The new normal is killing our kids
Parents need to be strong enough to resist their own peer pressure
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No doubt, if you’re a parent, you’ve lectured your kids endlessly about the dangers of peer pressure. Why? Because you love them and want what’s best for them, and in today’s world, “what’s best for them” means not following the crowd. In fact, it probably means going in the exact opposite direction.
Also, if you’re honest with yourself, you can likely recall your own experiences at their age and how extraordinarily hard it was to utter that all-important “no” to your friends. Naturally, you want your kids to avoid the same mistakes you made. You want your kids to be independent, stalwart, and brave—even when no one else around them is.
While writing my children’s book Chomp, Chomp, Chomp, I realized that you—yes, you, the parent—are also under immense peer pressure. What if I told you that this peer pressure, if you cave, will eventually percolate through you and impact your children?
Peer pressure on parents today is so pervasive, many might not even realize they are influenced by it. Of course, I am referring to the peer pressure to raise kids according to modern, conventional “wisdom,” which just so happens to have failed. Badly. Nevertheless, parents continue to follow the pack, ignoring the warning signs in fear of their children being ostracized and risking a damaged connection with their children.
Sounds a lot like the kind of peer pressure you warn your kids about, doesn’t it?
Let’s take the most obvious example: cell phones and social media.
Most parents cannot give a satisfactory answer for why their 12-year-olds are on TikTok or Instagram or any other social media platform. These apps distract them from their school, rob them of the joys of childhood—making friends and playing outside—stunt their relationships, and expose them to harmful ideologies, bullying, and, in some cases, predators, all while squandering their precious time.
And what are the pros, you might wonder? Well, there are none. None whatsoever, unless you count the coveted privilege of “fitting in” with one’s peers. But then again, I thought you were against following the crowd? I thought you wanted your kids to be independent?
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has spent the past year or so sounding the alarm about the growing threat cell phones and social media pose to young people. Yet it seems few are listening.
Haidt’s concerns about the dangers of phones are rooted in deeply compelling, troubling research and data. You’d think parents might heed his words. So, why don’t they? Because handing kids unrestricted access to the internet has become so expected—so normal—in today’s world. That is the kind of obedience that parents have succumbed to, abandoning what they know is right in their hearts for the sake of societal obedience. Nobody wants to be that one weird family that eats and plays and reads and prays together while everyone else has their noses buried in a screen. That would be weird! And heaven forbid that we actually talk to each other! Like, who does that anymore?!
There’s just one problem with working so hard to fit in with today’s culture (and it’s a big one): young people today are seriously unhappy. They’re depressed, lonely, unfulfilled, and suicidal. Sadly, that’s what “normalcy” in the 21st century seems to produce. The infamous Olivia Rodrigo who wrote “driver’s license,” which ranked No. 1 as soon as it debuted over two years ago, just came out with a new song “ballad of a homeschooled girl.” In the song, Olivia states, “Each day that I’m alive, it’s social suicide. It’s social suicide, wanna curl up and die. It’s social suicide. It’s social suicide, don’t let me out at night. I’m shocked I’m still alive, it’s social suicide.”
Rodrigo, who is following in Taylor Swift’s footsteps, is the next role model our culture has chosen to put in front of our kids. Her 34 million followers on Instagram reflect the darling of social pressure. She sells out at stadiums worldwide. At a past concert, she spoke out against the overturning of Roe v. Wade, claiming that she is “... devastated and terrified that so many women and so many girls are going to die because of this.” This song and the message that she sends out are exactly what parents are worried about hearing from their children’s mouths. For parents, it’s a lose-lose. Be obedient and risk your child being influenced negatively by culture or go against the grain and feel the pressure of being labeled a helicopter parent.
Returning again to our friend Haidt, we read in the Wall Street Journal that his research tracks a rise in depression rates “all of a sudden” to about the time that Instagram and “selfies” became popular. The pattern holds particularly among teen girls. According to Haidt, these pathologies spiked just as teenagers started spending so much of their time constantly checking social media platforms.
In the end, parents must ask themselves a simple question: Why would they want their kids to be “normal” when that’s what normal looks like these days? Young people are in serious trouble in large part because parents caved to the pressure just to raise their kids like everyone else. And now we’re living in the fallout.
It’s time for parents to count the cost of “fitting in.” If you want your kids to resist the pressure from their peers, it’s time you modeled that same behavior.
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