Tuesday, October 2, 2007

DCMM: Peer Pressure Starts Young

My almost six-year-old son Sam loves to get his hair cut. When he was younger he would often claim, "My hair is too big. I need a haircut." These days he just pulls the hair on the top of his head as far skyward as he can explaining that it is clearly too long.

The reason he likes haircuts so much is that I always take him to Cartoon Cuts. At Cartoon Cuts they get to sit in front of their very own TV while their hair is cut, there are some toys in the waiting room, and there is always a lollipop after. He's never refused a haircut.

But the reason he wanted his most recent haircut was different. He wanted this haircut because a kid in his kindergarten class told him Sam couldn't come to his birthday party unless he got it.

My sweet little boy was succumbing to peer pressure. His "friend" J apparently didn't like his hair and had brought it up more than once. First I launched into a diatribe about "you should get your hair cut because you want to—not because J wants you to." ("Can we stop talking about this?" Sam asked.) Then I tried to take him to get his hair cut. Unfortunately his four-year-old brother threw up in the car on the way there so we had to turn around to come home. Even with his brother sitting there stripped of his clothes and with the car reeking of vomit, Sam still wanted to go to Cartoon Cuts. He was heartbroken when I said no.

That was Friday. We were finally able to go on Monday afternoon, and Sam was so happy. And today Sam told me that J said "Great!" to his haircut.

It's a fine line, I think. I don't want Sam to get his sense of self-worth from what other kids think of him, but I don't want him to be the weirdo with the bad haircut either. I remember those kids from elementary school. They weren't accepted then and for the most part, they weren't accepted in junior high or high school either. That's not right, but it's real.

Sam's so young, and he just started kindergarten. I'm not sure how to talk to him about stuff like this yet. I don't know if he gets the concepts. And even if he did, I'm not quite sure he's mature enough to pick the right thing over the easy thing. He badly wants to belong.

Haircuts are not a big deal. But it's a short walk from haircuts to fit in to wearing baggy pants to fit in to driving drunk to fit in. I know that's not going to happen next week, but it does frighten me. I want to lay the foundation now so that he has the confidence and the strength later to stand up for himself—and for others.

So here's my question to those of you out there with older children (or those of you who are wise beyond your children's years): How do I teach my son to think for himself and resist group thought?

Jean also worries at Stimeyland.

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