Like every parent of an incoming junior-higher, I’m filled with excitement and anxiety for what the future holds for my son. I think about the friendships he’ll form, the rush of his first crush, and the scary and difficult decisions he’ll someday have to make. It’s no secret that the stakes are higher now. He knows it. I know it. We all know it.
As a mom and a mentor, I’ve thought a lot about the tools and lessons I’ve given my son. I’ve wondered if they were enough. I worried they didn’t adequately translate. I questioned whether I said too much or too little. Sure, Boy Wonder and I have talked openly about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. We also discussed negative influences and peer pressure, but when push comes to shove and his pride is on the line, will he possess the courage and strength needed to protect his own best interests? I wish I knew for sure, but in the absence of that guarantee, I’m focusing on the value of developing his personal leadership skills.
Because self-leadership encompasses personal identity, self-regulation, and individual insights, it felt like the logical place to start. A kid who’s learned to trust his instincts, decipher right from wrong, and hold firm in his beliefs is a kid who’s equipped to resist negative pressures. While the journey to self-leadership takes a little time and energy, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Take a look at 7 simple ways I’m working I’m working with my son to develop the personal leadership skills needed to resist peer pressure.
1. We discuss his future.
While it’s a little early to have it all figured out just yet, my son is excited about his future — whatever greatness it brings. He’s excited about learning more about what’s available to him and his potential for future success. Kids who possess at least a vague idea of their bright future ahead are more likely to resist negative influences that have the potential to stand in their way.
2. We talk openly and regularly.
Not every conversation I have with my son is deep and meaningful, but they don’t have to be. As long as my son knows that I’m available to talk on his schedule and on his terms, he’s more likely to confide in me when personal challenges present themselves.
3. We discuss the whys and hows.
Yes, underage drinking is bad — but why? Just say no. OK, but how? It’s not enough to talk in absolutes without taking the time to explain. Because our kids are capable of understanding the unfortunate realities of poor decisions, I’m working to provide my son with information and tools to protect his own interests.
4. We developed a plan and practiced a script.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, our kids will one day find themselves at a moral and ethical crossroads. I’ve developed a series of avoidance tactics and responses for my son to use whenever he needs to escape a difficult situation:
I can’t, my mom will ground me for good.
I can’t go, my parents track my phone.
If I get caught doing __________, I won’t be allowed to ____________.
Nah, it’s cool. No thanks.
Oh man, I was supposed to be home 20 minutes ago! Later!
5. I play the bad guy.
I’m perfectly fine with assuming the role of the “bad guy” if it helps my son avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
6. I empower him.
I’ve learned there’s no better way to strengthen self-leadership in my son than to trust him with tasks and responsibilities that actually matter. Whether my son is now more responsible for his own self-care or babysitting his younger brother, his personal successes go a long way in building self-confidence and solidifying his personal worth.
7. I entertain his opposing viewpoint.
I used to think parenting would be so much easier if my son would stop questioning the reasons behind every single rule I put into place, but I now realize that this kind of independent thinking might be his greatest asset when it comes to self-leadership. When I listen (and I mean really listen) to his opposing viewpoint, I’m showing him that his thoughts and opinions are valuable. By encouraging my son to speak his mind, he gains confidence in his ability to question inappropriate behaviors and hold steadfast in his beliefs.