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Who’s Pulling Your Strings?

Overcoming peer pressure — Part 1

Doug Britton, MFT

Page Summary
Summary: Peer pressure affects everyone, sometimes in good ways, but most often in bad ways. When we give in to peer pressure, we are likely to make mistakes we will regret. Step one in overcoming peer pressure is to Identify the problem.

Part 1 of a 4-part series on “Overcoming Peer Pressure”

Part 2      Part 3      Part 4

Peer pressure can be bad or good

When I started to write this Bible study, I thought it would be pretty straightforward. Almost everyone has heard of “peer pressure,” and most of us know that giving in to it can cause problems.

But as I wrote, I realized that sometimes peer pressure can be positive. For example, if you wanted to wear a swimming suit to church Sunday morning, peer pressure would probably keep you from doing it—and that’s a good thing. If you wore a swimming suit, you would cause a distraction and take away from other people’s worship experience (unless, perhaps, you were in Hawaii).

If you felt like getting up and dancing in the middle of a business meeting, you probably wouldn’t do it because you would lose the respect of everyone in the room—and that’s a good thing. Giving in to peer pressure would keep you from doing something foolish, and likely getting fired.

Of course, giving in to peer pressure often leads to problems, sometimes serious problems. For example, if a group dared you to drink a bottle of vodka without stopping and you did it, you might end up dead.

Peer pressure—the pressure of a group trying to get an individual to do something—can be bad, or it can be good. It depends on the circumstances—who is in your peer group and what the group wants you to do.

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26)

Make it personal

1. Do you feel controlled by people or groups? Explain your answer.

2. Describe some situations you have been in where peer pressure was a good thing. Explain why it was positive or helpful.

3. Describe some situations you have been in where peer pressure was a bad thing. Explain why it was negative or harmful.

4. In general, what would be a good guideline to follow when deciding whether or not to go along with peer pressure? Explain your answer.

Who’s pulling your strings?

When I was a child, I used to enjoy watching a puppeteer operate a doll that was hanging from several strings attached to a rod. When the puppeteer pulled one string up, the doll’s arm jerked up. When the puppeteer pulled another rod, the doll’s leg jerked.

Do you ever feel controlled like a puppet by others—your boss, parents, spouse, law enforcement, teachers, politicians, pastor, or society in general? You might be right. Some or all of them might pressure you to act in certain ways.

Your peer group might control you more than you think.

But what about the people you hang out with, your peers? They probably have their own expectations or rules that can be just as controlling as anyone else’s. For example, what does your peer group think about:

— Your clothing

Your peer group may have clear ideas about what is okay and what isn’t. There’s a good chance they would make fun of you if you dressed in certain ways.

— Your hair style, tattoos, piercings, jewelry, or makeup

Your peers might allow you some freedom of expression in your personal style, but they probably would give you a hard time if you looked very different from their idea of “cool.”

— Your language (or slang)

Your peers might criticize you or make fun of you if you don’t speak in the same “language.” They might expect you to use the same words, phrases, and style of speech they use.

— Your opinions

Your peer group may be very intolerant of opinions or ideas they disagree with. For example, they might get mad or make fun of you if you express the “wrong” opinions about politicians, music, movies, sports teams, talk radio shows, or religion.

Make it personal

5. Who is in your peer group (or peer groups, if there are more than one), the people you spend time with?

6. How does the peer group expect people to act or dress?

7. How would your peer group respond if you didn’t go along with the group’s expectations? Explain your answer.

Examples of negative peer pressure

When you are with people, there’s a good chance that sometimes you feel pressure to do or say something you know isn’t right. This may be because you are trying to fit in, you want to impress them, or you are afraid of their disapproval. There are countless ways in which you might give in to peer pressure. For example, you might:

  • Join in when others criticize or gossip about someone.
  • Spend more money for lunch than you should because your friends are spending a lot.
  • Steal something or shoplift.
  • Laugh at a dirty joke (or tell a dirty joke).
  • Get drunk or smoke something you shouldn’t smoke.
  • Make fun of someone of a different race.
  • Make fun of someone because of their clothes.
  • Go to an inappropriate movie.

Make it personal

8. What are some ways you have given in to peer pressure?

Teenagers often face challenges in high school

I sometimes counsel Christian teenagers who are in public high school. For many high schoolers, these are awkward and lonely years. But Christian teens sometimes feel even more isolated and alienated than non-Christians, since in a lot of high schools, Christianity is looked down on by many teachers and other students.

These teenagers are often embarrassed to be identified as Christians, and many try to hide their faith. For them, high school is a time of survival, trying not to be known as a Christian, while trying not to do too many bad things. Many times, the end result is that their faith slips as they become increasingly influenced by their peers.

Adults often face similar challenges

Adults too may try to hide the fact that they are Christians on the job, on athletic teams, or with friends. The Bible tells us that Peter and Barnabas gave in to peer pressure.

Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:12-13)

Leaders sometimes face challenges

Leaders sometimes give in to peer pressure, going along with their followers even when they know they shouldn’t.

A striking example of this is found in Chapter 32 of Exodus. When God was speaking to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the people got restless and asked Aaron to make them “gods.” Although Aaron was the High Priest and fully aware this would be very wrong, he went along with them.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:1-4)

Make it personal

9. What are the main ways peer pressure is a problem for you?

10. Say a short prayer asking God to help you learn how to overcome peer pressure as you continue reading this book.

Memory verse

A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26)

Make it personal

1. Define peer pressure in your own words:

2. What’s wrong with negative peer pressure?

3. What are some of the main ways you have given in to negative peer pressure?

4. Can you see any hope of breaking free from the negative peer pressure you identified in question 3, above? Why or why not?

5. Describe a time you were influenced by positive peer pressure:

6. What are the main reasons you have given in to negative peer pressure in the past?

7. Why do you think Aaron went along with the Israelites and made a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-4)?

8. What lesson can you learn from Aaron’s example?

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About Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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