Rise Above Peer Pressure

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Finding true friends and dealing with unwanted pressures are challenges at any age. Where can teens turn for help?

Today’s teenagers live in a far more complex and demanding society than what a lot of us older adults have experienced. My generation generally did not face pressure to use drugs, but today a dizzying array of drugs can be found in and around every high school. (Admittedly, alcohol was misused by teens in previous generations, just as it is today.) In the 1950s it was a rare thing to watch TV, and drive-in theaters were the place to be. Personal computers, HBO and R-rated movies did not exist. Life was simpler and less demanding.

In other ways, though, teens today are like teens of past generations. Let’s focus on this common link: a desire to be accepted by those your own age. This is normal for people of all age groups, but it’s especially important when you are young.

Incidentally, adults reading this know how you feel. We also went through this experience. Teens, let me offer a personal note to parents at this point: Studies show that parents still exert the biggest influence on their children’s lives when it comes to morals and future goals. We dare not let them down. In the meantime, for you young people, there are peer groups to reckon with.

Years past, I often heard this sincere request in a variety of ways: “I don’t understand myself, the way I give in to something other kids are doing. I know it isn’t good, but I have trouble resisting. What can I do to help me and my friends?” If you have this question, there are steps you can follow to help improve your life in and out of your peer group.

Let’s face it. Never in modern history have teens had to face such incredible peer pressure, made far worse by both electronic and print media. The media broadcasts terrible acts of violence, sex and profanity, and some few young people, looking for their day in the sun, pick up on those images and attempt to recreate them. It is a difficult age for the entire family, but even more so for you teens. Let me offer a strategy I have offered to teens over the years. It helped others. It might help you.

Group influence

A difficult thing for young people (and older people too) is to spend time with a group of friends, and suddenly find the group going downhill morally. What can be done in this situation, if anything? Maybe this strategy can help you.

First, be careful about following a crowd whose collective thinking begins to deteriorate. Often groups can get off-track because they act more on emotion than sound reasoning. When a group member assumes dominance among his (or her) peers, most people in the group will follow his influence, right or wrong. Before you know it, he has some of the weaker group members agreeing with him. This can result in what is called “groupthink.”

Groupthink can go wrong very quickly. A self-appointed leader will often suggest something daring and risky in order to elevate himself in the eyes of the group, such as taking drugs, performing some act of violence, vandalizing or engaging in a sex act.

Notice carefully: The leader will seldom risk himself, but will try to push others in the group to take the biggest risks. If you see the signs of this in your peer group, it is time for you to leave. Knowledge is power. Knowing these signs can help you withdraw from a wrong group activity before it gets a full head of steam.

When you see this kind of thing building, quietly remove yourself. Suddenly you remember you have something to do somewhere else. This is a true statement, since you have better things to do with your time in some other location.

If you can leave without saying anything—better yet. Unless you happen to be very persuasive and understand the basics of social psychology, it probably will not help to try to stem the tide of a large group. Occasions exist when a teen can do this, but it is tricky and risky. The better part of wisdom is to step aside quietly and disappear from the group. The Bible tells us bad company can corrupt good character (1 Corinthians:15:33).

What is a true friend?

What is your definition of a true friend? If your friends lead you into breaking the law and doing harm to others, they are not good friends. A true friend cares about your welfare. A true friend will not lead you astray. A true friend will communicate with you in a way that upholds your standards. A true friend will protect your reputation when you are not around to defend yourself. A true friend respects you and your beliefs. Does this describe your friends?

The Bible speaks of choosing friends carefully: “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul [life]” (Proverbs:22:24-25).

Jesus Christ chose His friends carefully—they were the ones who kept His commandments (John:15:14). God’s commandments are designed to protect everyone. This is the best place to start when choosing your friends. Search for friends who respect the morals found in the Bible, based on the Ten Commandments.

Remember the definition of a true friend, and be careful not to assign the word friend to just anybody who comes along. Apply critical thinking when selecting your friends. Obviously, we cannot be too picky or we might wind up with no friends, but do look for good character in your friends.

The value of good character

Good character should be at the top of your list when choosing a true friend.

The Bible says we should choose to have a good reputation above great riches (Proverbs:22:1). We live in a world that is turning more and more to moral relativism. Moral relativism is an attitude that says, “I’m OK, and you’re OK, no matter what we think and do, as long as it does not harm the other person.”

A self-appointed leader will often suggest something that’s risky in order to elevate himself...

Do not be fooled. Everything we think and do affects others, directly or indirectly. For example, if you watch TV violence or sex, this will become a part of your thinking and will weaken your resolve. On the other hand, if you read or watch positive things, it will be easier to remain strong when your peer group goes wrong.

Do not be deceived by someone who tries to convince you morals are a relative thing. Follow God’s advice from the Bible when it comes to the value of good character.

Since we interact so closely with our friends, they will have a strong influence on our lives. It makes good sense to pick our friends carefully. Remember, they will help to shape the rest of your life.

What is good character? The word good comes from the word God. So, good character stems from God who is our truest friend. This same God is our creator, the One who made us. He gave us a manual to read and follow, one that always tells us the truth about any situation in life, showing us the best way to live our lives. The Bible is filled with advice on developing good character, and how to spot good character in others.

The best advice I can give you is to begin reading the Bible on the subject of good character. This is one of the greatest values of life. Learn it now and it will protect you through your teen years, and enrich your adult life. What you do today lays the groundwork for tomorrow. Do not treat this advice lightly if you want the best life has to offer.

Let God be your guide

I have talked a lot about God in this article as the source for choosing good and true friends. Without God, you and I would have nothing worthwhile, and that includes good friends. No, you are not going to find a good friend in every school hall or on every corner of your block. But you can become a good friend to others and set a good example for other teens to follow. Isn’t this alone worth your efforts?

Place a high priority on good character—value it more than anything else—and it will pay off for you, big time.

If you will do the right things, think the right thoughts, others will gravitate to you. Why? Because you will be different and they will want to know what you have that they don’t have. Now, you should not flaunt your good character before others. Let it speak for itself, quietly, by example, and by offering good advice when the time is right. Who knows, you might even become the leader of your peer group. This has been known to happen.

This is real. Wrong peer pressure can harm you. You know that. Remember to choose friends who have good morals and ethics. Let them become your peer group. Place a high priority on good character—value it more than anything else—and it will pay off for you, big time.

Finally, let God be your guide in all that you think and do. He made you. He knows what works best for you, for all of us. These are some of the basic strategies I have shared with other teens. They work. Begin today to rise above wrong peer pressure. You can do it!

Recommended reading

The Bible contains many fundamental principles about how to have a rewarding, satisfying and—yes—happy life. It is packed with advice about friends, family, finances, health, success and much more. We have gathered some of its best advice into a free booklet, Making Life Work. You can order a copy or download it from our Web site.

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