Why We Should Have Mom Guilt Over Peer Pressure

Jacqueline Burt Cote

teen headphonesYou know how you're always having the same argument with your teen, the one where you insist that the only reason she's obsessed with the most obnoxious song on the radio/wants feather extensions for her hair/needs a new iPhone is because all of her friends are doing the same thing? Well, you're probably right, but the fact that your teen gives in to peer pressure might be your fault in the first place. Neuro-economist (yup, apparently there are now "neuro-economists") Gregory Berns figured this out when he gave a bunch of teens brain scans while listening to a variety of tunes they'd never heard before and asked them to rate the songs based on "likability." Then he told the teens what their peers thought about the songs, re-played them, and asked their opinions again. The brain scans of the teens who changed their opinions of the songs based on what other people said showed high levels of anxiety, suggesting stress leads teens to conform.

Hearing this as a parent makes me look at that all-powerful Peer Pressure beast in an entirely new light, which is basically that if my kids feel compelled to follow the crowd, it's fundamentally my fault for not raising them to be strong and believe in themselves, for having so little backbone that they actually experience anxiety over whether or not their opinions about music are valid. To be honest I've always suspected as much, but there's such an air of mystery surrounding the teen psyche that we've kind of been led to believe that their unpredictability is somewhat out of our hands: The tearful mother on Jerry Springer wringing her hands and insisting, "I done everything I could for Amber, but she still grown up to be a crack whore!" To be even more honest, there's probably a part of me that wanted to believe this could be the case: My kids aren't teens yet, but those days aren't too far away, and I have no doubt they'll make all sorts of asinine adolescent mistakes, at which point I'd love to be able to say, "I did everything right, but the Peer Pressure got to her!"

But no parent gets off that easy in the end, and now there are brain scans to prove it. The question is, how exactly do we prepare our kids to weather the teens years with true self-reliance? I'm not sure, but I hope I find out really, really soon.

Do you think parents are to blame if kids can't think for themselves?


Image via Daniel Foster/Flickr

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