When I was at school a friend of mine achieved top grades and mixed with a decent group of friends for the first couple of years. He was popular, good company and appeared to be content. At about the age of 14 he began to mix with another social group outside school and very quickly the change was immense. His grades suffered, he changed his image, he looked unhappy and he even spoke with an entirely different accent -- just to be accepted by his new group of friends. Sadly, the episode culminated with him being expelled from school. He was a victim of negative peer pressure.
Peer pressure is when a peer group (usually our friends) influences us to behave in certain ways, say certain things and do things that are typical of others in the group. It could be the clothes we wear, the language we use, or the way we behave. In our teenage years peer pressure is a huge issue, these are the years when we form our own values and standards, and these are easily influenced by those around us. Everybody wants to be accepted and liked by their friends, but this desire can easily steer us in the wrong direction. Of course. for a young Christian, peer pressure can be a real danger.
It’s good to look for early examples of occurrences in the Bible, in this case the story of Noah comes to mind. The people of Noah’s time refused to believe in God, made fun of Noah and the few believers who followed with him. Their ridicule became even worse when he started building a huge boat in the middle of nowhere, preparing for a great flood. People were actually laughing at him for believing God. I’m sure this sounds familiar, many times in life we can feel like we’re building a boat in the middle of nowhere. But of course the lesson is that Noah persevered for the cause of God, He didn’t succumb to peer pressure.
Of course there are cases in the Bible where the Lord’s people have given in to peer pressure. Perhaps the worst case is that of the apostle Peter. Peter in many ways was a brave man. He wielded a sword to the hostile crowd when Jesus was arrested, but later on he mixed with the wrong company and denied the Lord – peer pressure at its worst. Maybe we can relate to this event.
The best advice in dealing with peer pressure must be to choose our peers (our friends) carefully. Proverbs chapter 13 verse 20 ESV illustrates the good and bad of peer pressure, ‘Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm’. Of course, peer pressure can be a positive influence; if we mix with the ‘wise’ then we’re more likely to become wise ourselves. For young Christians this means seeking the company of other like-minded believers, wherever possible. But of course the strongest form of peer pressure is negative – if we mix with ‘fools’, then we’ll suffer harm – as was the case with my schoolfriend.
For young people today, choosing friends can be a real problem. Often at school, college, university and work there are no fellow Christians around, but of course we don’t want to be alone. The most important thing to remember is that a good companion should never stop or hinder you from serving God. I can think of friends and colleagues who are not believers, but they appreciate my faith and wouldn’t hinder my spiritual life. Even so, there have been times where I have had to draw the line and remove myself from them, avoiding going to certain places and getting involved in unprofitable conversations.
One of the best ways to resist peer pressure is to prepare for it; plan how you might deal with certain events. Look out for early signs: situations which may appear entirely innocent can rapidly change into real temptation. Most of all pray for help, strength and wisdom from God. James chapter 1 verse 5 NKJV says, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him’.
Finally, if we have succumbed to peer pressure think again of the example of Peter. He denied the Lord, but Jesus gave him a second chance. After the resurrection He asked Peter if he loved Him, and Peter replied, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You’, John 21. 17 NKJV. The Lord is always willing to forgive.