How do I know when I’ve been peer pressured? How do I deal with it?
Human beings have an extraordinary ability to influence each other. We are social creatures and we all want to be liked and accepted by each other. None of us wants to be thought of as queer or different from other people. So we have a tendency to change our habits and ideas to match the habits and ideas of our equals, or peers. That way we won’t stand out from the crowd. This tendency is perfectly natural for us, but is it good or bad? Well, that depends on whether the “crowd” is doing the right or the wrong thing.
Peer pressure is really the power of influence. Influence can greatly intensify the temptation to do the wrong thing, but it can also be a tremendous force for good. If our peers are influencing us to do the right thing, then we can gratefully accept their help. We need lots of friends like that. In fact, Jesus used the power of good influence when He sent His disciples out two by two. However, if our peers are trying to make us do something wrong, then there is only one way for a Christian to react. “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Proverbs 1:10
That is easier said than done. We all struggle with peer pressure, and some youth are more vulnerable than others. Researchers have designed many studies to find out exactly what makes children and youth bend to peer pressure, and why some are more resistant than others. The results of one study showed that the young people who have a better resistance to peer pressure are those who were given love and attention by their parents and who were taught to think for themselves. That is not much help, though, because we have no control over how our parents bring us up. But there is good news. Anyone can develop the skills to withstand peer pressure to do the wrong thing, whether our parents taught them to us or not. Researchers and educators call these “competence skills”.
Competence skills are really character skills. They include:
- Assertiveness in refusing to do something against your principles (confidently and tactfully saying no to wrong).
- Sound decision making skills (the ability to reason from cause to effect and to choose the best alternative).
- Self-management (self-control through Christ).
- Positive self-worth (viewing yourself as a person who has value). These are all great skills, but how do I get them?
The First Step
The first place to go is to God Himself. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether something is right or wrong. But if your heart belongs to God, and you are familiar with what the Bible says, you can immediately spot the difference. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Psalm 119:11. The word of God can be like a light in your life, distinctly showing up the right and wrong, so you never need to be in doubt.
The only real self-worth comes from God. We can only have a real knowledge of the worth of our souls when we realise that Jesus thinks so much of us that He gave up heaven to die for us. On the other hand, we can forget our Creator and adopt the popular self-esteem idea from the world. It comes from confidence in our own abilities and in the strength of our character. But this is like leaning on a broken wall. Sooner or later, Satan tempts you in your weakest spot and you give into something you know is wrong. You then find out that you are not as strong as you thought you were, and your self-esteem breaks into a thousand pieces. In contrast, the self-worth that comes from God lasts forever and it works just as well when we are weak and faulty as it does when we are strong. It is not based on how strong we are, but on how strong Jesus is. He was once a youth, and He can give us the strength to resist the wrong and to do the right.
Self-management is the skill of self-control. It is the ability to make a decision based on principle rather than whether or not it suits us. The principle motivating most youth is, “If it feels good, do it!”. Secular life itself cannot be governed by this idea, let alone moral decisions. If you owned a tomato farm worth 5 million dollars a year, who would you employ to pick your tomatoes; people that came to work when they felt like it? Or would you employ pickers who moved from principle, who were ready to pick through hot or cold weather, rain or shine? If it is so important to make decisions based on principle in the working world, how much more important is it when your decisions involve your character and destiny?
We need to be able to manage ourselves, and this is something that takes a lot of practice. Every day we make many small decisions. If we determine to always choose the right, regardless of our feelings, even in little things, then we are forming habits of uncompromising obedience to God. This practice will prepare us to make the right decision then we are under pressure to do wrong.
Assertiveness – The End Result
Assertiveness in refusing to do something wrong or harmful comes from three things; a knowledge of right and wrong; a healthy, God-given self-worth; and the ability to make the right decision – even when people around us are making the wrong decision. If we know we are worth something, even if our friends sneer at us; if we have confidence in our beliefs and know that God is at our side with as much strength for us as we will ever need; then we can be assertive and tactfully refuse to do the wrong.
It’s Always Worth the Effort
When you are older and you look back on your youth, do you think you will ever regret the times you stood firm and did the right thing, whatever your friends thought at the time? And don’t you think you will remember with remorse the times when you have been weak and given in? The best time to learn habits of strength and virtue is right now in your youth. My prayer is for you to resolve right now that from this time forward, you will never make decisions of which to be ashamed. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing or your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2
“In ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ there is a character called Pliable. Youth, shun this character. Those represented by it are very accommodating, but they are as a reed shaken by the wind. They possess no will power. Every youth needs to cultivate decision. A divided state of the will is a snare, and will be the ruin of many youth. Be firm, else you will be left with your house, or character, built upon a sandy foundation…. Manifest decision at any cost…. Those who would walk in the path cast up for the chosen of the Lord, must not be swayed in matters of conscience by men who have often been zealous for the wrong. They must show moral independence, and must not be afraid to be singular….
“We must free ourselves from the customs and bondage of society, that when the principles of our faith are at stake, we shall not hesitate to show our colours, even though we are called singular for so doing. Keep the conscience tender, that you may hear the faintest whisper of the voice that spoke as never man spoke. Let all who would wear the yoke of Christ show an inflexible purpose to do the right because it is right. Keep the eye fixed on Jesus, inquiring at every step, Is this the way of the Lord? The Lord will not leave any one who does this, to become the sport of Satan’s temptation… “Do not imitate men. Study your Bibles, and imitate Christ.” Our High Calling, p. 341.