I have had to tell my 8 year old son DJ to pull up his shorts the last several days in a row. He has decided that it looks cool to wear them hanging down off his backside, and required boxer shorts to wear under them, because "they look better when they show above your shorts!" Ok, I am not ready for this. He and his buddies are clearly discussing this kind of thing. They have somehow decided what's cool, and now they all have to wear the same thing. I witnessed this phenomenon with Zee last fall when she declared that she no longer liked princesses. Her little buddies were into some other toy, and she couldn't feel part of the group if she chose a different favorite plaything. So my kids aren't even tweens, and their peers are having a strong influence on them.
I worry about peer pressure, not because I think my kids will be pushed into making bad choices like drugs or sex (I'm hoping I still have a couple of years before that stuff hits!), but I fear they will be afraid to be themselves. It can be hard to be independent and intelligent without being labelled a geek or teacher's pet. Overcoming that kind of reputation is nearly impossible! I also don't want them to see sports or looks as more important than academics, or to sacrifice kindness for popularity. I try to instill in them a sense of empathy toward others, and to encourage their individuality. But here they are, following the crowd already!
I understand the need to fit in. It is important to have friends, and to feel like you belong. I have no problem with buying the popular styles of clothing, or listening to the Top 40 radio songs. We read bestselling books, and watch the cool TV shows. Their friends do the same, and they have things to talk about. We make appropriate choices, however, and I've had an angry 8 year old when I wouldn't allow him to download a song with "swears" in it. I have had discussions about making good choices despite what your friends do, and I am embarrassed to say I had to bite back the good old "would you jump off a bridge just because everyone else did?"
I'm hoping their independence will thrive and DJ will not decide piano isn't cool because some friend at school says so. I hope Zee will choose ballet or yoga or whatever she wants, and not demand hip hop classes just because the other girls are wearing bootie shorts (I swear that's what they call them!). I am fully aware that this is only the first rung of the peer pressure ladder. I know the influence will become stronger, and the choices more complicated and even potentially dangerous. We try to instill good values and to let DJ and Zee know they can always talk to us about anything. I think communication at home is the best way to counteract negative peer pressure.