How to deal with peer pressure in mask optional schools
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, some schools have chosen to be mask-optional. There are students who choose to keep wearing their masks at school to protect themselves and others, facing peer pressure to remove them.
“While peer pressure with masks is a new issue, peer pressure in childhood certainly is not,” says Dr. Laura Sheets, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Aurora Medical Center – Summit. “This is a great opportunity for parents and caregivers to have conversations with children about peer pressure.”
Children at all ages encounter external pressures when they see people doing something different, explains Dr. Sheets, especially if it is something about which they have heard strong messages.
“It’s important to communicate to children that by making the best choices, not only are they protecting others, but they are protecting themselves,” says Dr. Sheets. “Kids will internalize clear and consistent messages that what they are doing by wearing their masks will keep others safe and will help prepare them to face any peer pressure.”
If they know that what they are doing is helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools and keeping people and their family healthy, children can better understand why masks are so important.
Dr. Sheets recommends that a general principal for any peer pressure is for caregivers to have open and candid conversations with children. This will help prepare children for situations they might encounter and talk about any potential responses.
Start out by talking to your kids about how they may have friends or classmates who have different beliefs about mask wearing who may be facing external pressures of their own, such as from their own friends and family. Dr. Sheets suggests focusing this conversation on what they can control.
“There are steps we as individuals can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Sheets. “Recognize that children may have a difference in opinion and may be experiencing their own external factors from home.”
If we don’t refocus on what we have control over, Dr. Sheets shares that it can be overwhelming for many people.
To talk with your child about COVID-19 and masks, Dr. Sheets recommends addressing in a developmentally appropriate matter by explaining what COVID-19 is and what can be done. Ask your child about what they have heard, seen, and what their experience is at school. Validate their experience by repeating their words, and ask them first before offering suggestions
“Step back, take a deep breath, take comfort in knowing what you can do and that by taking those steps, you are making a big difference,” says Dr. Sheets.
If you or someone you know is struggling with your mental health, reach out to your doctor. You may even be able to do a virtual visit from home or work.
About the Author
“Hannah Koerner is a Public Affairs Specialist with Advocate Aurora Health. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. In her free time, she enjoys biking, snowshoeing, and cheering on Wisconsin sports teams.”