The first time you hold your child in your arms, you make promises to love, protect and always be there to guide him or her. Then reality intrudes.
Unfortunately for us and fortunately for them, things such as school force us to release our little ones for a while and put them in the care of teachers and school administrators, who must oversee several kids at once. Suddenly, our precious bundle faces a must-be-decided-now quandary and finds that mommy or daddy isn't there to make all the decisions. Sometimes the situation is even scary. Challenges face our children in the form of peer pressure, drugs, sex and bullying.
Clinical psychologist and author Dr. John Duffy says: "Parents do need to talk with their kids about bullying, sex and peer pressure. Many parents I've worked with over the years will provide time for a lecture, often a one-time-only lecture. But they will often fail to provide time for ongoing discussion of these topics, which is what children really need. They need to know that we as parents are available to them as guides should they need help navigating the world of peer pressure. I work with teens and tweens. They are at particular risk for peer pressure to participate in sexual activity, drink or smoke pot. Many are bullied in ways we could not have even imagined a generation ago (texting, Facebook). They need parents who can help them in real time. The stronger the connection between parent and child the likelier a parent's word will be heeded and the likelier a parent's limits will be honored."
When you have that all-important conversation, Dr. Fran Walfish recommends: "The most important thing your child or teen needs on his first day of school is to not feel lonely or isolated. It's very important before that first day of school to have encouraged and facilitated play dates and an end-of-summer party or get-together for your kid with one or more friends. Having a buddy is extremely helpful on your first day of school. Talk with your kid about what it takes to be a good friend. Include what feels comfortable and what doesn't. Teach your child to follow her instincts. Most kids know right from wrong. Teach your kid to listen to his internal voice and follow his intuition, not the crowd. I would wait to discuss sex and cyber-bullying and other issues so as not to bombard and overwhelm your child before school starts. Too much talk can raise anxiety when your goal here is preparation and to reduce anxiety."
Keeping the lines of communication open is vital. Your child needs to know that you are willing to listen, discuss his or her experiences and not judge. Learn to listen to your child; don't just lecture him and assume he will do only what you've told him. Lead by example; it's hard to persuade a child not to drink while you're knocking back a frosty mug of beer. Make sure that your child is involved in activities that inspire a sense of belonging; being a vital member of a team will encourage her to feel good about herself. Make sure you know what television shows and movies your child is seeing, and talk with him about the values and situations portrayed.
"I'd position it more as 'making good choices' versus 'peer pressure,' because big picture, if your kid makes good choices throughout life, he/she is setting himself/herself up for success," advises Amy Kossoff Smith, founder of The MomTini Lounge. "I'd advocate sitting down before school to talk about your routine/expectations, and in that context, say that there will be many opportunities to decide what is best for him/her and that you hope he/she will come to you for advice when needed and will make good choices, especially when presented with ideas or opportunities that may not lead to a good outcome."
Tim Shoemaker, the national D.A.R.E. officer of the year, says: "The most important advice for parents is to develop their child's innermost value system and inspire commitment. Commitment is the only thing capable of reliably defeating peer pressure in all situations."