Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Princess and Peer-Pressure

If it's very painful for you to criticize your friends - you're safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that's the time to hold your tongue. ~Alice Duer Miller

I remember the playgrounds at two different elementary schools. From first through third grade, I went to a school provided for a few small towns in a mostly rural area, except for the lake which was also a summer resort area, and then we moved to a small city where I finished my elementary years. I have to tell you that I was not prepared for the culture shock.

In those earlier years, the worst part of the playground was a group of boys who liked to think they owned the monkey bars and would often not let a girl on them, until the teacher would intervene, and there were barely a hundred children on the playground at the same time. The city school playground, on the other hand, had a few hundred children and was brutal with bullies. The language I had heard from my father, but I found it shocking to hear from such young children openly, without fear of the hopelessly outnumbered two or three teachers watching over us.

My daughter is homeschooled so she has not had such experiences. She has had very little exposure to bullies, a few times at the playgrounds of nearby parks, I suppose, but either her father or I have been close by. She knows that the only defense against bullies is simply not to be where they are so that has not been much of a problem. In the last couple of years, the Princess has been struggling the most with peer-pressure from neighborhood children. We did not use that term ourselves as we typically associate it with things like drugs, promiscuity, shoplifting, and bullying.

The Princess was struggling to understand why her friends were pushing her to do things, not bad things, just things she did not feel comfortable trying to do, and she just could not get a handle how to deal with it, regardless of how her father and I tried to explain it. However, she found a book at a consignment sale last spring that is meant for junior high school and up. In it she read about peer-pressure and identified that was what her friends were doing. Basically, children use peer-pressure as just means to try to make another child conform to whatever they want her to do. My child loves to make people happy, but she also has well-defined morals about right and wrong. This, however, was in one of those gray areas and she just knew it made her feel bad no matter what she did.

Outside the Princess likes to climb trees, ride her bike, have picnics, draw with sidewalk chalk, and play make-believe kinds of things. In fact, we currently have a make-believe house in the front yard she built using a few long branches propped by low branches of a tree to mark its corners and door. She is one to believe that she will uncover a dinosaur in the backyard or every piece of trash found in the dirt is evidence of some big mystery to be solved or there is treasure buried...somewhere—I do wish she would find it! The Princess likes some gymnastics (as I did) but she is not highly athletic, she prefers the idea of solitary exercises like lifting weights and stretching (not that we have done either lately). Normally, she is quite confident with her abilities and her interests and our differing lifestyle until...she is told that she is not any fun, or is stupid, or just to go home, or made fun of, or being called a cry-baby.

I have overheard how the girls play when they did not know I was listening, just to see if my daughter was being over-sensitive or even starting these episodes that make her feel rejected later. I know, at times, she can seem to be bit bossy when she thinks someone is doing something wrong—not just wanting her way, but the plainly wrong thing to do—because she is protective and sees rules in black and white with very little gray. However, most of the time, one of the girls just decides she wants things done her way and pressures the Princess. I also admit that my daughter is rather sensitive, she has a strong desire for everyone to be happy, but she is learning that she cannot be responsible for another person's happiness, particularly with moody girls, who change their minds on a whim.

No matter how mean they would get toward her, she did not retaliate. The one thing she had been doing in the past, to add to the problem, was staying too long after it started, empowering them to continue until she was in tears. She would stay because she was more concerned about being impolite or hurting their feelings if she left. I think because her heart works that way, she just does not understand that not everyone else has the same heart. We have spent hours explaining, just like horses and dogs need training, children do as well. Even friends, she must train them that their treatment toward her is not to be tolerated by simply leaving or coming to me so that I can say playtime is over. She had been handling it better for some months now.

Remember her last piano recital in the spring? The Princess was not upset about her frozen moments on stage afterward, instead she talked about her life off-stage. How her friends had been making her feel so belittled those last few weeks, and we think that may have been weakening her self-confidence then. She has asked me often in the past year before, if I had friends who did some of the things that her friends had been doing. I would say that children that did those things were not my friends and that I had very few friends even at her age, but I think friendships are far more important to her.

The Princess has decided she just does not want to play with one of the neighbor girls much anymore, the one who goes to public school. The other homeschooled girl and she get along well together alone. Even her mother has expressed to me over and over again lately how much she just loves my daughter. We talked about some of the issues our girls had been having with the third one and they were much the same, but they live in the same cul de sac so it is more difficult for her daughter to avoid the other, who seems to be, as she put it, manipulative, and her daughter is the youngest of the three, two years younger than the Princess.

The public school girl has been calling almost every day during the Christmas break to play but the Princess declines. I had been dealing with the mixture of emotions it stirs in me: sadness that she ever would need to feel that way, happy that she was regained her self-confidence, proud that she recognized she would do well without friends like that, and more.

She is finally learning how to build and hold in place those precious boundaries necessary to have good and healthy relationships. It has been painful for her and so very painful for me to watch for the past two years, but I also know it is a necessary step in her growing up and I am thankful that she had so many more years to enjoy childhood without such pressures than most children in schools do. She has a very sweet and kind heart, and she is now beginning to guard it on her own in a way that is honorable and becoming of a young lady.

~ My Lord, please continue to guide my daughter to make good decisions and live a life in honor of You. ~

1 comment:

  1. I read this a couple of days ago but did not feel well enough to comment.

    Star had a lot of trouble about this age also ~ & like the Princess she is a people pleaser & likes to be liked. Unfortunately her answer was to turn round & snot the trouble makers ~ in her case a little boy she had known all her life. His problem was he was jealous of her homeschooling & that we rocked up to the school for the interesting activities. I see his point but then we were hardly to blame for him being in school.

    It took a lot of time & some maturing on both children's part to resolve it. Our children too go through various trials to develop their character. The Princess is blessed to have you to hep & guide her through this process. Poor Star had me & if it was around when I was a child I completely missed it. I so tend not to pay attention to what's going on around me!


Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.