It is not uncommon for me to receive a panicked call from a parent about their tween’s misbehavior. Quite often I receive a call me right after a parent has hung up with the school, or the coach or another parent, etc. The parent often sounds overwhelmed and confused, annoyed and agitated. “Why would he do something so stupid,” a parent will ponder, “I know she knows better,” another bemoans. I can usually attest that the parent is right, that the behavior does not fit their seemingly sensible tween. Of course I always inquire about the circumstances under which the egregious behavior took place. More often than not, the tween in question was with a gaggle of friends when the infraction occurred. Ah, the power of peer pressure.
Tweens are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure. Tweens are at the tender time in their lives when they begin to pull away from their parents in an effort to test the waters on their own. Going it all alone can be too scary, tweens tend to turn to their friends to be find some direction. The difficulty is that their friends are also trying to find their own way. There is always safety in numbers right? Well, usually.
Tweens are also at a time in their lives when they are particularly concerned about what others think about them. They worry that they are always being judged, especially by their peers. Tweens will go to great lengths to avoid being singled out or embarrassed. On occasion, this may lead a tween to act in an uncharacteristic way, especially if he is being encourage to do so by a group of peers. It is at these times that a tween may throw caution, or rather good judgment to the wind.
So, how can you counteract these brief lapses in judgment, how can you prevent such incidents from occurring at all? As always, it begins with a conversation. Communicating your concerns to your tween can make a difference. Despite your tween’s desire to pull away from you, your opinion still matters plenty.
You should speak frankly and clearly with your tween. Let her know you are concerned that there may be a circumstance under which she would be pressured by her peers to act in an inappropriate or risky way. Validate your confidence in his strong values and good judgment. This may empower him to stand on his own.
If your tween does act in an inappropriate manner, be sure to talk with (not at) her. Verbalize your care and concern. Be sure to listen to what she has to say. Discuss the downsides of his behavior. Be clear and consistent with consequences.
The most important lesson you can impart is that your tween learns from his mistakes. If you can help him acknowledge the power of peer pressure, you can help him focus on prevention. When/if she is in a situation in which she doesn’t succumb to the influence of her peers, be sure to acknowledge her good judgment. A little positive reinforcement goes along way.