How Can I Cope With Peer Pressure?
AT THE age of 14, Karen was already a heavy drug user and regularly engaged in sex. By age 17, Jim was a confirmed alcoholic and living an immoral life. Both admit they did not really like the life they were living nor the things they were doing. Why, then, did they act as they did? Peer pressure!
“Everyone I was with was into these things, and that had a big effect on me,” explains Karen. Jim agreed, saying, “I didn’t want to lose my friends by being different.”
Why Youths Follow Their Peers
As some youths get older, the influence of parents wanes, and a desire to be popular and to be accepted by peers grows strong. Others simply feel a need to talk with someone who “understands” or who will make them feel loved or needed. When such communication is lacking at home—as is often the case—they seek it among their peers. Often, too, a lack of self-confidence and feelings of insecurity cause some to be vulnerable to peer influence.
Peer influence is not necessarily bad. A proverb says: “By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Just as an iron knife can sharpen the dulled edge of another knife, fellowship with other youths can ‘sharpen’ your personality and make you a better person—if those peers have mature, healthy attitudes.
All too often, though, youths are sadly lacking in maturity—both mental and spiritual. Many youths have viewpoints and opinions that are unsound, unreliable, even reckless. So when a youth unquestioningly comes under the control of peers, it may be little more than the blind leading the blind. (Compare Matthew 15:14.) The results can be disastrous.
Even when peers are not edging you toward outrageous behavior, their influence can still feel oppressive. “You care so much about being accepted by other kids,” said Debbie. “When I was eighteen I dreaded the thought of being unpopular because I would have no one to invite me out for a good time. I feared I would be isolated.” Debbie thus worked hard to gain the acceptance of her peers.
Am I Being Influenced?
Have you too begun to dress, talk, or act a certain way in order to fit in? Seventeen-year-old Susie claims, “Another kid can’t really make you do anything you don’t want to do.” True, but peer pressure can be so subtle that you may not realize how much it is affecting you. Consider, for example, the apostle Peter. A bold man with strong conviction, Peter was a pillar of Christianity. God revealed to Peter that people from all nations and races could gain His favor. Peter thus helped the first Gentile believers to become Christians.—Acts 10:28.
However, time passed, and Peter was situated in Antioch, a city in which many non-Jews had become Christians. Peter freely socialized with these Gentile believers. One day some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, still harboring prejudices against non-Jews, visited Antioch. How would Peter now conduct himself around his Jewish peers?
Well, Peter separated himself from the Gentile Christians, refusing to eat with them! Why? He apparently feared offending his peers. He may have reasoned, ‘I’ll just bend a little now while they’re here and continue eating with the Gentiles after they’ve gone. Why ruin my rapport with them over such a small thing?’ Peter was thus putting on a pretense—rejecting his own principles by doing something he really did not believe in. (Galatians 2:11-14) Obviously, then, no one is immune to pressure from peers.
How Would I React?
So while it is easy to say, ‘I’m not afraid of what others think!’ maintaining that resolve in the face of peer pressure is quite another thing. For example, what would you do in the following circumstances?
One of your schoolmates offers you a cigarette in front of other youths. You know it is wrong to smoke. But they are all waiting to see what you will do . . .
The girls in school are talking about having sex with their boyfriends. One of the girls says to you: “You’re not still a virgin, are you?”
You wanted to wear a dress like the one all the other girls are wearing, but Mom says it’s too short. The outfit she insists on your wearing makes you feel like you look six years old. Your classmates tease you. One girl asks, “Why don’t you just save up your lunch money and buy something decent? You don’t have to let your mother know. Just keep your school clothes in your locker.”
Easy situations to face? No, but if you are afraid to say no to your peers, you end up saying no to yourself, to your standards, and to your parents. How can you develop the strength to stand up to peer pressure?
Fifteen-year-old Robin started smoking, not because she wanted to, but because everyone else did. She recalls: “Later on I began to think, ‘I don’t like it. Why am I doing it?’ So I don’t anymore.” By thinking for herself, she was able to stand up to her peers!
Appropriately, then, the Bible urges youths to develop “knowledge and thinking ability.” (Proverbs 1:1-5) One with thinking ability does not have to lean upon inexperienced peers for direction. At the same time, that one does not become self-confident and ignore the opinions of others. (Proverbs 14:16) He or she is willing to “listen to counsel and accept discipline” so as to “become wise.”—Proverbs 19:20.
Don’t be surprised, though, if you are disliked or even ridiculed for using your thinking faculties. “The man [or woman] of thinking abilities is hated,” says Proverbs 14:17. But really, who has more strength, those who give in to their passions and emotions or those who can say no to improper desires? (Compare Proverbs 16:32.) Where are those who ridicule you headed in life? Is that where you want your life to end up also? Could it be that such ones are simply jealous of you and are covering up their own insecurity by ridicule?
Escaping the Snare
“Trembling at men is what lays a snare,” says Proverbs 29:25. In Bible times, a snare could quickly trap any unsuspecting animal that grabbed its bait. Today, the desire to be accepted by your peers can likewise serve as bait. It can lure you into the trap of violating godly standards. How, then, can you escape—or avoid—the snare of the fear of man?
First, choose your friends carefully! (Proverbs 13:20) Associate with those who have Christian values and standards. True, this limits your friendships. As one teenager says: “When I didn’t go along with others in school, with their ideas on drugs and sex, they soon left me alone. Although this lifted a lot of pressure off me to conform, it did make me feel a little lonesome.” But it is better to suffer some loneliness than to let peer influence drag you down spiritually and morally. Association within one’s family and within the Christian congregation can help fill the vacuum of loneliness.
Listening to your parents also helps you resist peer pressure. (Proverbs 23:22) They are likely working hard to teach you proper values. One young girl said: “My parents were firm with me. I didn’t like it at times, but I’m glad they put their foot down and limited my associations.” Because of that parental help, she did not give in to pressure to use drugs and engage in sex.
Teen adviser Beth Winship further observes: “Adolescents who are good at something feel important in their own right. They don’t have to depend on peer approval for good self-image.” Why not, then, strive to be skillful and competent in what you do at school and around the house? Young witnesses of Jehovah particularly strive to be ‘workmen with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright’ in their Christian ministry.—2 Timothy 2:15.
After warning about the “snare” of fearing men, Proverbs 29:25 continues: “He that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.” Perhaps more than anything else, a relationship with God can strengthen you to stand up to your peers. For example, Debbie (mentioned earlier) had been a follower of the crowd for some time, drinking heavily and abusing drugs. But then she began a serious study of the Bible and began to trust in Jehovah. The effect? “I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to do the same things as that little group of kids,” said Debbie. She told her former friends: “You go your way and I’ll go mine. If you want my friendship you will have to respect the same standards I do. I’m sorry but I just don’t care what you think. This is what I’m going to do.” Not all of Debbie’s friends respected her newfound faith. But says Debbie, “I sure liked myself better after I made my decision.”
You too will ‘like yourself better’ and spare yourself much grief if you escape the trap of peer pressure!
Questions for Discussion
□ Why are youths inclined to be influenced by their peers? Is this necessarily bad?
□ What does the experience of the apostle Peter teach regarding peer pressure?
□ What are some situations (including perhaps some from personal experience) that might test your ability to say no?
□ What things might you consider if challenged to take a dare?
□ What are some things that can help you escape the snare of fear of man?
[Blurb on page 74]
“You care so much about being accepted by other kids,” said Debbie. “I dreaded the thought of being unpopular . . . I feared I would be isolated”
[Box on page 75]
‘I Dare You!’
“Go on,” insisted Lisa’s classmates. “Tell the teacher her breath stinks!” No, oral hygiene was hardly the issue. Lisa was being challenged to take a dare—and a rather risky one at that! Yes, some youths seem to get perverse pleasure out of challenging others to perform acts that range from mildly mischievous to simply suicidal.
But when you are challenged to do something silly, unkind, or downright dangerous, it’s time to think twice. Said a wise man: “Dead flies are what cause the oil of the ointment maker to stink, to bubble forth. So a little foolishness does to one who is precious for wisdom and glory.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1) In ancient times, a valuable ointment or perfume could be ruined by something as tiny as a dead fly. Similarly, one’s hard-earned reputation could be ruined by just “a little foolishness.”
Childish pranks often result in lower grades, suspension from school, and even arrest! What, though, if you think you won’t get caught? Ask yourself, Is what I am being asked to do reasonable? Is it loving? Will it violate the standards of the Bible or those taught by my parents? If so, do I really want fun-seeking youths to control my life? Are youths who ask me to put my life and reputation on the line really friends, anyway?—Proverbs 18:24.
Try, then, to reason with the youth making the dare. Eighteen-year-old Terry likes to “take the fun out of it” by asking, ‘Why should I do it? What would it prove if I did it?’ Also let it be known that you have definite standards you intend to live by. One young girl tried to dare a boy into immorality, saying, “You don’t know what you’re missing.” “Yes, I do,” the boy replied. “Herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis . . . ”
Yes, by having the courage to say no to your peers, you can avoid doing something you would later regret!
[Picture on page 76]
Youths often cling to one another for support
[Picture on page 77]
Have you ever been pressured by peers to go against what you know is right?
[Picture on page 78]
Have the strength to stand up to peer pressure!