Steer Kids to Positive Influences
By Natural High Staff
This article is a continuation of our risk/protective factor series. Risk factors increase the likelihood a child will get involved in risky behaviors, while protective factors wrap
them in protection. Positive peer influences are a protective factor.
WHY IS POSITIVE PEER INFLUENCE SO CRUCIAL FOR YOUR KID?
The people you spend the most time with will inevitably shape your values and priorities. It’s just a matter of fact, and it happens to everyone. In the uniquely formative years of adolescence, one of the most difficult challenges a parent faces is monitoring and even understanding the social lives of their kids. Teenagers naturally pull away from their parents and are exposed to different peer influences, and often they are drawn to peers who you might not like or respect.
It’s not just fashion, taste in music, or language that kids copy from their peers. It goes much deeper than that. Kids will absorb the values, priorities, and beliefs of their surrounding peers — much more than they will from their parents, teachers, or coaches. They have a hard-wired, inherent desire for peer acceptance, and in that pursuit, they construct their identity and worldview.
During their social interactions, students will likely be faced with invitations to violate their own value system and engage in risky behaviors like experimenting with harmful substances. Research has shown that it’s rare for adolescents to drink or do drugs on their own — it’s by and large a social activity. It’s the classic, “here, try this” moments that have been happening throughout time.
So, understanding that dynamic, what can adults do to help steer kids to building and investing in positive influences in their lives?
1. ENCOURAGE POSITIVE INFLUENCES
It can be difficult for a parent or teacher to discern which kids are making good choices and demonstrating good character. We all can point to kids we knew growing up who looked like they had it all put together, but behind closed doors and away from adults, they were wild and engaged in risky behaviors. However, far more often than not, we can trust our instincts and encourage our kids to spend time with kids who seem responsible, mature, and come from families who have shared values.
That can specifically look like being deliberate to encourage your kid to spend time with someone you think would be a good influence. Offer to take them somewhere, like a movie or a skate park (or whatever they might be interested in). Let your kid know you’d be happy if they invited them over to play video games together or watch a movie.
For educators, you might intentionally sit certain kids together, place them in small groups or working groups together, thereby giving them an opportunity to build a relationship.
2. ENCOURAGE REFLECTION
Often kids develop friendships without realizing what they’re doing or why it’s happening. A kid invites them to do something with them, and they say yes. They don’t take a moment to step back and think to themselves, “Is this a friendship I want to invest in? Will I become a better person from spending time with this person?” Rather, they jump in and start spending time with them.
3. MODEL HEALTHY FRIENDSHIPS
Although teenagers want to figure out life for themselves, they certainly still need and benefit from the examples they see from their parents, teachers, and other adults. If they can see what healthy, interdependent friendships look like up close, they will subconsciously absorb those examples and try to emulate them on their own. It’s challenging, though, for parents who are busy managing their lives, work, and the household. Many parents struggle to find the time to invest in quality friendships. That being said, it’s a valuable investment if it can be prioritized. The added bonus would be your kids having the opportunity to interact with other adults who can engage them in relationships and serve as either informal or formal mentors.
Finally, if you have concerns about the character or choices of your kid’s friends, share them. It would be better for you to have a disagreement with your kid than to find out years later they needed your support in navigating their way through an unhealthy friendship or influence.
Sharing your concerns in the context of your love, support, and overall intention to care for them will always help but may not soften their defensiveness. Your voice of wisdom and concern can be an asset to them that pays dividends for a lifetime, almost like a wise narrator to the unfolding story of their lives.
This article and The Benefits of Guardrails were reprinted with permission. Natural High is a youth drug prevention and life skills program that provides easy, effective, and fun resources for educators, mentors, and parents to deliver protective measures in a relevant way through storytelling. The Storyteller library contains a roster of 40+ Natural High Storytellers — athletes, artists, musicians, designers — people who kids admire and trust. Their flexible curriculum offers videos, discussion questions, and activities. It can be used to meet a variety of needs, from brief 10-15-minute discussions to project-based work that takes place across multiple days or class periods.