As parents, we often worry about how our kids will handle things as they grow up. We try to teach them all that we know in the hope that what we are telling them will get locked away in their brains and that, when faced with temptation or a difficult choice, our words will be recalled and a wise choice made.
But how much influence do we really have on our children's behavior? There is some good news here. Research has shown that throughout our children's lives, we parents really are the strongest influence on our children's behavior. Our kids are listening and learning from us. They do consider what we have to say about issues and when they are confused or unsure, we are often the first ones to whom they turn for advice...until high school, that is.
When our kids become teenagers, we parents lose our power. Teens still hear our voices if only faintly, but there are new voices – those of their peers. Parent's voices simply cannot be heard over the din. The voices of our children's peers are far more piercing and persuasive.
What problems can this create for our kids? Well, at a time when our children are beginning to grow up and are faced with many more temptations and life-altering choices than we might like, they are taking there cue from their friends. Peers are their primary counsel when it comes to whether or not to become sexually active, to use condoms, to drink, to take drugs, or to smoke. Should they wear their seat belts? Should they wear helmets? Should they use sunscreen? The list of important decisions that our children are faced with in their teens is endless.
A recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that, not surprisingly, teenagers are not making the most sensible choices. Only 10% of teens use sunscreen regularly, 1 in 4 teens use some kind of tobacco product, 1 in 3 high school students are sexually active and only 61% are using condoms. One 13 year old girl that was interviewed said,
"You always want to make the right decision, but then also you have a rebellious side, or the side — you know — it's a social thing," she says.
A social thing translated into adult speak means peer pressure. Are all the other kids doing it? Then chances are good that your kids will want to fit in and follow suit.
So what is a parent to do? Keep talking to your kids. Keep telling them how you feel about certain issues and attempting to pass along your values. What we say and do as parents is heard and retained by our children. Perhaps even more importantly, learn to listen. Understand that your child is growing up and they need to feel that you hear them, understand what they are going through and respect their feelings and growing independence. The higher your child's self-esteem, the less likely they are to give in to peer pressure. Plus, if you can keep the lines of communication with your child open, they are more likely to look to you for guidance...even during the teen years.
The best news? Our kids continue to grow and eventually change from teenagers into young adults. And guess what? Along with their own voices, the most powerful voices in our adult children's heads will once again be ours. Ahhhh, there now, everything as it should be.
So hang in there. Do the best you can to teach your children what they need to know and then prepare yourself for a bumpy ride. Meanwhile, take comfort in the knowledge that after all the twists and turns, the scary drops and the hysterical screaming, the ride will eventually come to an end and, if you've done it right, you and your child will walk away, hand in hand, laughing at yourselves.