Under Pressure

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

I was homeschooled for just one year. It was third grade, and my mom was homeschooling my fifth-grade brother simultaneously. We usually completed our work side by side at the kitchen table. I have mostly pleasant memories of the experience, but I remember how hard it was not to compare my own progress with my older brother's - particularly the speed with which he completed his assignments.

To a third grader, my brother was writing at lightning speed. I wanted to write fast, too. So I did. My penmanship was terrible, but I got faster. It's a good thing we live in a computerized world, because to this day my handwriting could be mistaken for a distracted grade-school student's scribbles.

As a parent, I've been surprised to learn that peer pressure starts even earlier than third grade. My son, Liam, is now in first grade, but I noticed his acute awareness of his peers the very first week of kindergarten. When we couldn't find his Superman lunchbox and attempted to substitute a generic, navy blue lunch bag, he was devastated. When we dressed him in solid-color T-shirts, he complained they weren't "cool," meaning they didn't have any TV/movie/video-game characters on them.

At home, Liam loves to eat Go-Gurt - those squishy packets of yogurt with cavity-inducing flavors like cotton candy and berry lemonade. But whenever I packed one in his school lunch, it always returned home with him. He would tell me he didn't have time to eat it. After a while, I asked him if there was another reason he wasn't eating his yogurt, since the whole tube takes about 9 seconds to eat. "Well..," he said, hesitating, "I never see any of the other kids eating yogurt."

Often, like the yogurt incident, Liam is putting the pressure on himself. Other times his peers are introducing him to previously unknown aspects of the world - aspects I wasn't ready to reveal to him quite yet. Over the summer he told me how a friend introduced him to something called the "F-word." Fortunately he had never heard of such a thing; to Liam, the whole idea of it sounded exaggerated and unbelievable. But seeing him wrestle with such an ugly concept put a hairline fracture in my heart.

Peer pressure isn't always bad. Last year, virtually every boy in Liam's class was talking about and bonding over Minecraft. I still don't fully understand the appeal of this video game. (Fortifying my own home takes enough time and energy; I have no desire to Creeper-proof a pixelated version.) But I downloaded it onto the family iPad just the same because it was relatively inexpensive, and I didn't want to deny Liam the chance to bond with his classmates over a harmless and admittedly creative game.

I'm typically not a fan of the "little people, little problems; big people, big problems" axiom, but it probably applies to some of this. The stakes are pretty small when it comes to Minecraft and superheroes. It'll get more serious as he grows. My hope is that Liam retains his honest disposition when our heart-to-heart conversations about peer crises involve things weightier than Go-Gurt.

-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer who doesn't even want to think about the peer pressure his younger daughter will soon face.