Peer Pressure—Can It Be to Your Advantage?
All of us are born with the basic desire to be accepted by our peers. Nobody wants to be disliked, rejected. Thus, to varying degrees, our peers influence us.
A PEER is defined as “one that is of equal standing with another; . . . one belonging to the same societal group, esp[ecially] based on age, grade, or status.” Peer pressure, in turn, is the force exerted on us by our peers, so that, consciously or unconsciously, we conform to their way of thinking or acting. Peer pressure is usually seen in a negative light. Yet, as we shall see, we can turn it to our advantage.
Influence on All Age Groups
Peer pressure is not limited to the young; it affects all age groups. Its influence is manifest when we find ourselves asking such questions as: “Others are doing it, why can’t I?” “Why do I always have to be different?” “What will others think or say?” “All my friends are dating and getting married, but I’m not. Is something wrong with me?”
While the pressure to conform affects all age groups, it tends to be more intense during adolescence. The World Book Encyclopedia says that “most adolescents become deeply involved with their peer group—that is, their circle of friends and acquaintances. These teen-agers look to their peer group, rather than to their parents, for approval, and they may change their behavior to win that approval.” Teenagers, it adds, “assume they are developing normally if their peers accept and like them.” To that end they “become absorbed in matters they think affect their popularity, such as their style of dress, leadership ability, and success in dating.”
Married couples may find that their decisions about what kind of home to buy or rent, what kind of car to drive, whether to have children or not, and many other matters are influenced by peer pressure—what is acceptable in their community, among their associates or ethnic group. Some families even go deep in debt just to keep up materially with neighbors and peers. Yes, our goals, our thinking, and our decisions often betray the subtle power of peer pressure. In view of its power, can we deal with peer pressure in an advantageous way, to help us along in the direction we want to go? Indeed, we can!
Tapping Into Wholesome Peer Influence
Doctors and other health professionals know the value of surrounding their patients with positive people and other healthful influences. Such an environment can be a stimulus to recovery. People who have lost a limb, for example, are often helped through the long process of physical rehabilitation and emotional recovery by the good example and encouragement of others who have suffered similarly. Clearly, immersing oneself in a wholesome environment that includes optimistic, positive role models is a way of tapping into the right kind of peer pressure.
This principle also holds true in the Christian congregation, for positive peer influence is one of the reasons Jehovah has directed his people to gather together regularly. God urges us to ‘incite one another to love and fine works and to encourage one another.’ (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Such encouragement is invaluable because of the many negative and hurtful pressures in today’s world. As a result of these pressures, Christians have to ‘exert themselves vigorously’ to stay spiritually strong. (Luke 13:24) Thus, we need and appreciate the loving support from fellow believers. In addition, some may have to endure ‘thorns in the flesh,’ perhaps illness or disability. (2 Corinthians 12:7) Others may be struggling to overcome bad habits or depression, or they may find it difficult to keep up with the demands of life. We are wise, therefore, to surround ourselves with people who stay close to Jehovah God and who enjoy serving him. Such peers will buoy us up and help us ‘endure faithfully to the end.’—Matthew 24:13.
By choosing the right peers, then, we can control the influence they exert on us. Additionally, the fine spiritual food and practical guidance dispensed at Christian meetings reinforce the personal encouragement we receive from our peers.
Of course, getting to Christian meetings is not always easy. Some may get little or no support from marriage mates, others may have children to get ready, and transportation may be a problem for still others. But think: If you do not allow these obstacles to stop you, then your example may inspire others who may be contending with similar circumstances. In other words, you and others like you provide not just a fine example but also a wholesome form of peer influence—and that without any hint of coercion.
In fact, the apostle Paul, who himself had to contend with many hardships and obstacles, encouraged Christians to imitate his fine example and that of other mature Christians. He said: “Unitedly become imitators of me, brothers, and keep your eye on those who are walking in a way that accords with the example you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17; 4:9) The early Christians in Thessalonica looked to Paul’s fine example. Of them Paul wrote: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, seeing that you accepted the word under much tribulation with joy of holy spirit, so that you came to be an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 7) Our positive attitude and example can have a similar effect on those with whom we associate.
Avoid Negative Influences
If we want to avoid unwholesome peer pressure, we must resist the influence of ‘those who walk in accord with the flesh.’ (Romans 8:4, 5; 1 John 2:15-17) Otherwise, hurtful peer pressure will steer us away from Jehovah and his wise counsel. Proverbs 13:20 says: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” Can you think of someone who fared badly because of unwholesome peer pressure? Some Christians, for example, have been led into materialism, immorality, or drug and alcohol abuse because of the influence of their peers.
Even within the Christian congregation, we can come under the influence of unwholesome peer pressure if we choose spiritually weak individuals as our close associates. (1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Thessalonians 3:14) Such ones often are not inclined to discuss spiritual matters; they may even ridicule those who enjoy such discussions. If we choose these ones as our close associates, peer pressure may force us into a similar mold, and soon we might find our thinking and attitude reflecting theirs. We may even begin to think negatively of those who are genuine in their faith and who are trying to make spiritual advancement.—1 Timothy 4:15.
How much wiser it is to cultivate friendships with those who strive to please Jehovah, who delight in spiritual matters! Such associates will help us reflect “the wisdom from above.” It “is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, . . . not hypocritical.” (James 3:17) This does not mean that spiritually-minded people are incapable of talking about anything other than spiritual matters. On the contrary! Just think of the variety of interesting subjects that are considered in Watch Tower publications like the Awake! magazine. Wholesome topics for discussion are truly endless, and by taking an interest in a broad range of subjects, we reflect a love of life and of Jehovah’s handiwork.
Just as a good tennis player improves his game by playing with other good players, the right associates elevate us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. On the other hand, the wrong associates can lead us into a course of hypocrisy by encouraging us to lead a double life. How much better it is to enjoy a clean conscience along with self-respect!
Some Who Benefited
Most people find that learning the Bible’s doctrines and its moral and spiritual requirements is not too difficult. What can be difficult, however, is putting these things into practice. As the following examples show, wholesome peer influence can help us serve Jehovah whole-souled.
One Witness who is in the full-time ministry with his wife said that the examples of his peers affected his goals in life. While he was growing up, he had to put up with unwholesome influences. But he chose as his friends those who encouraged him to be regular in the ministry and in attending Christian meetings. Sticking with these associates helped him along the path to spiritual maturity.
Another Witness writes: “After my wife and I got married, we moved to a congregation where a couple about our age were regular pioneers. Their example contributed toward our getting into the full-time ministry. Then we too worked on building up the pioneer spirit in the congregation. As a result, many joined us as pioneers.”
Association with those who have theocratic goals can make obedience to Jehovah easier. This is another beneficial effect of wholesome peer influence. A Witness who started in the full-time ministry as a young man and later became a traveling overseer now serves at one of the branch offices of the Watch Tower Society. He writes: “Some of my earliest and fondest childhood memories are of full-time servants visiting our home. There was always room for one more chair at our dining-room table. One circuit overseer gave me a witnessing bag when I was ten years old. I treasure that bag to this day.”
Reflecting on his teenage years, this Witness adds: “Many of the young men in the congregation wanted to be involved in congregation activities, and their example incited others of us to desire the same.” Wholesome peers helped this youth, like a sprout, grow into a fine, treelike Christian man. Parents, do you invite to your home those who can have a positive, upbuilding influence on your children?—Malachi 3:16.
Of course, not all of us can share in the full-time ministry like the individuals just mentioned. But all of us can learn to love Jehovah ‘with our whole heart, soul, and mind.’ (Matthew 22:37) Our choice of peers plays a major role in our developing that love and, thereby, in our prospects for everlasting life.
The psalmist gave a simple but effective formula for true success in life: “Happy is the man that has not walked in the counsel of the wicked ones, and in the way of sinners has not stood, and in the seat of ridiculers has not sat. But his delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night. And he will certainly become like a tree planted by streams of water, that gives its own fruit in its season and the foliage of which does not wither, and everything he does will succeed.”—Psalm 1:1-3.
What a wonderful guarantee! Even though we are imperfect and make mistakes, our life will be successful if we let Jehovah guide us and if we liberally tap into that God-given reservoir of wholesome peer influence—“the entire association of [our] brothers in the world.”—1 Peter 5:9.
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The congregation offers a wholesome form of peer influence
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Parents, encourage your children to mix with upbuilding peers