Peer Pressure

What peer pressure did you experience as a kid?

My oldest is allowed to have lunch off school grounds every day. He and two friends go a few blocks to a park and normally eat lunch there. One day he left the house without his lunch. I was able to run his lunch over to him during a lunchtime break. I picked him up after his sports practice had ended later in the day. Driving home I asked him how his day was. I got the normal “okay, I guess” answer. For whatever reason I asked, “and lunch was okay too?” I was thinking about what I’d brought him, did I get it right, did he get enough to eat — I’m not sure why I was concerned. I expected another short answer, but instead I got a “Well, actually…”

He started to explain what happened during lunch. The food I brought him was fine. But one of his friends got into a fight with another student who was also in the park. It was a little hard to follow how it went down, but based on what I could gather one student started “jawing” about my son’s friend and trying to get another student and my son’s friend to fight. When the instigator’s efforts didn’t work he was pressured by his group to do something. He walked over to my son’s friend, slapped him, and my son’s friend retaliated. My son’s friend was the bigger kid and the fight was over pretty quickly. My son got upset with his friend for engaging in the fight, and asked him what he was thinking. “Don’t you know what you have to lose? It’s so not worth it.” My son’s friend got upset with him for not joining in (my son’s friend didn’t need any help in the fight, it sounded like his expectations were ‘that’s just what friends do’). My son disagreed and told his friend, “The issue is between you and the other kid. Why would I get involved? This has nothing to do with me.” His friend didn’t like that answer. We talked about how my son handled the situation (I was impressed and proud he’d had this insight and had been able to tell his friend), and had great empathy for my son’s friend and the other boy involved. They appeared to have gotten caught up in peer pressure — if it had only been the two boys it didn’t sound a fight would have ever occurred.

My son feels for his friend and the consequences. Will he get kicked off the sports team they play on? Or get benched for a few games? Will his friend get in trouble by the school (it happened off campus by during school hours)? Will he and his friend get to the other side of this? Will his friend see that my son cares about him and wants his friend to make good choices, which can be so difficult to make when peer pressure is strong? I know my son is hopeful and so am I.

How does your child defend themselves against peer pressure? How are you helping them make good choices in tough situations?

You’re a Good Friend

How many good friends do you have?

My youngest son and I continue to read our new favorite book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cooke O’Toole. What I love about this book is how much of this information benefits people on the spectrum and those of us who aren’t.

My son and I are now in the part of the book that is about friendship — what makes a good friend and how to go about cultivating a friendship. As I read the chapter I was struck by how much I would have benefitted from someone telling me this information when I was my son’s age about what makes a good friend. When I was young, I didn’t think about friendships in layers per se, but did understand I had different friends — some were kind, some were kind when they felt like it, some could be trusted, others couldn’t, etc. In the book, it spells out characteristics a good friend has. Some of the basics: Smiles when they see you, likes some of the same things you do, shares some of the same opinions, invites you to hang out. And others that are more advanced and truly define a good friend: stands up for you (even if you’re not there), stops you if you put yourself down, listens, sees talents in you that you hadn’t noticed, likes you for exactly who you are. There are many more characteristics she names, but you get the picture, she is shining a light on what a true and worthwhile friend is.

After reading this I reflected on my own childhood friends. I had some friends that had some of these characteristics, but don’t think I had any ‘true’ friends until I was college-age. As I’ve grown older, I’ve sought out, cared for and worked to develop healthy and meaningful friendships vs. giving equal care and time across all friends regardless to what they bring to the relationship. I wondered how I might have invested my time differently with people earlier in life if I had had this information. I thought what the author said was so valuable I grabbed my older son and said, “I need to read this to you.” He has friends much like I did in middle school — some are nice, some are nice when they feel like, some can be trusted, and others cannot. After reading with both my boys I felt like I had given them a path to know how to spot a good friend and better spend their time with people who will value them and their friendship and reciprocate in kind.

Friendship can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially if you don’t understand what a good friend ‘looks’ like. I’m grateful I’ve had an opportunity to enlighten my kids (and remind myself) about what a good friend truly is.

How are you teaching your child to spot (and make) a good friend?