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The Pressure to “Fit in”

with Richard and Dee Dee Stephens | May 17, 2006

What does it take for a teen to be popular today? Today on the broadcast, Richard and Dee Dee Stephens, founders of Teen Advisors, a mentoring program for teens, join Dennis Rainey and various teens to find out. You may be surprised to hear what they say.

What does it take for a teen to be popular today? Today on the broadcast, Richard and Dee Dee Stephens, founders of Teen Advisors, a mentoring program for teens, join Dennis Rainey and various teens to find out. You may be surprised to hear what they say.

The Pressure to “Fit in”

With Richard and Dee Dee Stephens
|
May 17, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

Teenage Boy: I would answer our goal in our high school is to be important, to be remembered, to be popular, to do all the things you see the popular kids doing, and that's your goal, and so a lot of times that would be a cliché, but you'll do whatever it takes to get to that state of popularity or to be remembered in high school.

Teenage Boy: The sad thing is, as you were saying that nowadays people will do what it takes to be popular and what it takes to be in this right circle, and it's sad to say, and it's sad to actually observe that what it takes is to go out and get drunk and to go out and partake in those negative activities.

Teenage Boy: I think parents would be surprised by the availability of stuff and how easy it is to access things like drugs or alcohol or pornography or how easy it is to have sex with somebody.  I think parents would be very frightened if they knew how easy it was to do all that stuff.

Teenage Girl: I would say at least a quarter of our senior class was really into this drug thing.

Teenage Boy: It's just so easy to get.  High school has changed a lot from, I think, what the crystal clear view of it used to be of going to pep rallies, going to football games.  The popular kids were the ones that were at the football games or they were at the pep rallies and all this stuff, and that were supporting the school.  That's not the same anymore.  Like, the popular kids aren't the ones that support the school.  The popular kids are the ones that go and get drunk on the weekends.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 17th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  And, as parents, if we're going to help our children survive life on the high school campus, maybe we need to understand what they're up against.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  I guarantee you, high school today is different …

Dennis: … do you think?

Bob: … than when you and I were in high school.

Dennis: What do you remember most from high school?  I remember walking down the halls wondering who I was going to talk to and when the next basketball game was, because that was my sport.

Bob: Yes, our team was second in state in basketball my sophomore year, and so I guess I probably remember the sporting events.  I remember the cute girls.  I mean, it was kind of the basic high school stuff, and I know there were issues, but it's been ratcheted up a notch since we were in school, hasn't it?

Dennis: It has.  You know, there is an equation we're going to talk about today, although we're not going to specifically discuss this equation.  Sports + girls + booze – morality = popular.  Now, that's been true for generations, but today, more than ever, perhaps, because of, I think, the lack of good, solid role models especially starting at home.  We've got a number of young people who need teen advisors.

Bob: And that equation that you spelled out is one that we got from talking to a group of teenagers who are a part of being that role model example for younger peers.  We heard about a program a while back from a friend of ours, Chris Willard.  He told us about a mom and a dad in Columbus, Georgia, who were concerned about their own children and the high school experience they were going to have, and they decided that instead of letting their children succumb to negative peer pressure, they would see if they could create a little positive peer pressure around the school.

Dennis: Instead of going with the flow, Richard and DeeDee Stephens decided to hammer out a ministry on their own.  Now, this is just a lay couple who wanted to make a difference in their teenagers' lives and their community, and so they formed a ministry called "Teen Advisors."

Bob: And they enlisted high school students and college students as well to be available to interact with their peers and to point them in the right direction when it comes to things like abstinence and substance abuse …

Dennis: … peer pressure …

Bob: … and morality – all of those issues, and it's kind of caught on there in the Columbus area.  So we asked Richard and DeeDee if they would come spend some time with us, tell us about the program, and bring along some of the Teen Advisors with them.

Dennis: And we asked this panel to step into the studio, and we tossed some tough questions at Liz and Kristin and Andy, and asked them what they thought about peer pressure and what it's like to be a teen today.

Bob: So we want you to eavesdrop on part of the conversation that we had with Richard and DeeDee Stephens and with three of the teen advisors from Columbus, Georgia, as we talked about life in high school for teenagers today.

DeeDee: Probably the best way for me to explain Teen Advisors is to talk about this freshman that walks into the high school, they very first day of school, small, insecure, not real sure what this huge life, this huge building, is going to present him, and he's trying to decide what is cool and what is acceptable and how am I going to fit in, and what he hears in the halls is mostly negative.  What he hears from the upperclassmen is the parties going on on the weekend, who is sleeping with who.

 When our oldest child was a freshman, and we became aware of that kind of pressure, it was very scary as parents.

Bob: That was really the genesis for you – when your daughter was about to be a freshman …

DeeDee: It was scary.

Bob: Scary for you – was it scary for her?

DeeDee: Yes, it was very scary, and she loved the Lord, and she was committed to the Lord, but, all of a sudden, she didn't really know who she was anymore.  There were too many choices out there.

Dennis: It's a frightening time for a young person.  They feel insecure just because of the changes taking place in their body and their identity and who they are, and so here you are, Richard, you're the parents of four kids, and you know all four of yours are about to pass through this danger zone.  Did the lights go off for you, too?

Richard: Yeah, it's really a cold sweat when you really think about what your kids are experiencing.  When they are going into an environment that they have to become what they really don't want to be, they have to go, many times, against all the principles that they've been taught all their life to be accepted.  When they see other kids that aren't changing their lives; that are holding onto the values that they have learned, and they're proud of those values, and they share them with them, it's an oasis for that young child.  It's a place to go where I can be what I know I’m supposed to be and be accepted for who I am.  I don't have to change to be accepted.

Bob: DeeDee, take me back to your daughter's – her first few days of ninth grade.

DeeDee: Well, I'd need to fast-forward faster than that.  It was really after – toward the end of the year, and it was just the realization that there were a lot of other young people in the high school who didn't believe the way everybody else was going, but they were too afraid to speak up and say something about it.  They felt too alone. 

 And so a group of us parents, a very small group, decided if we can somehow get these kids together and give them the confidence; give them, first of all, a reason to speak out about what they believed in, surround them with a few friends that will stand beside them, and then if the school will give us permission to have a place to speak like that.  So that's how the idea of Teen Advisors just kind of all got put together.

Dennis: You know, when Barbara and I finished the job of raising all six of ours through the teenage years, at the end of that time, I would have to say, number one, the most powerful influence in the lives of our kids, after us as parents and a family, and sometimes it wasn't always true – the peer pressure sometimes beat us out – was this incredible power you're talking about.  And it's a combination of two things – it's a combination of the insecurity coupled with the herd – just the power of the herd in young people's lives.

 Now, I want to ask you three young people, who are all in college, this is now removed four or five years, all right?  Which one of you can recall that freshman/sophomore year experience where you had those feelings of insecurity, and your eyes got big, and your legs started shaking, and you felt terribly insecure.  Which one of you would like to explain what that really felt like and what it was like to go through that?

Bob: Andy, you're nodding like you remember that.

Andy: Right, right, well, and I think that – I don't think that a lot of guys would admit their insecurities a lot of times, but I was very insecure going as a freshman.  My brother was a senior in high school when I was a freshman, and so I automatically felt like I had to live up to something else, because he was this big-time senior, you know, football player.  So I joined up football, and I was doing all of these things because I want to fit in, I wanted to be friends with the seniors, I want to fit in with all them and everything that they were doing.  And so I automatically, like, the first week, freshman year, was losing who I was just to become somebody that was going to be accepted in high school.

Bob: It became pretty clear to you pretty quickly …

Andy: Well, it wasn't clear to me then that that's what I was doing, but after a couple of years, I realized that everything that I was doing was just not right.

Bob: But what was clear to you, even on a subconscious level was if I'm going to fit here, I'm going to have to be somebody different than I am.

Andy: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, than I already am.

Bob: And what did that "different" look like?  What did that mean?

Andy: Oh, gosh, it was nasty.  I'll just tell you, the first two years of my high school experience I was – I experimented pretty heavily with alcohol and drugs, and that was mainly because I wanted to fit in, and it was just nasty.  The world that I had to be a part of in order to fit in.

Dennis: Now, wait a second.  You're talking about a 14-, 15-, 16-year-old, none of that stuff's legal.  How did you find it?  You're talking about drugs?

Andy: Yes, yes.

Dennis: Where'd you get it?

Andy: Well, it's just very easy to find.  I got – everything that I ever did, I got from friends, and, strangely enough, I never had to pay for any of it, and it was all just given to me because that was the social thing to do, and it was just available.

Dennis: You came from a good home?

Andy: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Dennis: Your parents didn't pass joints around, smoke dope together, right?

Andy: No.

Dennis: But you found yourself doing that?

Andy: Yeah.

Dennis: That's how powerful it can be.

Andy: That's how powerful it can be.

Dennis: What about you, Liz?

Liz: I never did drugs, but I had – my best friend spent most of her high school years doing drugs, and she just got them from friends, too.  She would go to the parking lot, and they would hand her a joint, or she would go to a party, and she would be passed out by the end of the night and couldn't go home because somebody gave her everything she wanted.

Dennis: Now, there are parents listening to you – you and Andy right now.  They're going, "You've got to be kidding me."

Andy: Well, I think that the problem is a lot of adults and parents are just clueless about what's going on, and they're just very naïve, and they think, "Not my child.  My child couldn't be doing that."  And I think that's the state that my parents were in.  It's no fault of their own.  They were great parents, and they taught me right from wrong, it's just it was so easy to do anything that I wanted to do.

Bob: You were keeping it all hidden from them, though.

Andy: Yes, yes.

Bob: So somehow you were sneaking in late at night acting sober, keeping the smell off, how'd you do all that stuff?

Andy: It was a system.  We had it worked out.  We're very clever.

[crosstalk]

Bob: I'm a parent.  I want to know the system.

Dennis: Absolutely.

Andy: Oh, gosh, here I am letting out all the secrets, this is no good.

[crosstalk]

Dennis: We've got parents who are about to take notes.

Andy: Yeah, that's right.  You just put a bottle of cologne in your pocket before you leave, you have another shirt in the car so that after you get done smoking, you can change shirts, and you can spray some cologne on you.  Keep a bottle of mouthwash in the back seat of the car.  That way you can rinse out. 

Dennis: Toothbrush, toothpaste?

Andy: Nah, that's not a big deal, because you say "Hey, Mom," and walk past them and then go into your room.

DeeDee: I would say one of the easiest things is that – tell me if I'm wrong – most parents are in bed by the time the kids get home.  All they have to do is check in – "Just let us know when you're home."

Dennis: Just (knocks) – "Hey, Mom, I'm in.  Dad, we're home."

DeeDee: Then the other thing is – I know some of their secrets, too.  They don't go home, they spend the night out at somebody else's house.

Andy: The biggest thing was just being deceitful, keeping it away from parents, and going to the kids' parents that didn't mind.  That was another thing.  There were parents who would buy alcohol for the kids.  I went to a couple of parties where the alcohol was provided by the parents.

Dennis: Now, I have to stop you there, because we caught our kids going to homes like that, and with parents who we went to church with who we thought were Christians.  I guess they were Christians, they just had a different value system.

Bob: But you're saying your kids could go over to their house and drink?  Mom and Dad said, "Well, it's better for them to do it here than" …

Dennis: Actually, our kids didn't drink, but what was happening over there was a lot of kids were, and the parents were creating an atmosphere where this could happen.  And so what we thought was a safe place, a place where there was accountability, standards, values that were similar to ours as parents, we found out, in many cases, they weren't the same.  So it's the very thing you're talking about, Andy.

Andy: Right.

Bob: Did your parents ask you "Are you drinking?  Are you smoking dope?"

Andy: Oh, yeah, they would ask on a very consistent basis, and just make sure that I was doing the right things, which I would always say yes to, of course.

Dennis: So you lied?

Andy: Oh, yeah.

Dennis: Okay.

Bob: Let me go to Liz, because you said your friend got caught up in all of this, but you didn't.

Liz: Yes.

Bob: Why do you think she did, and you didn't?

Liz: Well, we had a different value system from the beginning.  My parents raised me differently than her parents raised her, but a lot of times I had a contract.  I was in Teen Advisors even – most of the time, I didn't want to do it because I saw that it was empty, but even if I did, I was risking all of my other friends in my entire life in Teen Advisors being taken away because I broke my contract.

Bob: But when you got into high school in ninth grade, you didn't have a contract with Teen Advisors?

Liz: No.

Bob: You were just like Andy walking in, and the way to fit in is to go out and party, but you didn't.

Liz: I was shy.  I was lonely, and I was shy, and I didn't feel like I could talk to people, and I spent a lot of my freshman year without friends for that reason.

Dennis: Yeah, I want to say something about that because one of the things that we found with our kids as well – when they did do what was right, like you're talking about, many times they were lonely, and that they actually were ostracized and were not in the group, and it's interesting, as a parent, both Barbara and I felt pressure to help our children be in the in group, and we didn't realize as we were trying to help our children get in the in group what that meant.  If you get your child in the in group, you are also getting the same values that the in group has.

Bob: Did all of you go to church while you were in high school, junior high?  Were you regular church-goers?

Kristin: I wasn't a regular, and I guess I'd grown up in a Christian family, but not like a regular church-going family.

Bob: So you'd go from time to time.  Were you there every Sunday, Elizabeth?

Liz: I went from time to time.  I didn't have a regular church.

Andy: I was there every Sunday.

Bob: Okay, so here we've go Andy, who is the partier …

Dennis: He's the only church-goer in the bunch.

Bob: That’s right.  Here is my question – you're going to church every Sunday, are all your partying buddies at church, too?

Andy: They didn't go with me to church, but, yeah, most of them were all church-goers.

Liz: The one thing that I noticed about that was that it reminded me that the one reason that I wasn't compelled to go to church was that I felt so out of place in the youth group because they had been to the party the night before that I didn't want to go to, and they had been to the parties all weekend that I was trying not to go to and trying not to get into, and they would bring those stories to youth group with them on Sunday morning.  They would bring them to Sunday school, and I couldn't relate.  I had nothing to say to them because I hadn't been, and I felt more out of place in church with my youth group than I did in my high school, because at least in high school I had Teen Advisors.  When I went to school, I had friends who were NTAs, but when I went to church, I didn't have anybody.

Dennis: The thing I want to point out about that is that a lot of parents feel like their child is safe when they go to youth group, and I'm not down on youth groups.  I think you need to be highly selective of the group of young people your child spends time with, especially around spiritual matters.

 But if they're involved in a youth group, don't assume that because they are, therefore they're not being influenced by those matters that will take them off in the wrong direction.

DeeDee: Richard and I raised four children, and they were in church Sunday morning for Sunday school, Sunday for church, Wednesday night for youth group, sang in the choir, so they went Sunday night as well.  We've been married 37 years, so raised in a good home with a mother and father that loved each other.  All four of our children, when they hit high school, I would say most of – we would have loved it if their decisions were made, their choices were made because of what they believed God wanted them to do; what they believed we wanted them to do.  I would say most of their choices were made because of what their friends were doing.

Bob: Well, that is DeeDee Stephens, who is one of the founders of Teen Advisors, and a number of the panelists, Liz and Kristin and Andy, who joined us for a conversation.  In fact, we're going to hear more from them this week, but I had to think, as she was describing what these students are doing, I thought about your sixth grade Sunday school class.  You used to do the same thing – bring in the older kids to talk to the younger kids, right?

Dennis: I'm telling you, 10-, 11-, 12-year-old is just like a little radar unit.  They lock on these 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds who are in high school, and, "Oh, gosh, look at how old they are, how mature they are," and when they start talking about temptations and what they're facing and how you have to stand strong in advance of facing the issue, the younger ones really do listen. 

 And so three applications here – number one, train your preteens, your sixth graders, specifically, to decide in advance where they stand on these major issues of drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography.  They're going to face the issues.  Why not decide in advance what they're going to do?

 Secondly, train your children, as they become teens, how to withstand, how to flee, youthful lusts and how to get out of situations when they find themselves being tempted. 

 Third, challenge your teenager and, for that matter, challenge your 11- or 12-year-old.  As they grow up through the teenage years to always think of themselves as a positive peer; as one who is applying peer pressure from the side of goodness.  You know, over in Romans 12:1-2, it talks about us being transformed so we can prove what God's will is.  As you train your teenagers, challenge them to stand strong in the midst of peer pressure, in the midst of the challenging choices and temptations they face, and if they fail, let them know that the door is always open for you to talk with them and to talk about the grace of God.

Bob: Undoubtedly, some of our listeners are going to want to know more about Teen Advisors and wonder if there is a way for them to establish something like this in their own high school or in their own community.  We've got a link on our website at FamilyLife.com to the Teen Advisors website.  Just go to FamilyLife.com and click the red button in the center of the screen that says "Go," and that will take you to a page where you can find the link to the Teen Advisor site. 

 You'll also find on that page information about resources that we would recommend to parents who have teenagers or are about to have teenagers.  If you've got younger children who are headed toward the teenage years, can I encourage you to get a copy of the book Dennis and Barbara Rainey have written called "Parenting Today's Adolescent."  You may want to consider getting a devotional for your student.  Our friends at Walk Through the Bible Ministries have put together 26 weeks of daily devotions designed for teens to help them stay spiritually strong as they deal with the kinds of issues we've talked about today.

 Again, all the information about these resources is on our website at FamilyLife.com.  Just go there and click that red "Go" button in the middle of the screen.  You can order from our website, if you'd like, or you can call 1-800-358-6329, which is 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we can get these resources sent out to you.

 This month we have been spreading the word about a unique opportunity that we have here at FamilyLife where some friends of the ministry have come to us and offered to match donations that we receive during the month of May on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $350,000.  Already we've heard from a lot of our listeners who have contacted us and said, "We want to help support this effort and want to make sure you can take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity."

 Just recently, we had another friend who stepped in and said, "I'd like to raise the stakes a little bit," and he pledged an additional $25,000 to encourage, again, listeners to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  So now instead of a goal of $350,000, we have a new goal of $375,000, which simply means we need as many of you as possible to do what you can do this month.   Make a donation of any amount, and that donation will be matched dollar for dollar up to this new total of $375,000.

 Let me say thanks in advance for standing with us financially.  We appreciate your financial support, and it will really help us as we go through the summer months when there is sometimes a shortfall in donations to the ministry.  So, again, if you can make a donation of any amount this month, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, and make your donation online or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make your donation over the phone, and we appreciate you pitching in to help us get to the goal of $375,000.  Thanks for your support of this ministry.

 Tomorrow we are going to be back to hear more from our panel of teenagers about life on the high school campus today, and we're going to get the scoop on what's going on when it comes to couples hooking up in high school.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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