Photo Credit: Jewish Press

And on still others, the message read, “Join your fellow citizens in helping to save the environment,” followed by information that most of their fellow hotel guests actually do re-use their towels.

Guess what. The study concluded that, “compared to the first messages, the final social message increased towel reusage by an average of 34%.” This means that many people decided that they will re-use their towels, even if they’re staying at an upscale hotel, simply because they were informed that this is what other people do. If everyone else is doing it, they figured, so will I. Peer pressure, pure and simple.


I present you with this research data not because it’s interesting or cute, but so that you will fully appreciate the significance of the power of peer pressure. Cockroaches and towels notwithstanding, what does this have to do with you and your child?

Let’s explore the topic as it affects our community. I’ll be the first to tell you that the effects of peer pressure can sometimes be wonderful. Our Sages call it, “kinas sofrim,” a form of envy that challenges us to achieve greater heights. Is your yeshiva bochur impressed with his friends who are wholesome and sincere? Does he suddenly want to dress more yeshivish or observe a higher standard of kashrus? Consider yourself blessed. Does your teenage daughter want to babysit the little ones so you can properly clean for Pesach because that’s what her friends do before Yom Tov? If so, you are a lucky mother. You have the zechus of having wonderful role models for your children who are influencing them for the good.

The problem arises when the peers are not all you would have liked them to be, and your child is facing some strong pressure to conform to standards that he knows are not acceptable or, at best, can be found in the murky ‘grey area.’ Is your daughter’s level of tznius threatened because of her new friend’s manner of dress? Is your son being exposed to music you do not approve of by his bunkmates in camp? Did your daughter stop studying for her tests because all the other girls would rather go for ice cream after school? And finally, is it only a matter of time until your innocent yeshiva bochur is going to be offered his first cigarette?

Can we sit with our children all day long and shelter them from these negative influences? Of course not. But we can teach them how to handle the sticky situations and the difficult decisions that will inevitably come their way. And we can build up their self-esteem and self-assurance so that they will know that it’s okay to say ‘No.”

The best way to fight negative peer pressure is to build competence skills in our kids. Children should learn two critical skills. They are “refusal assertiveness (i.e. saying ‘No’ to that cigarette), and good decision making (i.e. ‘What are my best alternatives in this situation?’)

A study cited in the journal Addictive Behavior demonstrated that children who were taught to develop these skills were significantly less likely to ‘follow the crowd’ in terms of negative behavior. The message to us is clear. Let’s teach our children to resist peer pressure when they have to. We don’t have to sit with them all day or worry about the social influences they might encounter. We just have to give them the tools to handle them.

I think about this whenever I meet a family that is involved in kiruv in some remote location. I always wonder how these children stay so wholesome and pure. Many of them attend the local day school, where they are surrounded by children from limited religious backgrounds. Yet you barely ever hear of these ‘kiruv’ children being influenced negatively by their peers.

I’m convinced that this is because their parents have instilled these competence skills in these kids, and taught them how to resist the peer pressure. As one mother comments, “My girls learned at an early age that we have our own set of standards. At 6, they knew that they couldn’t participate in the class birthday party. At 12, they understood that they can’t go to movies with their friends. Following the crowd was just not an option for them. They were the Rabbi’s daughters and they knew what was expected of them.”

The rest of us would be wise to learn a lesson from these intrepid moms. I have lots of clients who call me regarding these issues, asking for advice on how to handle the difficult challenges of adolescence and the teen years. I invite my readers who wish to discuss this topic to contact me as well. The following are just a few pointers which I would like to share with you.

First of all, keep the lines of communication open. Be ready and available to your child at all times, and make it clear that he or she can discuss anything with you.

I also think it’s a good idea to be proactive. If you know that there are social issues in your child’s school don’t wait for your child to approach you first. Be direct and open and talk about it now. Say, “I heard there are some boys in your class who are giving the Rebbe a hard time. Is it affecting your learning as well?”

Role playing has been an effective tool in bringing the message home. You could pretend to be the youngster and he can play the role of the older bochur who is offering you a cigarette. When he tries to make his offer, you firmly refuse. Then you can switch roles and have him practice saying no. It will be an eye opening experience for him.

Finally, our children are taught from a young age that they must be polite at all times. Now, we have to teach them that occasionally it’s okay to be rude. Let your daughter understand that if a friend is trying to cheat off her on the math exam, it’s okay to ask the teacher to change her seat. And if the whole group is engaging in a juicy lashon hara session, it’s okay to object or to walk away.

Ultimately we need tremendous siyata d’shmaya for our children to maintain a healthy measure of social independence and to resist negative peer pressure. The best advice of all, of course, is to daven every day on their behalf. Let us ask Hashem to keep our children out of harm’s way and give them the strength of character to remain firm and strong.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at [email protected].