Saturday, November 22, 2014

Positive Peer Pressure

My students are currently working on debates in class, and Annette and I gave them topics which relate to what they're currently studying during their Middle School Issues unit in Life Skills. 

One of the teams was set the task to argue that "Positive peer pressure is more powerful than negative peer pressure."  A lot of them were having trouble with this.  They immediately whined, "How are we going to debate this?  It's not true!  You never see positive peer pressure...only negative."  

Their strong reactions surprised me a little bit.  I could immediately think of times in my own life I'd been influenced by positive peer pressure dating all the way back to high school...but very few times that negative peer pressure has worked on me.  So I've come to this conclusion: it all depends who your friends are. 

When I was in high school, I never touched a drop of alcohol or was tempted to try smoking.  The reason was only partly because I was a "goody goody" with no interest in breaking the rules.  I was also in a group of friends in which doing those things, rather than being "cool," would have probably gotten me shunned from the group.  In our group, you didn't have to rebel to be accepted and loved.  The temptation wasn't there.

I remember the fall of my senior year, during homecoming season when every day on the morning ride to school you'd see a new yard with the trees draped in rolls of toilet paper.  Rather than TPing the house of our favorite teacher, though, MY friends went into my back yard and filmed a short demonstration video entitled "How to toilet paper your own house."  We then dropped off the video (and a few rolls of TP) on the doorstep of our teacher's home.  Breaking the rules wasn't cool.  Being creative and silly and more than a little nerdy was.  

Positive peer pressure has followed me into my adult life, too.  Now, though, it is focused more often on healthy habits: exercise and wellness and eating less chemicals and added sugars.  I can't tell you how many races I've been goaded into signing up for, how many early morning swims I've attended because I know all my friends will be there and will give me a hard time for skipping.  

Just this past weekend, we convinced Michelle to come and run the 10K trail race at the volcano Pacaya, even though she didn’t feel ready for it.  We all knew that she wouldn’t regret the decision.  Beautiful views along the running route, good friends to share the experience with, no pressure to win or even "do well," and a morning of exercise?  What did she have to lose?  I think she’d agree she didn’t regret her decision to come with us. 

And then on Sunday, I was the one on the tail end of positive peer pressure.  I had told my friends a week ago that I was challenging myself to go seven days without eating added sugars.  So on Sunday, Chris asked me how the week had gone.  I told him I hadn’t made it (My excuses: One day dessert was served with my meal, and one day a co-worker brought me a piece of our principals’ birthday ice cream cake and what should I have done?  Treat the kid who was sitting detention in my room to it? LET IT MELT?!?!).  And then they let into a comical shaming so strong that while I was dying of laughter at the time, I may actually go back and complete the 7 day challenge before Christmas this year. 


Positive peer pressure is all around us, if we’re surrounded by the right people.  We convince each other we can do things we never dreamed of.  We look out for each other, encourage one another to make healthy choices.  We support each other. 
I just wish my middle school students were surrounded by such positive energy (or realized it) in their young lives.  

Our group of 10K runners at Pacaya

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