How to Raise Courageous Children

by Jennifer Dryden

Over the years numerous studies regarding peer pressure have been conducted. In one particular experiment, a group of doctors wanted to study the ways group pressure influenced young people.

In order to study this, the doctors invited 10 teenagers into a room and told them they were going to evaluate their “perception” to learn how each student could “see” the front of the room from where they sat. In reality, all the people in the experiment were very close to the front of the room and could see quite easily. What the doctors were actually studying was not the eyesight of the students, but rather the effects of the group pressure. The participants were shown cards with lines of three different lengths, and they were to raise their hands when the  doctor conducting the experiment pointed to the longest line.  What one student didn’t know was that nine of the people in the study had been told to vote for the second longest line. The experiment began, and the doctor held up the first card and pointed to the line which was clearly shorter than the other. All nine students cooperated and raised their hands. The person being studied looked around in disbelief because it was obvious that this was not the longest line. However, everybody seemed to think this line was longer, so he carefully raised his hand along with the rest of the group, telling himself, “I must have not been listening to the directions. I must have missed the point. I better do what everybody else is doing.” The researchers then gave the directions again and continued with the experiment. It was simple! They held up another card, and again, nine people voted for the wrong line. Confused by this situation and growing tense, the student raised his hand once again with the group. Over and over, he continued to vote with the group, although he knew they were wrong.

This study and this man are not unusual. In fact, more than 75 % of the young people tested acted the exact same way. They did not have the courage to say that the group was wrong when it was quite clear. Another interesting point revealed in the study was that if one other student recognized the correct line, the chances greatly improved that the student being studied would also do what he thought was right.

As educators and parents, we need to be intentional in teaching our children how to be courageous and resist peer pressure. The scriptures tell us to be “strong and courageous” more than 20 times. Here are some practical tips to consider in order to raise children who are strong and will stand for what is right rather than go along with the crowd:

  • Have clear values. Discuss your family values and relate these to the scriptures and real life situations they will face, such as bullying, lying, and cheating.
  • Help your child identify peer pressure situations and discuss the stress that accompanies the peer pressure. Children enjoy hearing about their parents’ experiences growing up. Share times when you felt swayed by peer pressure and how you dealt with it. Role play possible ways to respond in situations before they ever happen. Teach your child to make eye contact and appear confident in social situations.
  • Give your child praise when he is courageous and stands up for what is right.
  • Talk with your child about choices. Help him see that choices have consequences, both good and bad.
  • Offer forgiveness when they make mistakes.