Some of us, as we think about peer pressure, will picture drunken teenagers staggering out of parties. Or we’ll be thrown back in time to our own school days and those awkward assemblies where we were told about the dangers of drugs. But there’s much more to it than that isn't there? There will always be the same old temptations that are easier to spot. Then there are the subtler pressures to join in gossip or bullying or maybe to care more about worldly success than what God thinks. Young people growing up now also face huge amounts of peer pressure around the area of identity and sexuality in a way that may be different from previous generations. Standing up for a biblical view of sex and gender can make teenagers feel like the enemy. They can be singled out as evil monsters if they don’t go along with and celebrate what the world says.
Of course it feels much easier to give into peer pressure in this area and take a stance that feels more acceptable. But peer pressure doesn’t only affect young people. We all want to be liked. We all want to fit in. We all fear being on the outside. We all want to have easy and comfortable lives. So equipping teens to step in faith when faced with peer pressure starts with recognising that at the heart of it is idolatry and the fear of man. We all know something about that! We are all just like the Israelites who wanted to be as the nations round them. So, with that in mind, here are a few thoughts (for which I have to thank some of my ‘old’ teenagers for helping me think through!).
Just keep showing them Jesus
As Thomas Chalmers says, “the only way to dispossess [the heart] of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one”. Basically, saying “look at how beautiful Jesus is” is so much more powerful than “don’t do this” or “don’t do that”. Therefore, let’s continue to teach teenagers to keep gazing on Jesus in order that they could see how much more valuable and worthy he is than the things the world has to offer them (Philippians 3:8). Jesus is the one who could really sympathise with them in terms of peer pressure because he experienced it himself, and knows the cost of not giving in (Hebrews 4:15). So, let’s keep reminding teenagers of God’s amazing grace and mercy as they get up and keep going after a fall.
Teach them God’s good design from a young age
It’s never too early to start getting children excited about God’s good design for humans in Genesis 1. These children we pray will grow into teenagers who are confident that what God says is good for us, especially in the area of gender and sexuality. Just telling teenagers not to give in to peer pressure won’t work (it doesn’t work for us either does it?!). But growing up seeing why God says what he says, and how much better his blueprint for relationships is will make a huge difference.
Encourage godly friendships
There are plenty of warnings in the Bible that show that who we spend time with does matter (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 22:24-25). Could we challenge the young people in our lives to think about who they are surrounding themselves with? Let’s look at the kind of relationships the teenagers in our church have too. Do they have real relationships with older, mature Christians walking alongside them? If you’re a parent, can you make use of those in your church who could be someone who is slightly further on in their faith who your teenagers can talk to when they’re struggling? Remember that peer pressure can work the other way too. Let’s remind teenagers of Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:12. In what
ways can they be the one who influences their friends in positive ways?
Help them keep their eyes fixed on eternity
This is not our home so we won’t fit in. It’s normal to feel excluded and left out. We are called to be different, to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Christians who are distinctive are what those who are lost around us need more than Christians who will give into peer pressure. And missing out on something now isn't the end of the world. What we believe about eternity has a huge impact on how we live now. So let’s help teenagers to get excited about eternity, about getting to know Jesus now and the day we’ll see him face to face.