Unpacking Peer Pressure
About the Guest
Feeling like you've been edged out in popularity by your tween's friends? Take heart Mom and Dad- you are still the most important person in your child's life. Mom and daughter duo, Dr. Brenda Hunter and Kristin Blair, talk about raising tweens during the perilous middle-school years. Although peer pressure is powerful, especially since "fitting in" is the most important thing in a middle-schooler's life, parents need to be at the top of their game, recognizing bad influences and encouraging good friendships.
Brenda HunterBrenda Hunter, PhD, is a psychologist and internationally published author. Educated at Wheaton College and Georgetown University, she has served on two presidential commissions and written numerous books, including Home by Choice, In the Company of Women, and The Power of Mother Love. She has appeared on NBC's Today Show (Weekend), Larry King Live, and Focus on the Family radio. Dr. Hunter lives and works as a psychotherapist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Kristen BlairKristen Blair is an education columnist and writer. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the Charlotte Observer, the Durham Herald-Sun, and Carolina Journal. Kristen has worked on family and educational policy at the national level for the federal government, a presidential commission, and Empower America. She and her husband Greg are the parents of two children, a tween and a middle school graduate. They live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Feeling like you’ve been edged out in popularity by your tween’s friends?
Unpacking Peer Pressure
Bob: Helping your sons and daughters navigate the digital, online, cell phone- connected world takes a two-pronged approach. Here is author and mother, Kristen Blair.
Kristen: I think there are these dual components of teaching and instructing—telling kids: “Here is what we expect of you.” “This is what’s involved in being a good digital citizen.” “This is what’s involved in being a good friend.” “These are the kinds of things we won’t tolerate;” but at the same time, vigilance, supervision, and monitoring—take the cell phone away at night—setting guard rails in terms of behavior but also enforcement, vigilance, and supervision.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We have some strategies for you today on how to help your connected, online middle schooler navigate what can be treacherous waters. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You just came up with that. That’s a great idea you came up with. We were just sitting here talking, and Dennis has this idea for a new resource that FamilyLife can sell.
Dennis: Well, let me introduce the source of—
Bob: —for the idea?
Dennis: —this resource for our listeners. You, as a listener, will want this. This could be a little painful—the surgery it takes to get it. Dr. Brenda Hunter joins us on FamilyLife Today, along with her daughter, Kristen Blair. Welcome, ladies. Welcome back to the broadcast.
Kristen: Thank you for having us.
Brenda: Yes, we love being here.
Dennis: Both are writers, speakers. They’ve written a book called From Santa to Sexting. Earlier, Brenda—I wouldn’t say made the mistake—but she shared with our audience that she has a steel backbone.
Bob: Yes, and that every parent needs one.
Dennis: And every parent—so, we’re going, “If we could just have a resource, here at FamilyLife Today—”
Bob: The Brenda Hunter Steel Backbone—
Bob: Something—or maybe just attach it to your spine. There’s got to be—
Dennis: No, no, no. It could not be attached—
Bob: It’s got to be implanted?
Dennis: —to the outside. It has to be right in there. Well, the reason we are talking about that is because we’re talking about raising tweens and early adolescents.
Dennis: 1 Corinthians 15:33 is one of my favorite verses when speaking to this age group, “Do not be deceived”—“Listen up! Are you listening to me here?” That’s what I would say to a tween. Here’s what it says, “Bad company ruins good morals.” “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
Bob: I think one of the reasons peer pressure—you know, we talk about it in terms of pressure; but really, Brenda, the pressure is to be affirmed, and accepted, and have your peer group validate you.
I remember being in junior high—the thing I remember more than anything else was the cool guys had girlfriends. I didn’t have a girlfriend; therefore, I wasn’t cool. So, I was really looking around, not for a girl to like, but just for a girlfriend to validate me! It wasn’t really about being attracted to anybody. It was just that need for validation. That’s so strong, particularly, in these years.
Brenda: It is; it is. We had a psychologist tell us—from eastern Carolina, who has studied middle schoolers all of his academic career—he said the most important day in a middle schooler’s life is when, the first day of middle school, he walks into the cafeteria, he looks around, and he wonders where he’s going to sit. The anxiety that is present in the child at that point—yes, we all remember middle school as a time of drama, as a time of longing to have friends and fit in. That is very true.
That is why parents may not feel important and kids do begin to push away. They do begin to push the parents away. They have these semi-adult bodies, but the parents need to be on top of it. They need to know who these peers are. They need to know what kind of influences these young people are having on their child’s life.
We were at a group last night of moms of middle schoolers. There was woman there who was very troubled that her boy was being pursued by another boy that she felt, in her gut, was not a good influence on his life. As a group, we affirmed her to go with her gut. It’s very important that your listeners’ children have good friendships.
Kristen: One way to marry these two issues—the peer pressure and the family anchor—are for some parents to really bond together and really like-minded parents to pursue some of the same common goals. Of course, you can’t force kids to like each other or hang out with one another; but you can put children in similar situations together.
If you are moving together towards some of the same goals, it’s encouraging. It’s not so lonely. I will say that’s one word we heard again and again—is that it is really lonely to be an intentional parent right now. It’s hard, and it’s hard to make some of those tough decisions. Some of the parents that we talked to have talked about, “Let’s start a group of parents to support each other,”—some parents who have some of these same goals, who really want to pour truth into our kids and work with our kids.
I think that you can be intentional about fostering friendships. You’re not being heavy-handed. You’re not forcing, choosing; but you can help foster and facilitate.
Dennis: I really agree with you. In fact, I recently turned to Bob and I said, “We’ve got this new resource that we’ve just re-released.” It’s almost all new. It’s called Passport2Purity®. It’s a weekend getaway for a father/son or a mother/daughter to prepare them for the issues they’re going to face in adolescence.
One of my ideas around this resource, Kristen, is around what you’re talking about here, which is an entire sixth grade class of parents get together and say, “We’re all going to take all of our kids through Passport2Purity.”
Bob: Not all of them together—you’re saying one-on-one. [Laughter]
Dennis: Exactly. No, I don’t want any—
Kristen: What a field trip that would be.
Dennis: I don’t want anybody else’s kid in my car when I’m going through this with my son, or Barbara’s going through it with our daughter; but here’s what that would do. If parents all had a common vocabulary and they knew what one another was teaching in this situation in terms of peer pressure, sex, pornography, music, internet—
Dennis: —all the media issues—and you’ve got some parents talking with each other, even though you might disagree with where their boundaries were—
Kristen: Right, right.
Dennis: —I think it could be healthy to start that process in the sixth grade, take it all the way through the teenage years.
Kristen: Our hope, with this book, is that it will galvanize parents, like-minded parents, to join together and just to let you have some—
Bob: Wait; wait; wait. Galvanize, we’re back to that steel word. I’m just hearing it coming through. [Laughter]
Kristen: I’m sorry! I know.
Bob: Steel backbone.
Kristen: I’m just trying to find—
Brenda: There’s another steel backbone over there.
Kristen: I’m trying to find a crafty way to help monetize this Brenda Hunter Steel Backbone. [Laughter]
Brenda: Oh, dear, I don’t know if I want to be known that way.
Bob: But galvanize them in what direction?
Kristen: Towards pursuing these goals that they’ve talked about, that they share about—about imparting biblical wisdom to children and raising children who understand what truth is—who are not easily deceived, as you say.
I just wanted to affirm the Passport2Purity that you’re doing, and let you know that we heard about it from other parents. My husband took my son, when he was in middle school, on a guys’ getaway to an indoor water park and went through the Passport2Purity curriculum—but that was how we heard about it—heard about it—was through word of mouth—marketing from other parents. So, it’s very powerful.
Brenda: I’d like to say, Dennis, that what we heard last night at our moms’ gathering was that, even in Christian groups, parents who really want to set some firm boundaries for their children don’t always feel supported. I know that support groups are strategic and very important for many, many things but, particularly, for parents of middle schoolers. I think it’s a great idea to try to get these parents to get together.
Bob: What do you do in a situation where most of the kids at school have different values and where, for your son or daughter in the middle school years, if they are going to hold to the values that you’re trying to raise them in, they’re going to be spending a lot of time alone? You think of middle school with no friends—that just sounds like prison, like torture; you know?
Brenda: Well, I think—I know children who’ve done very well with parents who have real values and some strict boundaries. So, I don’t think you could say that across the line; I really don’t. A lot depends on the emotional security of the child. This has been the drum I’ve been beating, right from the beginning of my career as a psychologist. Children need to feel very secure with their parents. As they do, starting at birth, they begin to internalize this emotional security. Yes, it hurts to be different, but they have enough inner stuff so that they can go in different directions.
Parents can help their children learn a lot of new activities or take lessons here or join this group. I mean, as you say, Dennis, you steer a child. You steer a child away from danger or from possible negative influence. You steer the child into a very positive direction for his life.
Dennis: That means, as a parent, you know what’s going on—
Brenda: Yes, you do.
Dennis: —in your son or daughter’s life.
Brenda: You have to.
Dennis: One subject we haven’t addressed, Kristen—and I want you to comment on this—is—seems to be gaining all kinds of visibility and momentum for a number of reasons, and that’s bullying. How do you see this being played out? Speaking of peer pressure, this is the ultimate in terms of damaging another person emotionally, physically—bullying another person, especially during these years, preadolescence.
Kristen: Well, we’ve looked at a number of different facets of bullying. I think, just to provide some context—half of all kids will be bullied at some point during their K-12 years. It’s really become a buzzword. You cannot open your newspaper today or go online and read a news article without hearing some reference to bullying. It’s quite pervasive.
I think we hear a lot about it in the cyber realm. We heard from educators that cyber bullying is constant. One of the principals we met with brought us into her office, and sat us down, and pointed to two stacks of bullying reports that she had to go through in a middle school. It is quite a pervasive problem. We looked into the research as to why it’s on the upsurge.
Brenda: Yes, I was not surprised to learn that empathy is missing in bullies. It has to do with attachment. There were two major pieces of research, where the researchers interviewed middle schoolers themselves. These children, who had low attachment to parents—meaning, they felt insecure emotionally with their parents, were more likely to be both victims and bullies. Empathy is something that so critical, but empathy is caught not taught.
Dennis: Right, at home.
Brenda: It starts in infancy, and it’s all the way up. The parent is empathetic when the child falls. The parent picks the girl up, comforts the child. It has to do with comfort. Our children today—a lot of them are amazingly lacking in empathy. Well, think how we’ve raised children in the last couple of decades. Many children, in America today, have been reared by strangers. They’ve been raised outside the home.
This is what I wrote about in Home by Choice in 1991. It’s very important that that child have access—emotional access—to his parent and, particularly, mother in this earliest year. That’s—we’re born as babies with the capacity for empathy, but this has to be reinforced by the major caretaker. That person, usually the mother, has to be empathetic with us.
Dennis: Kristen, you made the comment that over half the teenagers are being impacted by cyber bullying today. How are you going to inspect this once your son, Austin, does get a cell phone that has texting capability? As I understand, one of the key ways that’s happening is through texting. It’s happening late at night when other kids are unsupervised by parents. They’re sending hateful messages that really damage another teenager.
Kristen: Right, absolutely. I think we heard a lot about the fact that there’s this anonymity component to the cyber bullying. It really gives people free reign to say just about anything; but I think there are these dual components of teaching and instructing—telling kids: “Here’s what we expect of you.” “This is what’s involved in being a good digital citizen.” “This is what’s involved in being a good friend.” “These are the kinds of things we won’t tolerate.” At the same time, vigilance, supervision, and monitoring—take the cell phone away at night. There’s no reason for a child to have a cell phone after lights out. In fact, there is research going on—on overnight hyper-texting and the health effects of this. No need to have a cell phone after lights out. Charge it in a different bedroom.
For computers, I think it’s good for those to be—whether it’s a laptop, or a mobile computing device, or a regular desktop computer—common areas so parents can walk by at any time and see what’s going on. Certainly, there are a lot of other tools—content filters and monitoring software that parents find useful—but those two issues—setting guard rails in terms of behavior; but also enforcement, vigilance, and supervision.
Dennis: And inspect what you expect.
Kristen: Right, right.
Dennis: I know some parents who have, without their teenager’s knowledge, monitoring software that—shall I use the word, “spy”—spies on their teenagers and all the texting that’s taking place. It’s interesting. This really presents a dilemma to a parent because you may uncover some texting that’s occurring that you may really disagree with. What you’ve got to decide is, “When will you fire the silver bullet of intercepting what’s happening and talking to your teen about how they’re using their cell phone?”
In this case, this parent decided to wait and monitor what was happening in a boy/girl relationship. It gave him inside information into what was taking place with his son and the young lady he was dating. He was able to, not only have conversations with the young lady and with his son, he was able to do it intelligently to head some things off at the pass because he knew what was taking place. He knew the facts in that situation.
Kristen: Right; right. I think an important thing to remember is that when kids are going online and their posting on a social network page—or even, to some degree, texting—this is not a private sphere. I think people forget that—kids especially.
One of the things that I’ve come across, as an education columnist and writer, is looking at how college admission officers, for example, look with regard—and even prospective employers—with regard to social networking pages. One-fourth of college admission officers now look at applicants’ social networking pages. Kids, when they are younger, particularly in the years that we’re talking about, don’t possess the cognitive capacity to think long-term about the ramifications about what they post.
I think the parent needs to come alongside and provide some of that long-term perspective. Also, this is not private communication. This is a public sphere. Even texting, you cannot control who is going to pick up that phone and see it. We’ve heard about password sharing, too. I mean, this is a public realm.
Dennis: That a parent needs to be—
Brenda: —aware of.
Dennis: —engaged in.
Kristen: Exactly, absolutely.
Brenda: We’ve heard again and again from all these experts who spend time with children—that it’s the child of the unaware parent who gets into trouble. It’s hard for parents to be aware. It’s much harder now than ever before.
Dennis: One thing I just would like you to make a brief comment about—and that’s the danger—this is not peers—this is around the issue of predators. As a child does get his or her cell phone, and can text, and can post things publicly, there are those out there who may masquerade as peers; but they may be predators.
Kristen: Yes; absolutely. I think this is one of the things that we keep coming up with over and over again. In these years, there is good reason to wait. I think there are some things that are worth waiting on. Social networking certainly is one of them. I don’t think a 13-year-old possesses the maturity—even though they are of age to meet the age requirement for Facebook® and some of these other sites—that they possess the maturity to be able to interact in these sorts of settings.
Brenda: The brain is not fully developed until we are 25 years of age. So, you’ve got cognitive immaturity here. These children aren’t going to make wise decisions much of the time about what they’re doing. I don’t think we can expect them to. That’s why parents have to do their work.
This is just a really difficult culture. One of the things—my hot passion in all of this is the sexualization of girls that’s going on. It starts in infancy and toddlers—not in infancy, but it starts in toddlerhood. The program, Toddlers and Tiaras—I remember this mother who dressed up her daughter as the hooker in Pretty Woman—and the clothing that girls wear, in America, today. The clothing that is manufactured for mothers and grandmothers to buy—it’s short, it’s tight, it’s low-cut, it’s sleazy.
I’ve even gone to certain stores and complained. I want to buy a nice dress for my granddaughter who is ten years of age, but we have sexualized girls and boys. In fact, the APA released a study in 2007, where the American Psychological Association said that we are making girls into sex objects in this culture. It is no wonder that we were told that oral sex is common, that real sex is here, and that kids are just engaging in all kinds of sexual activities.
Dennis: I used to think that when it comes to this subject of peer pressure that 1 Corinthians 15:33 was written just to the teenagers and to the preteens. It reads, “Do not be deceived, bad company ruins good morals.” I think this passage may have been written to parents to remind them of the power of peers in their sons’ or daughters’ lives.
If they don’t manage peers, if they don’t manage the pressure they put on their sons and daughters, then, the culture will. The culture and the peers will win out. It’s why it’s important that we equip parents to know how to do that. I think what you’ve written in From Santa to Sexting does a great job of helping a parent become aware; and, then, to get a game plan to know what to do, moving forward.
I just want to say, “Thanks,” to you both for your work on this book and in this area. Brenda, welcome back again. It’s been good to be with you—
Brenda: Great to be here.
Dennis: —and you, too, Kristen. Thank you for your work in this area. I think you’re going to encourage a lot of parents to have those steely backbones.
Kristen: That would give us great satisfaction—
Dennis: That’s good.
Kristen: —to encourage parents.
Brenda: —and to rebuild the family walls. The book of Nehemiah became our lead motif for this book. Nehemiah goes back to Jerusalem. He sees that the gates are burning and the walls are down. When the walls of the family are down, anything can go in and out of the family. We know that you, here at FamilyLife Today, are interested in helping families rebuild their walls to keep the bad stuff out and let the good stuff in.
Bob: And that’s why we think the Brenda Hunter Steel Backbone is just going to fly off the shelves. [Laughter] We have them in our FamilyLife—
Dennis: How long will that surgery take, Bob? [Laughter]
Bob: We do have copies of Brenda and Kristen’s book, From Santa to Sexting. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get some coaching from these two women as your kids head into the middle school years.
There is also information online about the Passport2Purity resource that FamilyLife Today has put together so that you and your son or you and your daughter can have a getaway weekend before you enter into the choppy waters of the teen years. That kind of a getaway weekend can really prepare your son or your daughter for what’s ahead and can prepare you for having ongoing conversations around these issues, as well. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about these resources; or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY. It’s 1-800-358-6329, 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
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We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about full-time Christian work, as a mom. We’re going to talk to a missionary. Her name is Erin Davis, and her mission field—it’s her living room. We’ll talk about her perspective on motherhood on Monday. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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