MOTUNRAYO JOEL writes about the negative effects of peer pressure and how it can be curbed in children
Abike Oyesanya, 13, a pupil of Bloomfield Secondary School Lagos (coined school name) recently started acting rudely towards her parents.
Her mother, Mrs. Tosin Oyesanya, who is a pastor at one of the popular Pentecostal churches in Nigeria, said her daughter was brought up in a Christian home by godly parents, “I have three children – Abike is my last child. Her siblings are well-behaved. I do not have any problem with their behaviour. At the moment, Abike is my only headache.”
Mrs. Oyesanya said she noticed Abike’s behavioural change when she moved to her new school. She said Abike had always been on the quiet side until recently.
“I am confident that my daughter is moving with wrong friends. It’s sad to say but the truth is that her friends are influencing her wrongly,” she said.
Psychologists say Abike’s behavioural change may be due to peer pressure.
A Professor of Psychology, Ayobami Makanju, defined peer pressure as social pressure by members of one’s peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted.
“It is that influence the group has on one that makes one do things one would not have done. When the majority of the members in the group are doing one particular thing, the person tends to follow suit. Sometimes, the person is not told to do something, other times, just mere watching other members commit a particular act, the person becomes influenced,” he said.
He cited smoking of cigarette as an example. Makanju said a young boy that had never smoked in his life would definitely be tempted to try it for a first time if he belongs to a group of boys that smoke.
“However, it does not mean that peer pressure is always negative, there are situations when children influence themselves positively. But most times, peer pressure is always negative,” he said.
What are the causes of peer pressure? Makanju identified the exhibition of weak personality by a child as one of them.
He said, “A child may continually be a victim of peer pressure if the child has a weak personality and also if he or she desires to be loved by members of the group. The child wants to be seen as part of the group. There are children who have strong personalities and are not easily influenced.
“A child who comes from a troubled home is also likely to become a victim of peer pressure. The child receives little or no attention from his or her parents. The attention he or she receives comes from his or her friends.”
Simisola Adegboyega’s story is akin to Oyesanya’s.
Simisola, 15, had never toyed with the idea of wearing makeup, according to her mother, Mrs. Gbemi Adegboyega.
In fact, Simi was not conversant with the application of makeup until she started moving with a group of girls in her neighbourhood, at Fagba area of Lagos.
Mrs. Adegboyega said, “Now my daughter asks me for my makeup. Whenever I query her behaviour, she flares up in anger. I’m a bit confused about how to handle the situation. On one or two occasions, some adults in my neighbourhood told me they saw her wearing lipstick. They said she also had makeup on. She must have used her friend’s makeup because she knows I do not condone wearing of makeup.”
Curbing the effect of peer pressure in children – teenagers, is one problem Mrs. Adegboyega and some other mothers are battling with.
Advising mothers, an expert in psychology, Fagbongbe Oni, said being strict with a child acting under the influence of peer pressure may not be the best solution.
“Being hard on such a child would aggravate the situation. Instead, the parents should communicate with the child and show more love towards him or her. The solution is to constantly talk with the child. However, I must say that parents these days create a social gap between themselves and their children. That gap is now being filled by friends of the child who also copy their habits. This is because the child spends more time with the friends more than with his or her parents,” he said.
Oni advised parents to make the child see reasons why he or she should not be influenced by his or her peers.
Like Makanju, Oni added that most times, friends of the child do not need to speak to him or her before picking their habits.
He said, “Peer pressure is such a powerful thing that the child’s peers do not need to talk to themselves. The mere fact that the child sees his or her peers smoking for example is enough to make the child follow suit. Constant education and not punishment can change such a child. If you punish the child, he or she is likely to see you as an enemy. This makes him or her gravitate towards his or her peers.”
The don, who lectures at the University of Lagos, said, peer pressure, if not dealt with, could aggravate into a worse behaviour that may endanger the child’s life.
“Behaviour has a multiplying effect especially if it is a negative behaviour. If the child’s foundational background is not solid enough, pulling the child out of the bad habit may be a challenge, especially when the child gets into a higher institution. Needless to say that peer pressure has a lot of negative influences on any child,” he said.
An Associate Professor of Development and Clinical Psychology, Mrs. Esther Akinsola, advised parents with teenagers to be observant.
Akinsola said, “Before a parent notices that his or child is a victim of peer pressure, often, the situation has gone out of control. Parents must be observant, especially those with teenagers. It is at the teenage stage children pick up all sorts of behaviour. At that stage, children influence themselves more. If a parent has not laid a solid foundation in the child’s life, they may end up losing the child to bad friends and habit. What happens is that the child emotionally moves away from his parents and moves closer to his or her friends.
“It is important that parents make their children see them as their friends, but not in a manner where the child would be disrespectful to them. Peer pressure seems to be more pronounced in teenagers.”
The don advised parents who are battling with negative peer pressure in their children to focus on dialogue and negotiation.
“If your child is a victim of negative peer pressure, beating the child or locking the child up at home would not change the child. That would not make the child change his or her ways. This problem must be solved through a dialogue approach. The parents have to let the child know that they are not their enemies. The parents need to show the child that they care about their wellbeing. Punishment approach cannot work with teenagers. It is more of a dialogue and negotiation approach,” she said.
Oni also added that parents should spend more time with their children, and not wait till there is a problem before they draw closer to their children.
“Parents must pay attention to the children; this is a must-do. The moment a child starts school and begins to mingle with friends, the parents should become observant. If parents observe a behavioral change in their child and they linger in curbing the habit, the situation could get worse. I always advise parents to spend more time with their children and not get drowned in their professional lives. Teachers, lecturers play a small role in influencing children. Parents play a bigger role in the lives of their children. Sadly, professional parents have taken over homes. Some men are also poor in the area of communication with their children. They leave everything to the mother and it is wrong. Both parents should work together in monitoring the child,” he said.
Also, the Vice-Principal, Dowen College, Lagos, Mr. Olusesi Akande, advised parents not to over pamper their children. He said parents should positively prepare the minds of their children towards the realities of life as they grow.
He said, “Very few parents allow their children to see the reality of life. It is good to protect one’s children, but over-pampering is wrong. When over- pampered children face the real world, a little intimidation makes them go with the tide and get influenced by bad groups that supposedly claim to protect them from bullies. The child joins such groups and automatically becomes influenced with bad habits circulating among members of the groups.’’