Did your parents ever bring one of those old Western flicks home from the video store? Often such a movie has a scene like this: The camera scans some desolate and tranquil rangeland, then closes in on a crew of cowboys who are sitting around the fire sipping coffee, eating from tin plates, and maybe even playing a harmonica or strumming a guitar. Then a faint sound is heard—the cowpunchers sit up and strain to hear. What is it? Thunder? No. An earthquake? No. Approaching hoofbeats! The volume rises. In a cloud of dust comes a herd of something—wild horses, buffalo, cattle, perhaps even a T Rex or two? (No, this isn’t a rerun of Jurassic Park.)
Something similar to that stampede will often happen to you as a teenager. A “herd” of your peers will come storming by, and you will feel enormous pressure to join them. Another name for this thundering event is peer pressure. As a teenager you will want to feel accepted and admired. You will want to feel like you are “somebody” rather than just one of the crowd. You will feel pressure to belong to the herd. Running with a mighty herd can make you feel important, admired, or accepted—that you are a special part of something powerful. Don’t get me wrong; peers can have an awesome influence. But be careful because they can also bring your standards down.
The Bible tells us how peer pressure can be bad:
Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning (1 Corinthians 15:33-34).
You may be a pretty solid young person who knows what’s right and wrong, but if you hang out with the wrong group, you will end up more like them than they will end up like you. That’s what the Bible says, so you can bank on it—that’s what will happen to you. Bad company will corrupt good morals. Either your friends are going to support you and your beliefs, or they are going to have different values and tear you down.
When I was in my dad’s sixth-grade Sunday school class, he used a little experiment to show us how peers can spoil you. Have you heard the saying, “One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel”? That was the theme, because Dad took a shiny red apple that was perfect and put it in a plastic sack with two other apples, which weren’t so perfect; in fact they were kind of soft and bruised. He called the other apples—rotten, bruised, and bad to the core—the “two bad buddies.” Then Dad put the plastic bag (sealed) in a paper sack and stuck it in a closet.
So the “three buddies” spent a lot of time together, and at the end of our class, six months later, Dad brought them back so we could see what had happened. When he opened the sack and the plastic bag, the boys and girls sitting nearby yelled, “Oh gross! It stinks! Yuck.” Instead of there being three apples in the plastic bag, there was a brown soup that looked like spoiled applesauce. You couldn’t even tell which one had been the nice red apple.
My dad said, “Bad company corrupted an apple that had good morals. There was nothing wrong with that shiny red apple. He was doing fine. He wasn’t having any problems, didn’t have any bruises. He was a good apple. The problem was he spent too much time with a couple of bad apples and lost his courage and identity.” Spending time with “bad apples” can cause you to forget who you are and lose your identity.
Standing against bad peer pressure
Without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, standing against bad peer pressure will probably be hopeless. If Jesus is to be first in everything, you must have a relationship with Him.
Another thing you need to know to withstand peer pressure and not run with the wrong herd is who you are and why you are here. Who you are is somebody special and important because you were made in the image of God. On top of that, God sent His Son, Jesus, to save you and bring you close to Himself. If you have committed your life to Him as Savior and Lord, that makes you a child of God, as well as an ambassador, or representative, for God and His kingdom here on earth.
This means that as you move into junior high and high school, you’re not just a teenager—you are an ambassador and you have a mission. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God has a purpose for you in junior high and high school and throughout the rest of your life. He has something unique for you to do with your life. He wants you to fulfill His mission for your life.
Decide in advance
It’s kind of a no-brainer, but you will resist bad peer pressure much better and develop a huge courage muscle if you make up your mind in advance what you are going to do before facing the temptations of your teenage years.
For instance, what if you go to some buddy’s house for a party and one of your peers hands you a beer and says, “Drink this; it’s awesome, and you’ll feel really good”—what I will you do?
Or what if you are at the movies and a friend shows you how to sneak into an R-rated film, which is not only against what your parents would approve of but also illegal—what will you do?
Or what if one of your buddies in math class asks you to help him out by giving him answers on a test?
Or what if that cute boy you kind of like asks you to “go out” with him, but your parents have said you are too young to have a boyfriend?
What are you going to do?
Your best defense is to do some thinking ahead of time—think through how you will respond in tough spots like these. Ask your parents to help you too.
Create a game plan
Probably the best defense against peer pressure is an offensive tactic: Pick good friends (wise friends), those who will “pressure” you to do what is right! What a great thing that is. You need to know what to look for in a good friend, the right kind of person to hang out with.
Typically, we will be choosing our friends—the people we will be spending much of our time with—not on the basis of what they are really like on the inside, but upon what they wear, what they look like, where they live, if they are good athletes, or if they are in a class with us at school. We often don’t really evaluate a person’s true character.
So how do we select a good friend? I want you to look at a person’s brain, eyes, mouth, hands, feet, and heart. Ah, come on now, stop laughing! I’m serious. Keep reading; this is good!
By looking at a potential friend’s brain I mean I want you to think about what the person thinks about. What does he know and make an effort to learn? Is her mind dwelling on the right things or the wrong things? What does he think about movies and music and alcohol and drugs? How does she present herself physically? You can check out someone’s brain without cutting open the skull.
Next, look at the eyes. What does your buddy watch? What does she read? What kinds of video games does he play, and what does he look at on the Internet? Do this person’s eyes reflect God’s pure way?
Then check out the mouth. What are your friends talking about? Good things? Bad things? Are they slamming on their parents? Cursing? Gossiping and putting others down? Talking negatively or disrespectfully all the time, with a bad attitude? What is said about friends when the friends aren’t around?
On to the hands. Do the hands steal small things from someone else’s locker? Do the hands touch a boyfriend or girlfriend inappropriately? Do they make obscene gestures?
Next, the feet. No, not the brand of shoes! I’m talking about where the feet go and whom the feet spend time with. Do this buddy’s feet walk the narrow path that Jesus talked about in the Bible or are the feet quick to do evil and to encourage others to run with them?
Finally, examine the heart, which is the most important part. Everything I mentioned above flows from the heart. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Is this buddy committed, I mean really committed, to Jesus Christ? When there’s a fork in the road and a good or bad choice must be made, will this individual be courageous enough to obey God? Is the heart guarded and kept pure? Is this buddy sharing too much of the heart with someone of the opposite sex?
Choosing the right friends is so important in dealing with peer pressure. It can and does have a significant impact in your life and in theirs.
Adapted from So You’re About to Be a Teenager by Dennis Rainey, Barbara Rainey, Samuel Rainey, and Rebecca Rainey. Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc, Nashville, Tenn. Copyright © 2002 by Dennis Rainey, Barbara Rainey, Samuel Rainey, and Rebecca Rainey. Used with permission.