My daughter has discovered peer pressure. It’s either uplifting or heartbreaking. We are still striving for that elusive middle ground.
On the positive side, peer pressure provides an unbeatable motivational tool. Parents and teachers can’t touch peer pressure. They’re not in the same ballpark, barely in the same sport. Peer pressure pushes kids through psychological walls that ordinarily require far too many sweets and sugary drinks.
Consider my daughter’s art. She takes after her father. She’s sensitive, kind, intelligent and academic, which is teacher-talk for saying she can’t really draw. When she scribbles her family, we are malnourished stick insects. When her father lends a hand and scribbles the family, we remain malnourished stick insects.
Whenever we put pencil to paper, everything ends up looking like malnourished stick insects.
I’m not asking for the work of Monet, but maybe something that doesn’t resemble the work of a monkey.
For a while, ignorance was glorious bliss. My little girl scribbled away happily, neither enslaved nor intimidated by the expectations and competition of others. But the price of maturity can be a loss of pride. Enlightenment brings self-awareness and evaluation.
She has started to compare her work to others and my heart has shoved itself into my throat, robbing me of speech. I don’t know what to say. White lies no longer work. How can I say that my girl’s artwork isn’t inferior; it’s just quirky, offbeat and expressionistic when she doesn’t believe it herself?
She can see. She can reason. All art is subjective except, perhaps, when it’s a family of malnourished stick insects.
Her cause isn’t helped by the fact that her best friend is, naturally, an extraordinarily gifted illustrator who’s only one impeccable sketch away from being picked up by Pixar. While my daughter busies herself with colouring inside the lines of her stick insects, the mini-Monet beside her has knocked out a Japanese anime adventure, complete with engaging characters and a plot twist.
And that is the glorious moment when the priceless endorphins of peer pressure surge through my daughter’s body, driving her to push further and climb higher. During a play date recently, I watched her silently compare her stick insects to her friend’s Oscar-baiting anime. She said nothing at first. She just looked at the two sketches.
“Can I have another piece of paper, Daddy,” she said finally. “I’ll think I’ll do my drawing again.”
She labored over the next sketch, crouching over the paper with her tongue waggling like an excitable dog sticking its head out of a car window.
Her final family portrait wasn’t quite ready to hang alongside Mona Lisa in the Louvre, but the stick insects had given way to perceptible body shapes. She had improved. Peer pressure had pushed her through the fragile glass ceiling of her talent.
Her friend will always be oblivious to her role in inspiring my daughter to do better. But I’ll be eternally grateful. That said, if the kid waves another sketched masterpiece under my nose, this sensitive father might turn it into a paper airplane and sling it out the window.
That’s peer pressure at its finest, the desire to emulate and excel, a stubbornness to keep up with classmates academically and artistically. Such peer pressure is priceless and entirely at odds with the peer pressure of my childhood.
My peer pressure involved playing for West Ham, getting drunk, hanging around street corners and harassing the neighbours, sleeping with girls and getting married at the earliest opportunity.
I had friends who’d accomplished all of the above by the time they were 18 (except for the West Ham bit.) Now that’s some powerful peer pressure (for the record, I failed some and passed others, but I haven’t entirely given up hope of playing for West Ham.)
I tiptoed across the tightrope of peer pressure when I was a kid. I now walk the same line as a father, holding my little girl’s hand as we navigate the positives and the pitfalls together. In her school playground, for instance, she has seen peer pressure inspire bullies. She has also seen peer pressure isolate bullies.
It’s a precarious balancing act. I love peer pressure when I watch her work harder to keep up with the six-year-old Salvador Dali sitting beside her. I loathe peer pressure when I hear that a classmate is being made fun of because he “looks different”.
We’re still learning to juggle between the two.
In the meantime, I’m shamelessly inviting her arty friend around for play dates as often as possible. She only costs me a bowl of cheesy pasta and a blackcurrant juice. She’s so much cheaper than art classes.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His most recent Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island (2012), was a No.1 best-seller and turned into a TV series. His illustrated book series – Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase – is proving popular with children all over the world and is currently being adapted into an animated TV series. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Esquire, Men’s Health, FourFourTwo and Young Parents. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.