Parent Peer Pressure

Dr. Paul Donahue

Peer pressure among parents today is different than it was a generation ago. The peer pressure parents felt used to be about “keeping up with the Joneses,” – i.e. demonstrating that one’s family could buy material possessions like a nice house and a nice car.

Today, though, kids’ achievements have become a status symbol for their parents. Parents now find that their self-esteem is tied to their children’s extracurricular activities, grades, and the colleges they attend

That’s the assessment of Dr. Paul Donahue, a clinical psychologist specializing in family issues, who wrote the excellent book Parenting Without Fear. I spoke with Dr. Donahue by phone recently.What concerns Dr. Donahue most about this trend is it results in parents pushing their children too hard, encouraging them to do too many things.

“If everybody else in your neighborhood is doing kindergarten soccer,” notes Dr. Donahue, “and you know your five-year-old is not particularly interested in getting together with a big group of kids on a Saturday morning, that should be OK for you. You should be able to say, ‘for our child and our family, right now, it’s not going to work.’ But, I think for many people, it’s hard to make that choice.”

This is one of my all-time favorite parenting books!

“I think it takes a lot of courage to be a good parent,” notes Dr. Donahue, “to stick to your own values.” It especially takes courage “to face other grown-ups, to say, ‘this is the way we’re doing things.’ If we say, ‘Sunday nights we have dinners together, and we try to keep weekends pretty clear so we can spend time together as a family rather than doing organized activities,’ that can take a lot of courage.”

When Dr. Donahue told a mother that, in his family, they try to keep the TV off during the week and “hold the line” against buying new videogame systems, the mother replied condescendingly, “Gee, it sounds like ‘Little House on the Prarie.”

“We all want to be hip, we want to be cool, we don’t want to be the stodgy, old-fashioned parents, so it can be hard to say, ‘these are our values, and we’re sticking to them.'”

Indeed, Dr. Donahue advocates many of these “stodgy, old-fashioned” parenting principles such as placing a priority on family time, especially dinners, giving kids mandated “downtime” and independent play time, and assigning household chores to children.

I do, too. What do you think? And if you agree, do you have the courage to implement them? I’d like to think I do…

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