Every day, children get messages about how they should look and act

Do you know how peer pressure affects your child?

Every day, in a variety of ways, children are getting messages about how they should look and act—from the friends they hang out with, from the video games they play and from the television shows they watch.

For parents, the challenge is to figure out how to counter the negative influences that come their way.

"A parent does have to make sure they pay attention to what's appropriate," says Dr. Mary Lamia, a clinical psychologist in Marin County and host of Kid Talk with Dr. Mary on Radio Disney in San Francisco/Sacramento.

So what influences kids the most? Children are most influenced by their peers -- the people who tell them in the classroom, on the playground or on play-dates just how well they're fitting in, according to Judith Rich Harris, author of "The Nurture Assumption." Children act a certain way and dress a certain way as a attempt to gain acceptance from their peers, Harris says.

Whether it leads to blue hair or body piercing, peer pressure is a powerful reality and many adults do not realize its effects. Peer pressure can be found in groups as young as age two, when children will do things simply because other kids are doing them or because the kids tell them to. This can effect the child's behavior, social and emotional development, eating habits, play time, and sleeping patterns.

Dr. Mary Lamia

"The No. 1 thing that influences the choices kids make is their desire to fit in with other kids," Lamia says. "Children are self-conscious and they want to fit in and they don't want to feel insecure. They do things that other kids do and wear things that other kids wear in order to be popular."

It may come as a surprise, but parents are often as vulnerable to peer pressure as their children, Lamia says. They want their children to fit in, and may push them to be popular.

"Parents need to be worried when they find themselves succumbing to peer pressure themselves," she says.

And by giving in, parents send a message to their child that they should give in to peer pressure if they want to fit in, whether that be the hottest styles or how to treat other kids.

"Part of the reason bullying happens in school is because adults are tolerating it," Lamia says.