Parents like to believe that the advice and counsel they provide their children, from cradle to adulthood, will be the most important inputs those children will ever receive from the world. Overwhelming evidence, however, suggests otherwise.
While it is certainly true that parents are the primary learning resource for infants and very young children, other influences begin to emerge with the onset of social interaction outside the immediate family. Foremost among those influences, of course, is the peer group, the playmates, friends, classmates, and teammates who spend far more time together than with parents, beginning at age four or five. Thereafter, as exposure increases, peer influences play an ever more critical role in the development of the child’s worldview, attitudes toward others and toward learning, and motivation to achieve.
The elementary and secondary school years are especially impressionable for most children and young adults. Ways of being continue to be nuanced through the college years, so it is fair to say that peer group influences – sometimes pejoratively called “peer pressure” – dominate the mentoring process from kindergarten onward for most children. The message? Parents can actually have most influence by guiding, even selecting, the peer environment in which their children will continue to grow for many years.
Often, parents have little choice about the community in which they live or the public school district in which their children will be expected to succeed. However, when there are options, parents should exercise those options fully. If a school change is needed to change peer influences, that might be a lifesaver, in spite of the appearance of political incorrectitude from some quarters. A change to an independent school, particularly for the secondary years, may be an even more beneficial decision. (The difference between a weak school and a good one is not so pronounced in the elementary years; there is simply not much academic rigor to be missed until kids reach the seventh or eighth grade.) Over many years of counseling families about educational choices, this writer has had to remind many of the need to make choices that are primarily in the interests of their children and immediate family. There is no point, and no value, in chasing approval in the court of public opinion.
Children learn more from their peers than from any other combination of sources. Parents, be advised:
Your children are not likely to prosper beyond the aspiration levels of their immediate peer community. When that community is robust and stimulating, however, wonderful outcomes become probable.
- Kids Dealing With Peer Pressure (everydayhealth.com)