We all remember the days of wanting to fit in and make sure others liked us. Some of us still even feel that way as adults. But despite our need to be liked and accepted, we need to teach our children that they should never do anything they're not comfortable with just to keep a friend.
I learned this lesson very early and hope to someday pass it on to my daughter. Here's what happened to me. Back when I was just 12 years old and in 6th grade, my group of friends decided to take up smoking. On recess, we all headed to the back of the school grounds where no one could see what we were doing. One of my friends lit up a cigarette and began to pass it around. I politely refused. I was not comfortable smoking because I knew it wasn't good for my health. My friends insisted and tried to convince me to try it. Although I wanted to be accepted and fit in, I still refused. Then one girl told me that if I wasn't going to smoke, then I couldn't be part of their group. Again, the temptation was there. I didn't want to lose my friends. I liked my friends. I had fun with them. But something deep inside of me knew -- even at a young age -- that anyone who pressures you into doing something, or doesn't accept you for who you are, isn't a true friend. So, I made one of the hardest decisions of my young life. I chose to walk away.
I remember the shock on my friends' faces when I still refused to smoke, knowing that I would no longer be friends with them. I still can feel the sadness in my heart and the tears in my eyes when I turned away from girls I considered to be my best friends. It wasn't easy, but I knew I was doing the right thing. I was staying true to who I was. I valued my own identity and trusted my own judgment. And I would do it again in a heartbeat! What I learned that day was that those girls didn't really value their friendship with me. They just wanted to look “cool” and be popular. They didn't care about me as a person. They wanted me to be who they thought I should be instead of who I really was.
I know my daughter will be faced with a situation like this one day. And I sincerely hope she follows her instincts instead of the crowd. As parents, I think it's important to teach our kids from an early age to trust their instincts. Peer pressure starts quite young and continues into early adulthood. Our children need to be ready to face the pressure and make smart choices. The message I will share with my daughter is this: No one knows what is right for you except you. If something someone else is doing feels wrong or goes against what you believe in, by all means don't do it. If that person is a true friend, he or she will accept any decision you make. True friends won't pressure you. They won't threaten to end your friendship. They will stand by you because they like you for you. When it comes down to it, that's all we really want anyway: to be liked and accepted for who we really are.