I don't know why exactly, but peer pressure never affected me much. At some very young age I decided that I didn't care what other people thought about me, so long as I was happy with myself. I remember that my defiant mantra in junior high was, "The opinions of worthless people are worthless."
In case you were wondering, yes, I was a total nerd. But unlike the nerd stereotype, I wasn't one to longingly gaze at the popular people wishing I could crack the code and become one of them. I do remember thinking they were quite silly and doing stupid things and knowing I wanted no part of it. I also knew that I didn't want for friends anyone who could be so two faced and nasty in public, not that all of them were.
I remember a popular boy asking me out in front of the whole class in grade 8, probably for a joke, and his shock and obvious discomfiture when, without even looking up from my book, I snorted, "In your dreams."
I'm sure he thought it would be impossible for anyone to turn him down.
I remember walking past people I knew in high school, smoking out behind the shop buildings and them calling, jokingly because they knew me pretty well, "Hey Carrien, come on over and have a smoke. Everyone is doing it."
So I laughed and replied, "Yeah, you look really cool right now huddled all together trying not to freeze to death. I'm going inside where it's warm, suckers."
A girl once threatened that I would "get it" after school for refusing to abandon a friend that everyone else thought slept with another girl's boyfriend when I was sure it was slander. (In junior high! No wonder I home school!) I laughed in her face and later that day passed home unmolested. There was no one to carry out the threat. I don't know how I knew so early that the rules of the playground were artificial and didn't matter anywhere else, and so could laugh at them.
I don't know how, and suddenly I wish I did. I want my children to have the same ability to sift through the debris of public opinion and ignore the things that don't matter, to not be swayed by crowds or peers or anything that doesn't ultimately matter. But I'm not sure how to give it to them.
Was it simply genetic? Did the inherent stubbornness of my Irish and Mennonite blood mix together to make me this way? Was it because I was an eldest child? Was there some sort of genius parenting that went on that I don't remember?
My little sister was a self-described chameleon, adapting herself to every situation she was in, gauging her behavior on what would best please those present. She was ever eager to make others happy. At home she played the perfect daughter, at school the fun loving center of things, at parties...well there's a very long story there. She is almost 30 now and is just happily coming into a really solid sense of self and finding the strength that was always there yet not often grasped.
So, what do I do with a girl such as mine, so generous, so concerned with pleasing others and making them happy, so sweet, and so apparently malleable? Though don't let that fool you, there is steel in there when you least expect it. I want her to lose none of these qualities. Yet I worry constantly as she gets older about whether or not she will be strong enough to resist those things I want her to be able to resist. To withstand those who would take advantage of her.
I don't know how to give it to her. I suspect she needs to grow it on her own. But how do I create a childhood for her in which she has the chances she needs to grow that strength. How does one do that?