Helping children deal with peer pressure:

Here are a few incidents were I helped kids deal with peer pressure:

I worked with an 8yr old child, from a reputed school who was referred to me for counselling, for stealing 'pens' from fellow classmates. When he narrated this incident to me I found that he had done this due to fear of being rejected by his friends. The child's friends had a competition among themselves of who could collect maximum number of 'pens' from school. He didn't want to indulge in this act in the beginning, as picking was against his value system but he yielded later due to his friends. He got caught during the act of picking.

I taught the child that he had to respect himself by sticking to his value system. I taught him assertive ways of communicating, when people ask him to do something which he doesn't approve of. I told him that its ok to lose friends than to indulge in wrong behaviour and there are many others who will accept him for who he is.

I suggested his parents to not scold or hit the child as our goal should not be to punish the child but to help him to correct his behaviour. I encouraged them to give ears to him after he got back from school and play with him everyday. If the child feels that he will not be judged for his flaws he will feel comfortable to get to the parent for sharing his concerns.

In another counselling case, I had a 16yr old, from a middle class family who spoke to me on ways to quit smoking. He was in Std 12, he got into smoking, because his friends pressurized him & shamed him saying that 'He was not a man, if he didn't smoke'. He was scared that he will be labeled if he didn't smoke. That's how he started smoking in Std 10 & he was continuing to smoke for their sake. But now he feels guilty for this act & wants to stop smoking.

Like in the case of the 8rs old boy, I reinforced the boy to respect himself by sticking to his moral value system & ethical conduct. I taught him assertive ways to communicate with his friends.

I suggested him to redefine the definition of a 'MAN' to his friends. 'A man is not someone who abuses substance but one who sticks to moral values & ethical conduct'. I told him to reiterate this statement every time his friends labeled him. I explained to him that his friends could have got a wrong image about the characteristics of a 'MAN' from movies. Most movies project the hero as a person with deviated behavior indulging in substance abuse(smoking & drinking), aggressive (a man who hits 100 people at one time) and stalking the heroin. It could be that the cigarette industry has tie up with the production to promote their brand. The film industry also could make lot of money, by including such scenes which might be interesting for youngsters. I told him that in movies women can fall for such a man but in real life an intelligent woman will only chose a man with good life skills & one who is capable of providing safety & security for herself & her children.  The above stated heroic behavior of the hero shows faulty upbringing. An individual, exhibiting such behavior had put his parents to shame. I encouraged him to pass on this message to his friends.

If they accept this view point they might give it a thought and change their view about smoking. If not I asked him to put a pause to his friendship.

The individual must be cut off from the source, first of all to stop substance abuse. I asked him to put down the ill-effects of smoking or even download images of the same in a note & go through it twice a day. I suggested him to use chewing gum as of now when he gets an urge to smoke.

I spoke to the parent accompanying him. I assured them that he would quit smoking completely if they also extend their support. I suggested them to never let the child down in front of relatives & neighbors and be patient as stopping substance usage could not happen overnight. I told his dad to  everyday speak about similar issues which happened to him during his adolescence, & the effective ways in which he dealt with it & overcame them, to make the boy feel that he wasn't the only one going through this.

All significant adults in the life of an adolescent have an important role to play in shaping her/him. So lets give our Nation the best products.

As adults all of us have the responsibility to help adolescents deal with peer pressure.

Swathi Priya. P
Counselling Psychologist

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