Nearly 20 years ago I was in a room with a group of Christian leaders, and we were asked to vote on a particular issue. I was seated next to a very close friend who had a strong opinion that was opposite from mine. During the debate that ensued, I kept silent about my convictions.
Finally we were asked to stand to indicate a “yes” vote. I watched my friend stand and thought, I’m against this, but how can I stay seated when one of my best friends is standing? I looked around the room as other men stood, and I did what every preadolescent or teenager is tempted to do: I stood. Only two men voted against the proposal. I still remember them because of their courage and convictions.
Rainey, you’re a hypocrite, I thought. You have just succumbed to peer pressure.
I learned some very important lessons that day through my compromise: First, I am susceptible to peer pressure. Second, it takes courage to stand for my convictions.
If you desire to help your child resist peer pressure, you will first need to examine your life to make sure the same trap does not ensnare you. Otherwise, you may be giving more instruction to your child on responding to peers than you realize.
We believe there are several core convictions related to the trap of peer pressure that parents need to hold.
Parents’ Conviction 1: The quality of our relationship with our child is the determining factor in how significant peer influence will be.
The world is often a hostile environment for children. Most adolescents experience a significant amount of alienation. Some youngsters are extremely popular during adolescence, but the majority really struggle with feelings of being excluded.
The family must become the harbor in the storm. The family must be that safe haven that always welcomes your teen back. No matter what the world says to them, they know they can find love there. We often tell our children, “Nothing you can do will make me love you any more and nothing you can do will make me love you less.”
Children need to be needed at home. They long for approval, for a deep sense of belonging, for importance, for order and security. If they don’t receive these things at home, they will seek them elsewhere.
Parents’ Conviction 2: We will never underestimate the incredible impact—negative or positive—of peer relationships on a preadolescent or teenager.
When Ashley was 13, she came home from school one day and described the pressure she was feeling from peers. She told us that they were making her feel like she was standing alone on a wall. Some of her friends were on the ground below, trying to get her to do something she didn’t want to do, chucking stones, and pulling and tugging on her, trying to knock her down. Others were jeering at her and making fun of her for her standards. And even though she felt horribly alone on that wall, Ashley withstood their attempts to discourage her.
We told Ashley that when peers try to pull you off the wall they are ultimately trying to get you to drop your standards to fit in with the herd, so that the herd can feel good about the choices it’s making. We applauded her for standing strong.
Another way to counteract this negative herd instinct is to use positive peer pressure to your advantage. You may want to consider challenging one or two of your child’s friends to be a good influence on your child while at the same time challenging your child to be a positive influence on them.
We approached the parents of one of our teenager’s best friends and asked them if we could challenge their two teens to be a positive influence on our child. What followed was a great discussion with all three girls. We talked about how they could encourage one another to do what was right with the opposite sex, how they could be a positive influence in the lives of others at school, and how they could hold one another accountable. They accepted the challenge to positively influence one another.
Parents’ Conviction 3: We will not relinquish our right to influence and even control our child’s relationships.
You are the parent. Realize that maintaining control of those who influence your children is within the bounds of your authority as a parent. As friendships begin to take shape, steer your children in the direction of positive peer pressure and away from negative influences. We have made it difficult for our children to spend time with friends who do not provide the kind of influence we desire. In certain cases, we’ve even declared certain friends off-limits.
It isn’t wrong to make it more difficult for your children to get together with those who look like bad apples. You need to carefully choose the orchard where your children will do their picking. We have encouraged our children to invite their friends over, to make our home the place to be. We particularly encourage our children to invite those friends that we know are good influences.
If all the apples are hanging out at your house, you can check out the quality of the fruit. You learn a lot when friends spend the night. You can observe how they behave, what kind of language they use, what they talk about. Then you’ll have more information to use in steering your child in the direction of the good apples.
If you can, get to know the friend’s parents to gain some idea of their values, beliefs, and convictions. One way to begin to get to know another family is by going to their home to pick up their child when he is invited to your house, or by offering to take him home.
Also, be especially careful about where you allow your child to spend the night. That’s one setting where peer pressure can be intense—to participate in ungodly conversation, for example, or to watch movies or play games that do not meet your standards.
The older your teen is, the more of an explanation your child will need. On one occasion we explained to our son Benjamin (then 15) that we didn’t feel a certain friend was a good influence on him—the boy’s life reflected a home that was very unstable and it was clear that his influence on Benjamin was far greater than Benjamin’s influence on him. He felt we were being unfair, but we carefully explained our concerns. Then we prayed with him for his protection and wisdom in handling this friendship.
You do have to handle this carefully, because if you are overly controlling, you can drive your child away from you and directly to the relationships that concern you. We have found that if we are eliminating a relationship our child enjoys, we have to step in and aggressively spend time with our child and meet his needs. Ultimately, of course, as your child grows older he will increasingly choose his friends on his own, and these teaching times with him now will influence his choices later.
For the single parent
Resist the temptation to engage in drop-off parenting, leaving the child with friends at teen hangouts. However, if your child wants to be involved in after-school activities, find situations that are effectively supervised by adults.
You may have to work even harder at relationship building. With incredible demands on time, this is a real challenge. But even a few minutes of focused one-on-one interaction a day is much better than none at all.
If the child spends time with the non-custodial parent, seek to establish consistent guidelines on how much time is to be spent with friends, and which activities are acceptable. Share information with your child’s other parent on which friends are the best influence on the child.
If possible, through your church or perhaps with the parents of one of your child’s friends, form an unofficial parenting partnership. Encourage the other family to monitor your child’s attitudes, actions, and speech while he is in their home, and to feel comfortable reporting observations to you.
Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.