How to Help Children Overcome Negative Peer Pressure
The negative outcomes of peer pressure are well-documented; however, while always a concern for parents, the severity of peer pressure and how it can affect children has increased with the prevalence and accessibility of social media. In response, there has also been an increase in conversations about how children can be taught to resist peer pressure.
At Family Black Belt Academy, one of our primary strategies to train our students to overcome negative peer pressure is to ensure children consistently receive positive social reinforcement.
For example, when students join our school, we give them a birthday party. At their parties, in front of friends and family, (with some help from instructors) students demonstrates how to perform techniques, play games, and complete an obstacle course. Even shy students are comfortable leading these activities, because 1) they have done them before, pre-building their confidence, and 2) they are supported and cheered by instructors, family, and friends. The fun their peers have taking their turns at the activities further reinforces the student’s confidence.
At the end of the party, all attendees get to test their confidence by breaking a board. In truth, the boards, while real wood, are thin and easily broken. To a child, however, breaking a board can be daunting, and overcoming their initial hesitation leads to a large boost in confidence (and a large smile).
Another example: Every two months, we have belt tests where students can earn belt promotions and ribbons or medals for their work on behavioral traits at home. At the award ceremony, students are called up individually to receive their new belts and to be recognized by our community: their friends, peers, instructors, and family. Again, this not only builds students’ individual confidence, but their confidence in their larger support network. They will never doubt that there are many people who care about them.
Positive social reinforcement isn’t reserved just for special events, though; it’s a part of what we do every day. In our daily classes, we spotlight students, highlighting their positive example: “Did you just see what Jane did? Jane, show us that kick again. That’s a fantastic kick! Did you all see how she kept her hands up and got a good snap in the kick? Great job, Jane.” From physical technique to being a good teammate, there is always something genuine and positive to reinforce for a student, and we make sure to consistently spotlight every student over a belt testing period.
Studies have shown that children who receive consistent positive social reinforcement are much less likely to be affected by negative peer pressure. It also just makes sense intuitively: If you regularly received positive social reinforcement from a larger community of friends, peers, coaches, and family, why would you feel the need to give in to negative peer pressure? Through consistent, positive social reinforcement, negative peer pressure becomes a minor voice drowned out by the positive majority.