While teachers and staff can’t control the creation and distribution of negative peer pressure in a school, they can employ methods that mitigate its effects.
You can achieve a less stressful and positive school environment by focusing on positive peer influences, establishing safe places, and encouraging open communication between staff and students. Here is a deep dive into how these positive factors can guide children away from negative peer pressure.
Method 1: Focus on positive peer influence
While negative peer pressure is a common issue among children, kids can also experience positive peer influence. An example of positive peer influence is when students form study groups for particularly stressful classes, encouraging each other to focus on their education by helping or tutoring each other.
Another form of positive peer influence is dissuading others from gossiping — a common occurrence in schools. As a teacher, you can address gossip at its root without shaming your students in the process, helping them think differently. For example, a child may start gossiping by stating “Did you see her hair yesterday? It was so dirty!” Offering a different perspective by stating, “Maybe her shower was broken,” can help children become more empathetic and open-minded in their interactions.
Other ways to focus on positive peer influence include encouraging healthy relationships with peers who also have positive interests, such as getting an after-school job, saving money for a big purchase, and discouraging illicit or risky behavior.
Method 2: Establish safe spaces
Returning to school can be stressful for any student in today’s world with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial tensions, and other stressors such as bullying. It might be difficult to process the events that occurred over the past few years as an adolescent, so creating a safe space is crucial to learning in a positive school climate.
You can implement safe places in many different ways. In the classroom, a small nook can be a safe place where a child can go to gather their emotions and calm down. Similar to other safe sites and resources, conscious discipline is a social-emotional learning program that walks a child through three steps: I calm, I feel, and I choose. The process begins with the child feeling upset and going to a safe place. They then take breaths to calm down and identify their feelings. Lastly, the student uses a self-regulation activity (e.g., journaling).
Safe places may also encompass the school counselor’s office or be demonstrated through active listening as a teacher. Students should feel safe when they’re at school and able to speak to their teachers or counselors openly. To help those who struggle to communicate, adults should know the signs something is wrong.
Method 3: Train staff in open communication
No child wants to feel left out of a peer group, so avoiding peer pressure can be difficult. Teachers, aids, and staff can work with their students on role-play activities that mirror a negative peer pressure situation they might face. Staff and the students can then create a plan to keep students from feeling lost or like they need to give in.
Additionally, cultivate and encourage open communication between staff and students to create a positive, comfortable environment, and establish procedures for handling bullying situations and sensitive topics.
Students will spend a lot of their time in the school atmosphere, so being aware of your surroundings and noticing when something doesn’t seem right is a good indicator of when to step in or communicate with students.
There is no way to avoid peer pressure, but being a positive influence on students and creating a positive atmosphere can help them to make the right decision. For information, referrals, and additional resources turn to Wellspring Center For Prevention offices at 732-254-3344.
Photo by Stanley Morales