Kids do some crazy things to keep up with their friends — even preschoolers (“I dare you to eat a worm!”). But as negative as it can be, there are a few benefits of peer pressure.
“There’s no doubt that peers can make each other more aggressive, but they can also make each other smarter and happier,” says psychology professor William M. Bukowski, Ph.D., of Concordia University in Montreal. “In fact, the positive effects of peer influence are more important than the negative effects.”
Here’s how going along with the crowd can be a smart move after all — and how you can encourage your child to reap the rewards.
Benefit of Peer Pressure: Encourages excellence. Students who learn with smarter classmates tend to perform better academically themselves, according to a 2011 study in Child Development. That’s because kids imitate each other, especially when they’re unsure of how to behave. They also reward each other for acting a certain way — by laughing, smiling and giving each other high-fives. “Children have expectations of one another, and they make those expectations clear,” says Bukowski.
Your move: Book more playdates with the kids who model doing the right thing.
Benefit of Peer Pressure: Teaches flexibility. Kids who are eager to fit in will turn on a dime as needed. But while hating grilled cheese one minute and loving it as soon as a playmate eats it seems wishy-washy, that tendency can develop into a willingness to accommodate and compromise, a key feature of all reciprocal relationships, according to Bukowski. “It may be that it’s okay to behave one way in one circumstance and another way in another, but they have to decide what’s best for them,” he says.
Your move: Don’t criticize the flip-flopping—even if it drives you nuts! Remember that it’s your kids’ way of learning to compromise and be flexible.
Benefit of Peer Pressure: Develops empathy. An upside to worrying so much about what peers think is that it helps kids develop a greater awareness of their own feelings, which in turn improves their social skills. “It’s through interaction with others that you can learn most easily what it’s like to be someone else,” says Bukowski.
Your move: When your child is upset with a friend, suggest considering the other person’s perspective.
Benefit of Peer Pressure: Prevents obesity. A 2011 study from the University of Buffalo showed that friends influence how much a kid eats. “Individuals are influenced by the eating and activity norms set by those around them,” says Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics in the University at Buffalo’s Division of Behavioral Medicine and first author of the study. And Salvy’s study found that a child is less likely to nibble out of boredom after school if she’s busy playing with a pal. “Friendship is a great way to minimize stress and boredom and the eating associated with those feelings,” says Bukowski.
Your move: Expand your child’s social network to include kids who are active, have a positive attitude and seem to bring out the best in your child. With the right friends, peer pressure can be a powerful force for good.
By Aviva Patz for Healthy Moms Blog Magazine
Aviva Patz has written for many national
publications, such as Parents, Parenting, Health, Self, Redbook and Marie Claire.
*image credit freedigitalphotos.net