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The Suburbanite
  • Adventures in Parenting, Monkey See, Monkey Do

  • My daughter Maggie and I spent countless days at our local park when she was a toddler – previous to her preschool years – playing and learning social skills. As an only child and without any cousins, Maggie needed extra help in the art of making friends, sharing, taking turns and everything else that comes with successful peer interaction.

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  • My daughter Maggie and I spent countless days at our local park when she was a toddler – previous to her preschool years – playing and learning social skills. As an only child and without any cousins, Maggie needed extra help in the art of making friends, sharing, taking turns and everything else that comes with successful peer interaction.
    Mixing fun and subtle lessons while she played at the park (unless she stomped on another child’s sand castle, or pushed ahead in the line for the slide, and then the lessons were much more heavy-handed), my daughter found out very quickly social relationships work best when she acted like the other children. In fact, I encouraged her to do so if the children were age-appropriate and overall “good kids.” The toddler years are the time children start identifying what it takes to fit in. Not that I wanted my daughter to be a clone, or bury every bit of individuality she possessed, but we all must learn how to function in society.
    If you’re a smart parent, you start the lessons as early as possible and teach your child which behaviors you want them to model from their peers. Simple things such as sharing, taking turns, not hitting others with your sand shovel, saying “please” and “thank you,” and  how to make friends were always at the top of my list.
    Maggie learned a tremendous amount during our park days, and most of it came from emulating her peers while I guided her. Of course, I showed Maggie how not to behave if you wanted friends by pointing out: the child who took great pleasure in pouring sand in others' hair even after he had been told “no.” The child who picked her nose, and her friend's noses, as well. The boy who spit wading pool water in all the little girls' faces around him. Not surprisingly, these peers weren't often included in playtime by the children who had been on the receiving end of their mischief. Maggie took note.
    We had a great time, usually, so the lessons were almost non-detectable by my daughter. Once she reached preschool, Maggie already had a good foundation in how to be a friend and how to fit in with her peers. There were quite a few bumps in the road, as you'll have with most children, but overall she knew the “rules” and never lacked friends.
    The game changer in peer emulation seemed to hit recently. Like the age my daughter is now-a middle schooler. The change hasn't been pretty. I have spent countless hours in the past year explaining why so many things kids her age are doing are not acceptable for her. Not now, maybe not ever, as far as I am concerned. No, Maggie isn't getting a Facebook account earlier than 13, or walking around the neighborhood in a pack wearing shorts that barely cover her bottom, or staying up all night long on the weekends, or getting an iPhone and texting everyone she knows. Just to name a few of the things she has asked about “because everyone else my age is doing it, Mom.”
    Page 2 of 2 - I don't care. Which, given my previous feelings on her fitting in socially is ironic, I suppose. I actually said, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do the same thing?” Not a helpful parenting technique when trying to make a point about peer pressure; Maggie looked at me like I had lost my mind. And, maybe I am losing my mind, just a little bit, especially given those ridiculous words left my mouth. It's challenging when faced with the middle school years and struggling to keep my daughter in line with what is healthy, positive and indicative of our family's values. The temptations are great for her, and some of my rules place Maggie squarely outside her peer group, to her great dismay. My hope is she stays close to the peers whose parents have similar values and parenting style as mine. Then, maybe Maggie will feel like she still fits in, and isn't being raised by the cruelest, most out of touch mom on the planet. And, I will feel better knowing she is learning how to resist negative peer pressure and still has friends.
    I've said it before, and I will say it again. Parenting is the most rewarding and difficult job on the planet. If Maggie makes it to eighteen mostly happy, healthy and able to make good choices for her life, I will have done my job well. But, the years between now (at age 10), and then are going to be long and hard, I fear. I think when she graduates from high school, I am having two parties-one for Maggie's graduation and one just for me: a little celebration of making it through eighteen years of challenges, and joys. Until then, I'll take it day by day and pray we get to those parties as painlessly as possible.