One of the things most teens hate most about adolescence is the pressure to fit in. They look forward to the “individuality” that comes with adulthood. Unfortunately, that individuality eludes most adults who continue to worry about how they look, fitting in and being accepted.
We often ask people if they want to be sheep or sheepdogs. Sheep go with flow. Sheepdogs do what’s right instead of what’s popular. Sheep are generally harmless, but they are easily led.
But there’s hope. Since you aren’t a farm animal and God gave you a big brain, you can use these strategies to help you become a sheepdog who leads and protects your flock. The people we surround ourselves with have a major influence on how we feel, think and behave. Like-wise we influence them.
Are you positively influencing others, or are you allowing others to negatively influence you? Since people are contagious and actually influence our longevity, we always recommend hanging out with the healthiest person you can stand!
If you believe you’re immune to adult peer pressure give yourself a quick check:
- Do you eat what others do because you don’t want to ruffle feathers?
- Do you take November and December “off” from eating healthy because you don’t want to be a party pooper?
- Do you say, “everything in moderation” even when you know something is harmful?
- Do you rationalize and go along with the negative behavior of others to avoid hurting their feelings?
- Do you trust blindly without researching and being informed?
- Would you rather keep quiet to fit in than do what’s right and risk upsetting people?
If you answered yes to these questions, you may want to keep reading to avoid the risk of becoming a lamb chop!
Beware! Peer pressure from your community may present when you decide to become a sheepdog. We often hear of negative pushback that can occur when someone decides to stop smoking or drinking, starts exercising or starts eating healthy. Sadly, rather than offer support, some peers create a sense of guilt or even shame. Remember, misery loves company.
To help combat the negative pressure, here’s a few tips:
Write Out Your Top 5 Values
Getting clarity about your values can be an invaluable litmus test for decision making. I recommend taking some time to find your inner compass. Here’s an example of how I use this tool. My top values in this order are: God, health, family, contribution, new learning, fun and adventure.
One day I was offered the opportunity to appear on a national television show, which would have given me great exposure for a new program I had created to help with contribution to my community. Unfortunately, it happened to conflict with my daughter’s school play. A decision that may have created great conflict became very simple. Family is higher on my list of values than personal gain or contribution.
Don’t forget we are all actually more susceptible to negative peer influence and impulsive decisions when we’re tired or hungry. When blood sugar is low we feel less focused, and don’t think clearly about values and long term consequences. If you’re faced with a complex decision, give yourself some time to actually focus on your values and notice if it fits.
Helping Your Kids Cope : Leading By Example & Being Assertive
In addition to teaching my daughter about her values, I’m always teaching her the benefit of leading instead of following. The best (actually, the only) way to do this is through example. Once you know your values, stand assertively, and kindly by them. When someone is pressuring you to do something unhealthy, be firm and kind as you say (use eye contact) “No thank you. I’m so happy that food doesn’t tempt me any longer”. If you feel challenged, continue to hold your ground. One of the best communication tools I’ve learned is to listen first, then state what you want and how you feel. Avoid being accusatory. Consider rehearsing how you’ll respond. Plan a script and visualize what you might say ahead of time. Visualization can be a great strategy for you and coaching your children.
Popularity Is Overrated
There will always be someone questioning your choices. What really matters are whether the choices you make reflect your values and support your health. Most major accomplishments aren’t made without some sacrifice and some raised eyebrows. In the end most people would say getting a college degree was worth the sacrifice of partying every weekend with friends. But this pressure may make you question your efforts at times.
I recommend creating a list of your greatest accomplishments and all the positive things you do for yourself and your family. Anytime you feel like quitting or your confidence is suffering, remind yourself of your capabilities. This is helpful to keep yourself on track when you don’t get the support you need from others.
Remember, peer pressure exists for ALL ages. What matters is finding the strength to stay true to your own convictions.