Thinking. Peer pressure part 3
So far, I've talked about what peer pressure is, and why peer influence is developmentally necessary for everyone. Now I'll get to the first of the six steps for dealing with negative peer pressure.
Step 1. Know who you are and what you want
I told you about the difference between child and teenage development. Children learn from their families, and then they bring that knowledge into the wider world as teens. The whole point of going through a developmental period of ‘peer influence’ in your life is so that you will develop into an adult who knows who she is and where she fits in the world.
The quicker you can get to that point, the more favours you are going to do for yourself.
One of the most important things you can do as a teenager is to work out what you believe, what you live by and what kind of person you want to be. One of the next most important things you can do is to work out how you are going to feed that belief, how you are going to live it out and how you are going to be that person.
I became a Christian at the age of six. It was a real conversion. I definitely understood what Jesus had done for me on the cross, and it meant so much to me that I was forgiven. Like at most important important moments in my life, I cried. It kind of marks the occasion for me emotionally.
From my family and parents and church I learned a lot more about God over the next five to six years. I grew in my faith and I called myself a Christian. I also started to understand some of the basic tenets of the Christian life. There was of course, being honest and helping others. Every Sunday school kid learns that. Another one was that obeying the rules, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with them, was actually a Christian thing to do. It showed respect for the people who were in charge.
Once I got to high school, however, there were many opportunities to break the rules. And there was pressure to break the rules out of solidarity with the group.
On one hand, I desperately wanted to be part of everyone and take a puff of that cigarette I was offered. On the other hand, I knew smoking wasn’t allowed, and was also illegal, and I was a Christian.
I had to make a decision. What was more important to me? Was being truthful to what I believed in and had experienced for myself most important? Or was being part of my peer group most important?
In the end, I chose being truthful to myself. I knew that I was a Christian. I knew that smoking illegally and unlawfully was not a Christian act. I knew that if I did it, I would either have to give up my faith because it would be meaningless, or feel large amounts of guilt at telling people I was a Christian with my mouth when my behaviour was telling a different story.
I’m not saying I was perfect. I made many decisions that were good in my teenage years. I also made some bad ones. But at that point, I chose to have integrity and be the person I said that I was. I chose to be faithful to the decision I had made years ago to be a Christian.
With every opportunity and pressure to break the rules or do something that I couldn’t reconcile with my Christian faith, I was really asking myself, “What kind of person am I and what kind of person do I want to be?”, “How do I get to be that kind of person?” and “Am I willing to do what it takes to be that person?”
What happens if you’ve never thought about this kind of thing in your life? What happens if you don’t want to make these sorts of decisions?
Think about it like a mobile phone. When you get a new one, it’s great fun to spend a couple of hours re-setting all the stuff like ring tones and display. You get your phone going just the way you want it and personalise it. If you don’t do that, the phone will still work on the default setting, but it will be just like every other phone out there.
You’re just like a phone. There are default settings for your life. If you never change your settings and make decisions, you will end up like the majority out there because you’ll go down the same paths, do the same things and end up in the same place.
When you’re a child, things happen to you that you can’t control, but from this point in your life, things happen because of a decision that’s either made or not made.
You can choose what settings your life will go on. If you don’t choose, your life will be a life on ‘default’. Look ahead 10 years. What do you see? Your decisions have already been made for you - by the majority of your peers.
What happens if you just can’t decide what path you want to take in life, or what kind of person you want to be?
A good strategy is to find an older person you admire and get to know them. Churches are full of godly older women. You could choose one who’s 25 or one who’s 80. Or choose both. Ask them what decisions they made in their life, and if they have any regrets. Find out what they think has been the most important thing in their life. Spend time with them and try out their values and attitudes.
If you’re a Christian and your decision is to be more like Jesus, and to follow God’s leading through your life, you just can’t go past making time in your life to regularly read your Bible and pray. You can’t go past getting together with other Christians at church and youth group to learn and be encouraged. You can’t go past asking the Holy Spirit to change you and give you opportunities to grow in faith and good deeds.
If you’re not a Christian, I seriously recommend you check out Jesus for yourself. Find a Christian person you trust and ask them some questions. Get a copy of Mark’s Gospel and read it. Test God out by talking to him. It’s called prayer. He will answer you, so get ready for it. In my experience, the Christian life is fulfilling, meaningful and exciting. Yes, it can be hard, but after the hard bits are over, I look back and see how much I’ve learned.
In terms of peer pressure, of course, the big question is, ‘will making these big life decisions actually change anything for me?’
The answer is yes. If you know who you are and where you are going, you’re a person with a plan and a purpose. Everyone respects people who know what they are about. Even if that respect is not shown outwardly, I guarantee you that it’s there.
When I was 15, I changed schools. Before I left, one of the girls who gave me a hard time about my faith and my choices said seriously to me, “You know, I do respect you really. You at least know what you’re about and you’re not afraid to stand up for it.”
Having a plan and a purpose also helps you to keep your big picture in mind. If you’re aiming to be a person who shows compassion for others, then you’ll see that joining in teasing or gossip because everyone else is doing it isn’t going to help you get to your goal. You’ll be able to say no because you have a bigger purpose in your life.