Anne was 17 and played basketball for a large high school in California. She handled the ball well, was a good passer, played excellent defense and could shoot the lights out. Ironically, though she sat on the bench most of her final season, she received an award that set a standard for future basketball players in that high school.
The coach wouldn’t play Anne because her religious beliefs occasionally conflicted with the team’s schedule. Anne observed the seventh-day Sabbath and so wouldn’t play on Friday nights or Saturday during the day. Her well-meaning teammates hinted to her that she might compromise her convictions for the sake of the team. Her coaches questioned her beliefs. To them Anne was misguided. But to Anne, a basketball game—though enjoyable and inspiring—was a smaller part of life, not life itself. She didn’t bow to peer pressure, even when it weighed heavily on her.
Today’s complex society
Like Anne, young people today are similarly challenged to resist peer pressure. Some have to resist drugs, others alcohol and still others the pressure to join gangs and break laws. By comparison, modern teens and young adults live in a far more complex and demanding society than did their parents as youth. The consequences of giving in to peer pressure now can be far more devastating than in previous generations. Given this sobering condition, how can young people today rise above peer pressure?
Many young people wonder why they cave in to peer pressure: “I don’t understand myself, the way I give in to something that my peer group is doing which I know isn’t good, but which I have trouble resisting. What can I do in that kind of situation that can help my friends and me?” If this is your question, there are steps you can take to help improve your life in or out of your peer group.
Before we explore those steps, let’s understand that a big part of peer pressure comes from the media. TV and Internet advertising focus on young people. Sex and violence are offered to excite human emotions. It’s a frightening fact: The media bombards young people with a vast array of emotional pressures. And one young person can influence many of his or her peers. But you can rise above group peer pressure.
Group peer pressure
A difficult thing for young people (and older people alike) is to be with a group of friends, and then suddenly find the group going downhill morally. What can be done in this situation, if anything? Here’s a strategy that can help you.
Be careful about following a crowd whose collective thinking (groupthink) begins to deteriorate. Groups can get off track when they act more on emotion than sound reasoning. It works like this.
When a group member assumes dominance, most people in the group will follow his (or her) influence, right or wrong. Before you know it, he’s got some of the weaker group members agreeing with him. A self-appointed leader will often suggest something that’s daring and risky in order to elevate himself in the eyes of the group, like taking drugs, performing some act of violence, doing vandalism or engaging in a sex act. Notice carefully: He will seldom risk himself; this he plans for you to do. If you see the signs of this in your peer group, it’s time for you to bail. Knowledge is power and knowing these signs can help you withdraw from a wrong activity before it gets a full head of steam.
If you need to escape
What can you do when you see a negative, destructive form of “groupthink” building among your peers? How might you get away? 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 the group without saying anything, that’s often best. Unless you happen to be persuasive and understand the basics of social psychology, don’t get involved with trying to stem the emotional tide of the group. There might be occasions when a young person can perform this function, but it’s tricky and risky. It is still the better part of wisdom to step aside quietly and disappear from that group. The Bible tells us that bad company can corrupt good character (1 Corinthians 15:33 1 Corinthians 15:33Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
American King James Version×). Leaving a bad situation will allow you to enjoy more positive relationships elsewhere.
What is a true friend?
Many young people say that it’s difficult to leave a group of friends because it’s not always easy to make new ones. After all, everybody wants and needs friends. Still not everyone wants just any friend or to be a part of any group no matter how they think or what they do. What’s the answer to this puzzle?
This difficulty can be sorted through by first asking an important question: What’s 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 and interact 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. These are some of the qualities of a true friend.
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” (Proverbs 22:24-25 Proverbs 22:24-25  Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man you shall not go:
 Lest you learn his ways, and get a snare to your soul.
American King James Version×). Jesus Christ chose His friends carefully; they were the ones who kept His commandments (John 15:14 John 15:14You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you.
American King James Version×). God’s commandments are designed to protect everyone, including your friends. The Bible is the best place to consult 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 apply the word friend to just anybody you might associate with. Try to apply critical thinking when selecting your friends. Obviously, we can’t be too picky or we might wind up with no friends, but do look for true friends who will look out for your best interests and will show good character.
The value of good character
Good character is a top priority when it comes to choosing a good and true friend.
Today’s world is changing from the values of good character to what is called moral relativism. Moral relativism says that we can do about anything that feels good as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else.
Don’t be fooled by this false line of reasoning. Everything we do has some effect on others, if not directly, certainly indirectly. For example, if you watch TV violence or sex, this will become a part of your thinking and it will also weaken your resolve to withdraw from harmful groupthink. On the other hand, whatever we watch or read that shows good, positive values will strengthen our character and will automatically help us to resist wrong peer pressure and groupthink.
The Bible says that we are what we think (Proverbs 23:7 Proverbs 23:7For as he thinks in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, said he to you; but his heart is not with you.
American King James Version×). It also shows that we should choose to have a good reputation above great riches (Proverbs 22:1 Proverbs 22:1A GOOD name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.
American King James Version×). The value of good character can’t be overrated.
What is good character? The word good comes from the word God. Good character therefore comes 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, the Bible.
The Bible always tells us the truth about any situation in life. It shows us the best and most enjoyable way to live our lives. It is filled with advice on developing character, and how to see character in others. A good place to start reading in the Bible is the book of Proverbs. Here you will find specific advice on the values of good character, what makes up good character and how to choose true friends. It is the best guide to follow when rising above wrong peer pressure.
Let God be your guide
Without God, we would have nothing worthwhile and that includes good friends. Everyone knows that good friends are not found in every school hall, or on every street. God is able to guide us toward true friendships if we read His instructions on right friendships, understand what makes up a true friend, develop the character of a true friend, set a good example and show ourselves friendly to others. Isn’t that worth the effort?
One thing is for sure: Others will gravitate to you when you show the character of a true friend, because you will stand out as being different from others. Good character will speak for itself, quietly, by example, and by offering good suggestions when the time is right. By its very definition, good character won’t flaunt itself before others. With God as your guide, you might even become the leader of your peer group.
Back to Anne
The girls’ basketball team had their annual banquet and awards ceremony at the end of the season. Outstanding performances were recognized in various categories. Finally the coach began to talk about convictions, morals, ethics and a desire to help others. Then he turned to Anne and with sincerity and respect in his voice he said these words.
“We coaches want to acknowledge one player who sat on the bench most of the season and who was the greatest supporter of the team. Anne was a terrific example for our coaches and her teammates. She hustled and played her heart out during every practice. Although she got very little playing time, she always supported the other players with personal encouragement. A player with less character would’ve quit. This award is for excellence in character, commitment and courage. You are commended for giving so much to your team and you are the reason for this new award that will be given to other worthy players for many years to come.”
Tears welled up in Anne’s eyes and she had difficulty speaking. Anne got a standing ovation. In the end, the very group that had tried to influence her to their way of thinking honored her by acknowledging her good character, courage and commitment with an award.
Anne knew what peer pressure meant. There were times when she had felt discouraged. But in the end, she felt a rush of success and deep satisfaction for “sticking to her guns.” Anne had determined to place God first in her life. Beyond this, she enjoyed many activities with her peers. But she also resisted the temptations to follow the crowd when it was headed in a different direction. Anne rose above peer pressure and enjoyed the rewards of her convictions. You can too.
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