piece of the action – these are the things that you do and the way you behave. Your thoughts and feelings have the biggest impact on how you’re going to act. So if you feel happy, you’re likely to do nice things. If you feel angry, you’re likely to act out mean. So can I give you just a quick example here? A thought – a child may say, “I’m going to fail the test” and that leads to a feeling of worry, and that is going to lead to an action, most likely not to study. But would happen if we switch that initial thought and think perhaps that this upcoming test is a challenge? It’s going to be a real challenge. So that might cause me to have a feeling of almost a nervous enthusiasm, which is going to lead to the studying. And kids are extremely open to hearing this. It’s much harder for us as adults to think about reframing our thinking, but through the right kind of question, you can really help kids to begin to examine those thoughts. Not tell them what they need to think in place of it, but really with intentionality and purposefulness, that you go through a series of questions that helps the child with those thoughts.
Steve: 07:21 So if I’m catching this, my task as a parent then, initially, is uncovering what the thoughts are that the youngster is having that are leading to the feelings. If I don’t know the thoughts, if I don’t know what the messages are that are going on inside their head, then it’s difficult for me to support them in doing the reframing.
Michelle: 07:50 Absolutely. I think as parents, we have this strong desire to avoid those uncomfortable feelings. And so we move straight into trying to to get rid of those feelings when in fact, what we need to be doing is supporting them and changing their own thinking, because that’s the tool. It’s upsetting that your child is having a disagreement with a friend, and that they’re feeling sad and they’re feeling all of those emotions, and stepping in to try to help change those feelings is going to give, perhaps, even an immediate relief, but what we need to be doing over long-term is looking at the bigger picture and teaching them the skill of how to reframe their thinking. And that can only come by supporting their own alteration of their thinking, which comes through questioning, which of course there isn’t anybody better than you to understand.
Steve: 08:52 Well, you’re saying that you’re saying that, but I’m afraid I hear inside my own head, those times that I’m telling someone that they shouldn’t feel like that. I’m going to take a easy, quick solution here rather than working through the process of letting them unpack it.
Michelle: 09:10 I think of a lot of the stories that you’ve told me about your daughter and helping her. For example, I always loved that story that you tell about, that she questioned whether she should be taking a high level math or not. And you didn’t give her the answer. She came feeling frustrated and scared, and all of those emotions about whether she should take a higher level math. Your questioning process allowed her to rethink it, which altered how she felt about it, which had a positive outcome for her action.
Steve: 09:58 I have to say the fun of you bringing up that story is that my daughter just repeated it with my granddaughter. The same process about making a decision about a class.
Michelle: 10:11 And as you look at that, she posed the same kind of questions to her daughter, rather than telling her daughter what she should do, or how she should feel.
Steve: 10:21 Yeah. Another strategy that I saw you provide for the students was exploring the concept of identifying a problem, looking at the
consequences and then making the decision about action. I’m wondering if you’d walk us through that, because that strikes me as another process a parent could use.
Michelle: 10:47 Well, I think this really shifts into a second part, and I just want to define that the first piece of supporting your children is the internal piece. So everything we’ve spoken about up to now, is how the child is dealing with their own self-esteem internally. Now we begin to look about their interactions with their relationships with others. So if we can picture the child who has a strong self-esteem and we consider a child has a low self-esteem, let’s take a look at this process and how, how a low self-esteem child versus a higher self-esteemed child would respond to this. So you need to look at a problem, we need to directly intentionally support our kids in understanding that when they look at a problem, they need to look at it in three pieces. First, the problem, the potential consequences and the action.
Michelle: 11:47 So a problem, for example, consider that a child is in a situation where they’re being asked to do something. If we go back to our definition of peer pressure, it’s being pushed into doing something, whether it’s good about. So let’s look at the problem. What does my friend want me to do? Is it something good or bad? Kind or mean? Healthy or unhealthy? Is it something that you would do if your parents were watching? You have them really identify the problem. Then, you look at the consequences. So what could possibly happen if I do it? Imagine any possibility. Good results, will you learn something positive? Will you be helping someone? Imagine any possible bad results. Can you get hurt? Can you get in trouble? Can somebody else get hurt or get in trouble? And then comes the third piece of action. Well, should I do it? And I think this is really important – will you be proud of the choice afterwards? I think that’s really important to help kids in their reflection of problem solving.
Steve: 13:07 I really hear you teaching analysis.
Michelle: 13:11 Absolutely.
Steve: 13:13 I thought that was just a great list of of of questions for a parent to be able to use. Folks, I’d encourage you – you might want to go back and listen when you can stop and take some notes on this on this podcast, because I think the questions Michelle laid out there could be really helpful when you find yourself wanting to address this with your youngster. In closing out, Michelle, I’m wondering, are there any suggestions that you’d have for parents who are concerned that their child is being attracted, shall we say, to some less than desirable peer relationships? What’s some initial things that a parent might be thinking about that?
Michelle: 14:00 I think our initial response to that is to try to deal with the particular friend, the negative relationship, whereas really, if you’re seeing that in your child, you need to go back to the basics, to the inside. Is your child suffering from low self-esteem? How is your child feeling about themselves? Because ultimately, any quick fix you try to do to get around some particular friendship that you’re seeing happening is going to be only a quick fix. We repeat our habits over and over again until we change until we change fundamentally. And so you really need to go back and look at your child’s self-esteem. What can I do to strengthen my child’s self esteem?
Steve: 14:54 I’m hearing slow down, which is probably not the immediate parent protector response that comes to mind. It takes a lot of thought.
Michelle: 15:05 Well, the reality is, if you attempt to intervene in the friendship, you’re likely to have the exact opposite of what you
want. You’re going to push your child away. Really what your child is needing is an emotional hug. They’re needing you to pull them closer. And the way to pull closer is to spend the time to be building that child’s self-esteem. Once they see their own value, they’re going to seek that from friendship.
Steve: 15:36 The word empowering is coming to my mind.
Michelle: 15:38 It’s all about empowering.
Steve: 15:41 Well, Michelle, thank you so much for the time. I’m wondering, would you be comfortable if folks had a question that they want to
send off to you, they could do it with an email? Would you go ahead and tell them what the email is and I’ll be sure to include it to the lead into the blog.
Michelle: 15:56 My email is, email@example.com.
Steve: 16:08 And we’ll be sure to include that email in the lead-in to this podcast. Michelle, thanks again.
Michelle: 16:14 Thank you.
Steve: 16:15 Thanks for listening folks.
Steve [Outro]: 16:19 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.