Most parents naturally worry about a dynamic called “peer pressure”—that is, the power and influence our children’s peers may have on them. In her 1998 book The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do,” researcher Judith Rich Harris makes the controversial claim that peers may even play more of a role in shaping our children than we do as parents!
To this day, Harris’ claims are still a matter of debate among psychologists, but it can’t be denied that peers play at least some role in our kids’ behaviors. In an interview with Scientific American, Harris puts it in perspective: “I’ve put together a lot of evidence showing that children learn at home how to behave at home (that’s where parents do have power!), and they learn outside the home how to behave outside the home.”
Why does this matter?
If there is, in fact, a dual influence going on in a child’s life (i.e., parent versus peers), then it follows that children may be particularly vulnerable to the influence of their peers in a divorce situation. When the child’s home life is upended, the parents’ influence may be weakened, creating a void that can be filled by peer pressure. This could even account for why some children tend to get into more trouble with their friends during and after a divorce.
How can you protect them?
Of course, you can’t isolate your children from their peers, nor would that be a healthy option. The key to keeping peer pressure in its rightful place is not to abdicate your own place of influence as a parent. As difficult as it may be for you, your children need you to be emotionally present, now more than ever. The safer and more stable they feel at home, the less vulnerable they will be to external pressures. Spending quality time with your children is a critical part of protecting them.
Turning it around for good
Remember, peer pressure works in both directions. Thus, another key to combating the negative effects of peer influence is to begin training your children to be influencers, rather than the influenced—to lead, rather than follow. Through regular affirmation and by encouraging their individuality, you can instill self-confidence in your children so they are more inclined to be a positive influence on their peers, rather than the other way around.