A popular teenage whine goes something like this: “But everyone else is doing it!” Everyone else seems to do a lot of things. He stays up an hour later; she watches that TV show. Everyone else always has the latest electronics and the most expensive clothes. As teens, we follow everyone else because we aren’t sure how to be ourselves.
For example, a lot of teenagers conform to the standards set by everyone else when they dress each morning. Unfortunately, everyone else tends to wear tank tops and skirts even in the cold and rainy months, to pay extra for jeans with holes in them, and to favor necklines lower than we are comfortable with. I prefer not to wear any of these. Why? Because my parents encourage me to find my own style, one that fits my personality. I enjoy occasionally running or skipping down hallways with my friends, so my jeans are loose enough to allow such spontaneity. My shirt drawer favors t-shirts decorated with tigers, country artists, or Yoda. And when I dress up, I pull on my Indian half to model embroidered kurtas, skirt and cholee sets, and a draping turquoise and black sari.
Peer pressure rears its ugly head in many areas, not just the wardrobe. In conversation, many teenagers find it easier to say what everyone else says. Even if a kid enjoys science, painting, or politics, he or she rarely brings these topics to a discussion. Instead, teen conversations tend to follow a pattern of TV shows and crushes, because that’s what everyone else wants to talk about.
There's a dark side to all of this, beyond yawn-inducing babble. When teens give up control of conversations, we lose opportunities to establish our own interests. When people, adults and kids alike, start thinking with others rather than deciding for themselves, it’s much easier to do something they wouldn’t normally agree with--after all, everyone else is doing it.
How do you help your teen begin thinking for herself? To start, kids learn conversation standards at home, so when dinner discussions spread from the day’s events to broader topics, they get practice expressing their own opinions. Push your family to talk about more than what's for dinner or how much homework they have. Teens who are comfortable articulating their thoughts will have an easier time staying true to themselves and finding friends with similar ideas.
Another technique is using the popular, but effective response to the “but everyone else is doing it” statement and it goes like this: “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?” It’s simple, but it sends the right message. Many teens benefit from the reminder that they have the power to make their own choices and pick their own clothes. A lot of my friends appreciate parental encouragement to act as individuals by celebrating their rare interests, from ballroom dancing to building catapults.
"Everyone else” isn’t one person or even a group of people: it’s a state of mind. When we allow others’ opinions to dictate how we present ourself, we’re caving to the pressure of fitting in. Encourage your kids to follow their own interests, and they'll be stronger individuals. Just don't be upset when they have their own opinions!