We are all too familiar with adolescent peer pressure and its effects on young people. However, the concept of parent peer pressure is not as well known. In both types of peer pressure, there is an imaginary audience. This audience exists when one believes that he is an actor and everyone around him is critically observing his every move. The existence of this evaluative audience explains why adolescents are so concerned about what others think of them.
Being a new parent is akin to being a young adolescent. After the birth of a baby the parents often experience new feelings such as protectiveness, nurturance, and profound love. The parents may also find themselves in the company of new peers; other first time parents like themselves. Not sure of their role as novice parents, they may assume that other parents are watching and judging their child and their parenting skills. This type of peer pressure may cause parents to act against their own best judgment and values.
An example of this kind of parent peer pressure is when parents buy fad toys. Todays parents may be anxious about their children succeeding in an increasingly global and uncertain economy. Fear and anxiety may prompt parents to buy any toy or product that claims to give a child a competitive edge.
Many parents in our technological society believe that early computer use will give their child the jump on less tech savvy peers. As a result, one of the fastest growing software markets is lapware designed for infants from six months to two years of age. The child can sit on the parents lap and operate a mouse or keyboard with a touch or push. The manufacturers of such programs as Jumpstart Baby and Baby Wow claim that their software teaches critical thinking skills and cause and effect relations. However, child development experts point out that infants are not capable of critical thinking and can learn cause and effect just as easily from drop and pick up games and crib gyms. The danger in the use of lapware programs is that an infant may sense a parents upset if he chooses the wrong answer. Infants have no sense of right or wrong and should not be concerned about disappointing the parent at this young age.
Manufacturers of these computer programs want to imply that parents who do not purchase tech toys for their infants do not care about their childrens success in our highly competitive and computerized society. This type of marketing is based on parental fears and anxieties rather than on what is best for children.
So how do parents escape this form of pressure?
First parents must realize that the imaginary audience does not really exist. If every new parent believes that he or she is an actor on a stage, there can be no audience because there are only actors. Concern about what others think of ones parenting comes from ones own internal critic rather than from some outside source. Most people have an internal critic that is far more judgmental than any other evaluator.
Secondly, parents must be more concerned with what is best for their particular child than what others think about them as parents. If your son is more interested in dance than in soccer, support him in his chosen area rather than worry about what the neighbors think. If your child is not reading on par with her peers, provide her with appropriate tutoring rather than push her to perform beyond her capabilities. Every child is unique and every child develops at his or her own pace. Just as we would never pressure a flower to unfold faster than its natural programming, we should never pressure a child to progress faster than his or her innate programming.
Finally, spend time developing a strong sense of self, based on your own individual values and beliefs. Engage in values clarification exercises to define what is most important to you. Talk with your parenting partner about your shared values and discuss what values and beliefs you want to impart to your children. Then use common sense and your own value system to make decisions on what is best for your child, not on your fears and anxieties. In short, look inward rather than outward for guidance. Realize that most people are too busy running their own lives to be overly concerned about what you are doing with yours. When you can be an authentic person in your own right, you will be far less susceptible to peer pressure, advertising hype and media messages. You will also be a discerning role model for other parents and for your child as you make solid decisions based on what you believe and on whats best for your child.