Do you think peer pressure is always bad?
Think about that for a second.
Dictionary.com defines peer pressure as “the social influence a peer group exerts on its individual members as each member attempts to conform to the expectations of the group.”
By that definition, there will always be peer pressure. People will always be influencing us in a certain direction, even in healthy relationships.
Think of the apostle Paul, who said, “You should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NLT). Can you say peer pressure?!? Only…a good kind of peer pressure.
I think we NEED peer pressure. That’s why there’s all this talk about “accountability” and “mentors,” people who can influence and encourage us (“peer-pressure” us) to come closer to God (Hebrews 10:25).
Peer pressure in and of itself isn’t bad. The question is:
Who is pressuring you, and in what direction are they pressuring you to go?
Scripture is full of warnings against letting ourselves be influenced by the wrong people. Take Proverbs 13:20, for example: “Whoever keeps company with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.”
So how can you tell if a person is a good influence? Ask yourself these three questions:
1. Where is this person’s life heading? The close friendships we have influence our life path. Do you want to go in the same direction this friend is going? Or is this person on a path that will be hurtful in the end?
Here are some things that can help you figure this out: Do they respect authority and their parents? Are they kind to people they can’t stand? Are they faithful with their responsibilities? If the answer is no, they probably will not be a good influence on you.
2. What happens if I say no? If I say, “No, I don’t want to do that,” do they become manipulative or hurt? Do they try to guilt-trip me into doing it anyway, or say we can’t be friends anymore? Or do they respect the boundaries I set? If your friends do not respect your boundaries, they are not real friends.
3. What kind of person do I become when I am with this person? Do you grow closer to God and more loving to others? Or does this person influence you to move away from God and make unwise decisions? A good way to get an unbiased answer is to ask a trusted adult (or even a parent!), “Do you like the person I become when I am with so-and-so?”
Sometimes, even when you’ve carefully chosen your friends, it feels impossible to escape certain kinds of peer pressure. Maybe, because of work, school or home life, you can’t avoid seeing that one person who has a negative influence on you.
If you are in relationships that put negative peer pressure on you, try these things:
1. Plan ahead. Certain situations lend themselves to intense peer pressure (a cliché but very real example is a party you know you shouldn’t go to). Plan ahead to avoid those situations. The Bible says to FLEE (run as fast as you can) from temptation, not run toward it (2 Timothy 2:22). If you end up in an unwise situation, have an action plan that will provide the way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Here are some examples of action plans:
- Create a “code word” that can be dropped into normal-sounding conversation. If you text that word to your parents, they will call saying you need to come home immediately.
- Tell your friends that you may have to leave at a certain time. Then if you’re having fun, stay longer, but if it’s not a great situation, you have a reason to leave.
- Bring a safe friend who shares your standards, so you can be together and help each other in certain situations.
2. Set boundaries. Let your friends know ahead of time what you will and won’t do, and stick with your decision. Recently my fiancé was invited to a bachelor party for a college friend. One of the groomsmen said, “On the first night, we’re going to do some things we know you won’t want to be part of. So how about you just come and meet us the next day?” My fiancé had set his boundaries and made them known, and his friends respected them.
3. Build healthy friendships. One of the best ways to combat unhealthy peer pressure is with healthy peer pressure. Build a network of healthy relationships. Start small—just one person whom you think would be a good influence on you, and then add to that network.
I love how Psalm 1:1-2 puts it: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night.”
Choose your friends carefully, because (like it or not) they shape the person you become.
How do YOU stay true to yourself in the face of peer pressure?