Children's peers—their friends and schoolmates—are influencing them at younger ages today, but parents can counteract even negative exposure with interaction and good communication.
"I see the effects of peer pressure every day. As a preschool director and teacher, I observe children's play and consult often with their parents," says Susie Kohl, author of five parenting books, including The Best Things Parents Do.
Marketing and advertising helps make peer influence more prominent. "The deregulation of laws allowing marketing to young children on television has resulted in observable differences in children's play, especially boys. Young boys who are exposed to TV usually act more aggressively and their play usually relates to super-hero figures. They also like to bring the latest toys and cards to school. Consumerism is somewhat less obvious in the play of young girls because we don't see the increased aggression," says Kohl, who is also a parent educator and college instructor in child development.
As kids become more social, usually around the age of four, they often crave the approval of children of the same sex in their preschools. "There may be a push to get Barbie or Batman lunch boxes or a particular backpack," she says.
Involved parents can make the difference. "Parents who spend time playing with their children every day "immunize" them to a certain extent by keeping their relationships strong. When children have to look to other children for comfort, peer pressure becomes more influential," Kohl says, adding that turning off the TV helps preserve children's innocence and the individuality of their play.
Parents should also set limits on purchases. "This helps children see that friends can accept them even if they don't have the latest clothing or backpack," she notes.