Over the past year, I’ve been talking with tweens and teens to gather research for my next book, which explores the weird stuff that happens in middle school. I’m amazed by the honesty of students and their understanding of the underlying reasons driving social behaviors. (such as cliques, gossip, chasing popularity, etc.)
For example, let’s think about the middle school dating scene. (I know, you might rather not…but here we go!) Someone NOT in middle school might assume that crushes lead to dating, but there’s more to the story.
When I asked middle school students why kids were dating the responses were consistent and clear:
- “Kids date to seem mature, cool, and to gain social status. Appearance and popularity drive dating.”
- “Kids would rather just hang out with friends instead of date, but they feel pressured.”
- “Kids are ‘dating,’ but they don’t even talk to each other. They just want to say they are dating.”
- “There are a few couples that seem to care about each other and stay together a while, but that’s pretty rare.”
So, most middle school students that start to date do so because of peer pressure, social status, attraction, and occasionally for companionship. Peer and social pressures really come into play in middle school. Combine that with an age group where the desire to fit-in peaks, and we begin to understand the complex social world of middle school.
So what can adults do to help kids navigate peer and social pressures?
- Be a reliable sounding board for kids to process their social world. Ask questions like, “Why do you think they are doing that” or “Do you ever feel pressured to….” to help kids explore the reasons driving behavior.
- Empathize and share times you felt pressured when you where their age.
- Watch movies and/or read books about peer pressure, then talk about it. Common Sense Media offers the ability to search books and films by age range to understand content and themes before watching/reading. Your local library has great resources too!
What other resources have you found useful? Do you have any favorite books or movies that focus on peer pressure? Please share!