Tanya Enberg: Unexpected Mother


The Spellbinding Power of Toddler Peer Pressure


My son is two and a half. He has never watched the movie Frozen, and until recently hadn’t seen Cars, yet, he’s already a Disney kid.

While influenced by his doting parents, our son is also the product of his pop-culture surroundings. Circulating his orbit is an enormous selection of TV shows, movies, advertisements, products and books, each masterfully designed to sway his young, impressionable mind. And there is another force proving even stronger — his friends.

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Highly social creatures, my son’s peer group of wobbly-legged toddlers have a huge impact on one another.Take the daily naptime ritual at daycare:  how is it possible that a dozen or so children successfully nap in the same room at the same time every day without giggling or bouncing around? It is peer pressure, cut and dried. When everybody else is sleeping, your kid will, too, because there’s nobody left awake to play with. 

A 2012 study in Current Biology confirmed that toddlers succumb to peer pressure. According to the findings, these cherub-cheeked innocents are likely to copy a behavior if they see three other toddlers doing it. This brings us back to the zippy racecar movie, Cars.

My son’s friends are the main reason he knows most of the crew from the famous animated Disney/Pixar film, and they are the catalyst for the obsessive Cars-viewing tear he has been on lately. 

“That’s Mater and Doc Hudson and Lightning McQueen,” he says, all big glowing eyes.

“Huh. Where are you learning this stuff?”

He doesn’t answer. He isn’t quite sure, but I am. It's mob mentality. 

The study found that both chimps and toddlers rely on crowd mentality to help shape their decisions, whereas the solitary orangutan does not. Consider this in adult terms. Mob mentality is why, just a few years back, every other person bought a Canada Goose jacket. Suddenly wearing fur had gone from complete social suicide to socially trendy in the snap of a few celebrity photographs. The instant a crowd of influencers — think Emma Stone and Claire Danes, among many others — began sporting these coyote fur-trimmed jackets, suddenly everyone else was hitching a ride on the trend. 

As a parent, this freaks me out. I am cautious — and nervous — about the power others can have over us, but also aware that it's impossible to live in a bubble. Do you remember the book order forms from Scholastic? A new one arrived in my son’s daycare bin and recently he was leafing through it.

“Who's that, mommy?” he asked, his index finger pointing to a run-of-the-mill looking snowman.

“That’s a snowman. You know that.”

“A snowman?”

“Yes, a snowman.”

“No it’s not, mommy.”

“It isn’t?”

“No, that’s Olaf from Frozen.”

“It is?”

“Yes, mommy, it is.”

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Indeed this was a surprising bit of information. It made me wonder what else the kid knows that I do not. Seems quite a lot. The other night my son and I were snuggling before bedtime when he began singing a song I’d never heard before.

“You sing it, mommy,” he said.

“What is it? I don’t know that one.”

“The Frozen song, mommy. You sing it!”

And so it goes — the primary influencer becomes the influenced.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out who is likely going to be schooled in some nauseating Frozen jingles in the very near future.