Raising kids is hard work, and it has become harder still with social media. No matter what we say or think, others’ perceptions matter, and they influence how we think, dress, react, and parent.
When I was teaching third-year undergraduates, I’d always begin my group psychology lecture with Solomon Asch’s experiment. The Asch experiment is a classic experiment in social psychology which seeks to reveal the extent to which people conform to group pressure.
Asch set out to show that the social pressure from the majority often leads people to conform. Using a lab experiment, he asked groups of approximately seven male students to participate in a so-called “vision test.” Participants were shown a board with a single vertical line on the left side and three vertical lines on the right side labelled 1, 2, and 3 or A, B, and C. One line was shorter, one was longer, and the third was exactly the same length as the line shown on the left. Participants were then expected to choose which of the three lines on the right was the same length as the one shown on the left. The answer was obvious.
However, to analyze the extent to which people conformed, all participants but one had been asked to give the wrong response in some trials. 18 trials were conducted. Participants stated their responses out loud in turn, with the naïve participant being the last to give his answer. In the trials where participants gave the wrong answer, 75 percent of naïve participants conformed at least once, compared to less than 1 percent in the control group where there was no pressure to conform.
Solomon Asch’s experiment was not without its shortcomings. Given that only male university students participated in the study, it is impossible to generalize the results. However, Asch succeeded in showing the extent to which social groups have an impact on behavior.
This experiment never failed to work with my students. What really struck them is how easily they seemed to conform, despite knowing that they did not really believe in the responses they gave.
The funny thing is that parenting works in more or less the same way. We enroll our kids in all sorts of activities because all the other kids are doing them and we’re afraid they’ll get “left behind.” Although we have doubts about their appropriateness, we let our kids play certain games or watch certain movies because their pals have watched them already. We act – and expect our kids to act – in a certain way so as to fit in.
Truth is, we can’t do away with conformism. It’s always easier to do what everyone is doing and besides, not all conformity is bad. It teaches kids how to interact with others and prepares them for the future. Moreover, we live in a social and competitive world so it would be almost impossible to get away with being fully non-conformist. Unless, of course, if your objective is to live as a recluse.
When it comes to parenting, however, there are times when breaking away from the mold can actually make you a happier and more fulfilled parent.
How to become a non-conformist parent the right way:
1 | Redefine what a successful parent looks like
The pressure for parents to be perfect has never been as high as it is today. One study suggests that mothers feel this pressure more, and that the quest for perfection is linked to how they think others judge their parenting skills.
What really matters to you? Are there things you do to avoid rocking the “social boat?” When we put aside our own beliefs and let others define what we should be and how we should parent, we give them more power than they deserve.
When we clearly identify our values, it becomes easier to parent with those values in mind, rather than in response to what we believe others are doing.
2 | Redefine what a successful kid means
You want to raise successful kids. We all do. But what does success mean? Does it mean that your kids should be financially successful? Does it mean they should be able to make it no matter what comes their way? Does it mean they should be artistic? Or does it mean all of the above?
According to some experts, kids are not sufficiently taught to perceive themselves as competent and successful human beings. The experts suggest that:
- Kids must be taught what success really means
- Parents must model the skills they feel their kids will need to be successful
- Kids must be taught to think of themselves as successful people
Being clear about what we want for our kids helps us set great expectations that help them thrive.
3 | Stop striving and start living
The problem with paying too much attention to what we believe others expect of us or of our kids is that we only live partially. It is hard to live up to the expectations of others if those expectations are not perfectly aligned with our own beliefs.
4 | Dare to swim against the current
When participants in Asch’s experiment were asked why they had so readily conformed, many said that they feared they would be ridiculed if they revealed their real thoughts. In other words, they wanted to fit in.
“Wanting to fit in” also dictates many parental choices. Be ready to stand up for your beliefs, even when it means going against the current.
Being a non-conformist parent is not easy but at least it teaches our kids that it’s okay to be different.