When the other middle school kids go low, you want your kid to go high. You want your kid to be the one to stand up to the bully or to say, “No thanks, that (insert risky behaviour here) is dumb.”
But high school is the time when peer pressure hits an all-time high, intersecting with a child’s deep need to belong. For writer Jennifer Underwood’s daughter, that led to a petty theft from the corner store. As Underwood, a mind-set and development coach, writes for The Washington Post, the situation wasn’t particularly serious — but it was the perfect opportunity to start talking about boundaries, integrity and personal responsibility.
Conversations about boundaries, integrity and personal responsibility can come off like eye-roll-worthy lectures, though. So instead, Underwood opted to teach her daughter how to be the “big rock” in the river.
“Imagine standing on the edge of the river, and throw a small pebble in. Watch it. Does it stay right where you throw it, or does it move? Does it start to flow down the river? Get pushed around? If you walked through the river to where the pebble is, would your feet displace it? Kick it up and move it?
What feels stronger to you: the river or the rock?”
“The river,” she answered, as most of us would.
“To the pebble, the river is stronger. But look again at the river. Do you see any big rocks, or boulders that are buried in the mud and stick up out of the water? Is the water moving them?”
“No, the water moves around them. They don’t move at all. They are too big.”
In the months after the candy-stealing incident—and as other middle school social drama periodically unfolded — Underwood used this metaphor to talk with her daughter about becoming immovable in the face of influence and pressure. A big rock digs deep into the mud and stands its ground; a small rock allows itself to be swept up in peer pressure.
I like the imagery of this metaphor because it allows kids to visualise how doing the right thing actually makes them stronger.
She will not always pick the right path. She will not always make the right choice, but she understands the difference, and she knows she has a choice. Knowing that is her power. It is the place from which confidence and boundaries grow.
It’s not an overnight fix in which they go from being totally influenced one day to fiercely independent the next; instead, they can gradually imagine themselves become bigger and bigger over time, from a pebble to a medium rock to a boulder.