As my son completed his kindergarten year, I began to reflect on the school year. Overall, the school experience was positive for our son and family. However, one thing that I felt unprepared for was navigating peer influence.
Our elementary school experience was different from that of daycare in many ways. In the daycare setting, we were fed updates throughout the day. I knew all of my son’s classmates by name. I spoke with his teachers regularly. I recognized other parents and even got to know some families on a personal level. In kindergarten, I only got a glimpse into my son’s life at school. I didn’t know much about the kids he interacted with on a regular basis, in the classroom or on the bus. I wasn’t privy to every detail of the day, even though my son’s teacher was great about sharing classroom highlights. And as much as I would have loved to connect with other families, I only knew a few personally.
The reality is that now that my son has entered elementary school, I have much less visibility into my son’s daily life. This is the beginning of him truly developing a life outside our home which means contending with more peer influence.
Over the last few months, there has been an ongoing conversation in our home that has centered on technology use and video games. Every student is required to have an iPad, and while I appreciate the use of technology in school, I try to be mindful of screen time. There are certain times I don’t want my son on his iPad, the bus being one of those times, but so many kids use their devices as they travel home. I have found myself having regular conversations about this with my son. He hits me with “everyone else does it,” and I remind him that we don’t always have to do what everyone else does. It’s frustrating for him because he wants to be like the other kids.
My son has also expressed interest in certain video games that his peers talk about and play. After some research, my husband and I decided to say no to those games for now. Coming to that conclusion and explaining our decision to my son was difficult.
The peer influence extends beyond my son and often impacts me as well. On several occasions, I have felt guilty for not doing things that other parents do. For example, several kids received gifts from the Leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day, but he didn’t stop at our house. My kids were furious because they didn’t get a visit. The pressure was real, but in the end, I decided that I wouldn’t feel guilty for something I didn’t want to participate in.
I also remember spending twenty minutes pacing the aisles of Party City trying to decide if I was going to buy party favors for my son’s class. It seemed like every kid with a birthday before him brought favors for their classmates. Again, the peer influence almost took me under, but I decided, in the end, it wasn’t worth it.
These experiences, plus many more throughout the school year, have challenged me to assess our boundaries with technology, be more informed in my decision-making, and affirm our family values. Ultimately, I want to protect both of my children, but I know I can’t shelter them from everything. I know that peer influence will continue to be something we will deal with, but I’m confident that with strong values, clear boundaries, and open communication, we will find our way.