Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Deal With Peer Pressure?
“Peer pressure is everywhere.”—Jesse, 16 years old.
“Peer pressure from my schoolmates was one of the most difficult things I had to deal with while growing up.”—Johnathan, 21 years old.
PEER PRESSURE certainly is a force to be reckoned with. Be assured, though, that you can resist it. What is more, you can manage it and even make it work for you. But how?
In a previous article in this series, we discussed an essential first step: Recognize the power of peer pressure and your own vulnerability to its influence.* What further positive steps can you take? The helpful guidance you need is in God’s Word. Proverbs 24:5 says: “A man of knowledge is reinforcing power.” What knowledge can reinforce your power over peer pressure? Before we answer that, let us first discuss a problem that can give peer pressure power over you.
Lack of Confidence—A Danger
Youths who are Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes find peer pressure a special challenge because their way of life involves telling others about their faith. (Matthew 28:19, 20) Do you find, at times, that it is difficult to share your faith with other youths you meet? You are not alone. Says an 18-year-old named Melanie: “When it came to telling the kids I was a Witness, it was harder than I thought.” She adds: “As soon as I mustered up enough courage to speak up about being a Witness, I would become afraid again.” Negative peer pressure, it seems, held her back.
The Bible reassures us that even men and women of outstanding faith have hesitated to speak to people about God. For example, young Jeremiah knew that he would face ridicule and persecution if he obeyed God’s command to speak out. Further, Jeremiah lacked confidence. Why? He said to God: “Here I actually do not know how to speak, for I am but a boy.” Did God agree that Jeremiah’s youth made him unqualified to speak? No. Jehovah reassured the prophet: “Do not say, ‘I am but a boy.’” Jehovah went ahead and gave the hesitant young man an important assignment.—Jeremiah 1:6, 7.
When we lack confidence, feeling unsure of ourselves, peer pressure can be very hard to resist. Research studies have suggested as much. For example, back in 1937 a scientist named Muzafer Sherif conducted a famous experiment. He put people in a dark room, showed them a single point of light, and then asked them how far the point of light moved.
In fact, the light had not moved at all; this was merely an optical illusion. Tested individually, people gave their own unique estimates regarding this apparent movement. However, in groups they were asked to make their estimates aloud. What happened? Lacking confidence in their own perception, they influenced one another. With repeated tests, their answers got closer together until a “group norm” was established. Even when tested alone again later, individuals were still influenced by the collective opinion of the group.
That experiment illustrates an important point. A lack of sureness or confidence makes people more susceptible to peer pressure. Sobering, is it not? After all, peer pressure can affect people when it comes to very important issues, including their view of premarital sex, drug abuse, and even the goals they will pursue in life. If we allow ourselves to adopt the “group norm” when it comes to such issues, we could drastically affect our own future. (Exodus 23:2) What can be done?
Well, how do you think you would have performed on the test if you knew for a fact that the point of light was motionless? You probably would not have been influenced by the group. Yes, we need confidence. But what kind of confidence is involved, and how can we come by it?
Make Jehovah Your Confidence
You may hear a lot of talk about building self-confidence. But when it comes to how to gain it—and how much you need—there are conflicting views. The Bible contains this balanced counsel: “I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind.” (Romans 12:3) Another translation of this verse reads: “I would say to every one of you not to estimate himself above his real value, but to make a sober rating of himself.”—Charles B. Williams.
“A sober rating” of your “real value” rules out becoming vain, cocky, or conceited. On the other hand, such a balanced outlook would include some measure of confidence in your real ability to think, reason, and make sensible decisions. Your Creator endowed you with the “power of reason,” and that is no small gift. (Romans 12:1) Keeping that in mind can help you to resist the urge to let those around you make your decisions for you. However, there is a type of confidence that will do even more to protect you.
King David was inspired to write: “You are my hope, O Sovereign Lord Jehovah, my confidence from my youth.” (Psalm 71:5) Yes, David placed absolute confidence in his heavenly Father, and he had done so since he was young. He was “but a boy”—perhaps a teenager—when the Philistine giant Goliath challenged any soldier of Israel to meet him in single combat. The soldiers cowered. (1 Samuel 17:11, 33) Perhaps some negative peer pressure arose among them. No doubt they talked gloomily of Goliath’s size and prowess and asserted that any man would have to be crazy to accept such a challenge. David proved immune to any pressure of that kind. Why?
Note David’s words to Goliath: “You are coming to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I am coming to you with the name of Jehovah of armies, the God of the battle lines of Israel, whom you have taunted.” (1 Samuel 17:45) David was not blind to Goliath’s size, strength, or weaponry. But he knew something, as surely as he knew that the sky was above him. He knew that Goliath was nothing compared to Jehovah God. If Jehovah was on David’s side, then why should he fear Goliath? Such confidence in God made David secure. No amount of peer pressure could sway him.
Do you have similar confidence in Jehovah? He has not changed since David’s time. (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17) The more you learn about him, the more sure you will be of everything he tells you in his Word. (John 17:17) There you will find fixed, reliable standards to guide you in life and to help you resist peer pressure. In addition to making Jehovah your confidence, there is something else you can do.
Select Good Advisers
God’s Word highlights the need to seek out good guidance. “A man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction,” says Proverbs 1:5. Your parents, who care deeply about your best interests, can be a source of guidance. Indira knows this well. She relates: “It is because my parents constantly held the Scriptures before me and made Jehovah real in my life that I am walking in the way of the truth right now.” Many youths feel similarly.
If you are a member of the Christian congregation, you have a wonderful resource there—the appointed overseers, or elders, as well as other mature Christians. Young Nadia reflects: “I really looked up to the elders in my congregation. I can remember a talk by the presiding overseer that was specially tailored for youths. After the meeting my friend and I were excited because what he had mentioned was what we felt we were going through.”
Another powerful weapon against negative peer pressure is positive peer pressure. If you choose your friends wisely, they can help you to cling to good goals and right standards. How can we choose well? Keep this counsel in mind: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” (Proverbs 13:20) Nadia was careful to choose wise friends at school—her fellow believers, who held to the same moral standards. She recalls: “When the boys in school came around to ‘talk’ to us, we leaned on each other for support.” Good friends can help bring out the best in us. They are worth the effort it takes to find them.
Be assured, then, that if you build your confidence in Jehovah, seek guidance from mature Christians, and choose your friends wisely, you can meet the challenge of peer pressure. In fact, you can become part of the positive peer pressure among your friends and help them to stay on the road to life with you.
See the article “Peer Pressure—Is It Really All That Powerful?” in the November 22, 2002, issue of Awake!
[Blurb on page 26]
Seek out good friends, who share your love for God and his standards
[Pictures on page 26]
“Bad associations spoil useful habits.”—1 Corinthians 15:33
“He that is walking with wise persons will become wise.”—Proverbs 13:20