Peer pressure is not just a temptation for teens. Think about your life in the last week and ask, How many times did I do something, make a decision to buy something or feel inferior and berated myself because I compared myself to someone else and wanted to be like them? I’m guilty.
If you are honest, it happens a lot. And it’s not just teens or women who look at others in comparison. My husband tells the story of a time he was in a meeting and everyone present was asked to vote on a decision by standing. He didn’t want to stand because he was against the proposal but he saw the majority stand including men he respected, so he caved to peer pressure and stood. Later he regretted that decision.
At school the pressure of peers will be suddenly upon your kids no matter their age. The desire to fit in, to be accepted, to be liked, can be too much to resist, especially as children begin middle school or for our kids it was sixth grade.
Our children took lunches they made at home every morning for most of their school years. It was a financial and nutritional decision for us. In high school they had the flexibility to go out to lunch if they met the school’s grade requirements and saved enough money or they could buy in the cafeteria, on their dime.
But for one of our kids the take-a-sack lunch tradition didn’t blend with the need to do what everyone else was doing. This child observed all the other sixth grade kids buying their lunch and desperately wanted to join in. So our pre-teen decided to simply drop the lunch made that morning in the trash and walk through the line with all the other “cool” kids.
Unbeknownst to us, most parents paid for lunches by the semester, so the adult worker in the cafeteria simply recorded our child’s name on the list…day after day after day. I’m sure it never occurred to this not-yet-mature pre-teen mind that mom and dad would get a bill one day for a semester of charged lunches!
One of our oft-repeated prayers as parents went like this: “O Lord, help us catch our children when they do wrong so they will know that You see everything and learn that cheating or breaking the rules is not worth it. Amen.”
God answered our prayer when one day a younger sibling saw the older sibling throw away the lunch and walk out of the cafeteria carrying a tray. I’m sure this one felt a jealous pang of manifest unfairness! And so that night the sibling asked why they couldn’t get the same lunch. What followed was a lengthy inquisition to get to the truth.
Our offending child learned quickly that doing what the others were doing was costly. For a very long time this one was doing extra jobs to earn the money to repay us for all those charged lunches, an unimaginably large sum for a sixth grader.
What initially felt like a crisis for us; what had we missed or done wrong we wondered at first, quickly became an opportunity to teach the presence of God that goes everywhere our kids go and sees all that they do. We also were encouraged that God heard our prayers and helped us “catch” this one in their sin. And in the years to come God answered that prayer multiple times for all of our children.
Just as peer pressure still trips you as an adult be proactive and intentional about helping your kids avoid their own peer pressure traps this school year and beyond.
Start by sharing some of your own failures.
Do a short Bible study one evening before school begins for the year looking at all the verses that teach God’s all seeing all knowing presence.
Pray with your kids often, hopefully every night and every morning before school that they will be alert and watching for temptations to succumb to peer pressure.
And remind them that not all peer pressure is bad. Encourage them to be leaders, to set a good example that others will want to follow. Talk about some ways to influence good peer pressure with their friends.
Training isn’t always easy or pleasant, but it is worth it in the end. So moms and dads, be strong and courageous and share your failures with your kids, telling them how you learned the hard way too. Stick to your values and teach them to your kids.
Parenting isn’t a popularity contest. Raising children to adulthood is all consuming but so worth it in the end. Peer pressure will always be an issue for your kids so prepare them for that. They can’t avoid it just as you can’t. Surprises will come like this one did for us, but God loves to help parents whose goal is to raise children who desire to love and please Him.