Sunday, March 17, 2013

Peer pressure


published 25 January 2013, MST, page A5
I was asked to speak in front of a roomful of high school freshmen on the topic of peer pressure. The gig is on Monday and I still have no idea how it is going to turn out.
It's a subject of importance in that age group, I understand. Adolescents are in that special place when they are no longer children but not quite grown-ups yet. Others expect them to behave better than grade school kids. We expect them to save some money out of their allowance, for example, or work independently on their projects.  And yet they still cannot do many things that their college-age ates and kuyas are allowed to do. They cannot go to parties or stay out after dark.
There was a time when the word "barkada"' (clique) had a negative ring to it. A child who is “nababarkada” is distracted, not studying hard, uncommunicative with family members. He or she spends way too much time with friends who would likely be bad influences on them. "BI"  another buzzword. People who are BI would pressure you to do things you are not supposed to do.
Over the years we've learned that "barkada" is not necessarily a bad term. The lucky ones discover that the "barkada"' as a unit endures, through college and careers and marriages and children. These friends, then as now, whip us into shape and call us out when we are out of line. That's also peer pressure.
The issue is seen as one of special importance to 12- to 14-year-olds because it is during this stage when they may not yet be self-aware and are thus vulnerable to external influences. Their values, convictions and personal choices may not yet be too obvious, or are just being formed. The slightest interference could sway them whatever way.
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Then again, this is not to say that only young people are vulnerable to pressure and that adults are pressure-proof. One of the most basic of human needs is the need to belong.
News and current events would show that peer pressure is something widespread even among the supposedly mature and educated.
For example, a famous cyclist confessed to millions of viewers around the world that he had taken  performace-enhancing drugs that enabled him to win seven prestigious titles. There is, I think a bigger issue. A more troubling aspect of that confession is how the doping was institutionalized. The entire team doped, and knew about the doping, and there was pressure to keep it all in to maintain a front. Anybody who squealed would suffer consequences.
In government, police and military officials are said to have their own culture of protecting each other. This as they perpetuate age-old practices that, while questionable, they dare not challenge anymore. Talking against somebody in the same circle is seen as treachery. Other officials are privy to the shady activities of their colleagues but do not say a word. Most often, they are also pressured to be part of it. If you can't beat them…we know what comes next.
As a result, the practices are not exposed, much less corrected, because the sense of solidarity is stronger than the sense of right and wrong. That is peer pressure -- being compelled to do something, or at least not say anything and just look the other way. Even grown-ups don't enjoy being the outsider.
We say that in order to help our children cope better with peer pressure, they must enjoy a healthy, communicative relationship with their families.  They must be encouraged, early on, to be more aware of themselves. They must know which things are negotiable and which are not. The key is to build a strong core and make their friends known to their families.
But how must adults deal with pressure in the so-called real world? The same basic principles would be at work. When one has a strong core, peer pressure -- the BI kind -- would not be as menacing.
Teenagers can claim adolescence as their excuse for succumbing to peer pressure. We grown-ups, who must know better, do not have that luxury.
adellechua@gmail.com

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