I've read articles and even had people ask me how our kids will ever learn to get along in the world without the apparently essential experience of socialization in school; how they'll respond to challenges like peer pressure and negotiating other social situations. For all that we're told as parents to watch out for negative peer pressure, we're also conditioned to rely on positive peer pressure, and somewhere along the way most people just come to accept that of course kids, especially teens, will succumb to peer pressure.
Lately, I've really struggled with my feelings about one of Andy's friends, and this child's influence on Andy. I've heard from others, and observed myself, some very undesirable behavior from this friend. I'm not usually one to limit or prohibit friendships, but I've found myself concerned, because it seemed Andy was oblivious to his friend's actions. I've been concerned how that friendship could cost him other friends, the guilt by association aspect, and even that Andy might be swept up in some of the negative behaviors.
Yesterday, he asked about making time to hang out with his friend. In addition to having already made other plans, I wasn't really up for having this conversation with Andy. I explained a bit about my concerns and offered him a short visit, with conditions. I didn't really feel good about it, but felt it was the best I could do.
A few minutes later, Andy said "that's okay, we can skip it. I don't have to see him tomorrow." He sounded so defeated and sad. I felt awful, so I sat down with him and opened by telling him I could see that this really was important to him, and I'd like to hear how he felt.
Andy said, "I don't give into peer pressure. I follow my own flow. I do what I want to do. There have been times I didn't like it when [his friend] fights with someone. I tell him 'don't escalate things, just do something else'. He doesn't always listen to me, but I do say it. Sometimes I just walk away. I don't do things just because of peer pressure."
Wow! Just wow! Here I've been watching interaction between Andy and his friends and taken his responses to them - his quietly just not doing what he doesn't want to do - as missing social cues, as Andy being in his own head and oblivious to what's happening around him, when really it's his way of not caving in to peer pressure. Andy states his position, and if others don't hear him, he just walks away and does his own thing.
Clearly, I'd underestimated Andy, and I admitted to it. I told him I could see that he was hurt that I hadn't trusted him to be able to handle this. I apologized for not seeing that he's very capable of dealing with peer pressure and said that I'd trust him to come to me if he needed my help.
I've always known Andy walks to his own beat. Andy lives a life that is entirely, authentically his. He wears what is comfortable for him, pursues his own interests, plays with the toys that interest him (whether or not they're popular), has an amazing imagination and really is very thoughtful. What I hadn't noticed is how much Andy has grown, and how very aware and thoughtful he really is. He's finding his own way in the world and I'm so happy I have the opportunity to watch him as he does it.