Most peer pressure bombards its victims with messages telling them that they are inadequate and their life is incomplete, unless they go along with the crowd—even though the crowd does not often have the individual's best interest at heart. To resist these strong messages is not easy. To reject them puts a young person at risk of losing acceptance by his or her friends.
One night while I was in college, I went to the movies with a group of friends. We had no particular movie in mind, so we made our choice based entirely on our fondness for the actors. But when a highly offensive scene took place on the screen, we realized that we had made a mistake. I remember feeling stunned, and I was not even sure of what I had just seen.
However, I will never forget that one of the guys in our group immediately stood up to leave the theater. I had never before witnessed anyone walk out on a movie before it ended, so I was shocked to see his bold reaction. But my friend's strong response was correct, and not only did he do the right thing by objecting; his example influenced the rest of us to decide to leave, too.
It is rare to find someone with clear convictions—someone who is willing to stand alone to do what is right, regardless of what others do. But, sometimes, that is exactly what is necessary when a situation calls for it. Perhaps you have been in uncomfortable circumstances similar to what my friends and I experienced in that theater, where you felt that you should do something, but you were afraid to be the first to act. No doubt others were having similar thoughts, but were waiting for someone else to act first.
Maybe you, too, have looked back at a circumstance where you "went along with the crowd" and regretted not having taken a stand. Maybe you have asked yourself, "How can an impressionable young person, sensitive to friends' opinions, grow up to be a person who is willing to stand alone?"
For most human beings, the desire to be accepted by one's peers is very strong. This can be especially true for young people, since social environments such as family and school are where we first learn how to "fit in" with the people around us. Much of our self-image is shaped by our early formative experiences, so our perception of social success or failure during those years is a vital factor in developing our self-esteem. It can be painful and lonely to be cast as an "outsider"—or to be thought of as "different" or "weird." As a result, many people—particularly young people—tend to conform to others' expectations in order to be accepted.
Although the term "peer pressure" has become so common that we may think of it as trite, those words form a good description of what many young people face every day. To get along with peers, they are pressured to put aside their own values, priorities, likes and dislikes, in order to conform to the group and thus win acceptance.
It can be difficult to go against the group. And, sometimes—depending on the nature of the pressure—it can be unwise to go against the group. If your peers are prodding you toward studying harder, remaining chaste, loving and respecting the people around you, and generally improving your life and your community—if they are the kind of people, like my college friend, who inspire you to reject offensive behavior whether in "entertainment" or in real life—then that is a good pressure that can help you grow and flourish.
Sadly, though, for most who face peer pressure, that is not the reality. Most peer pressure bombards its victims with messages telling them that they are inadequate and their life is incomplete, unless they go along with the crowd—even though the crowd does not often have the individual's best interest at heart. To resist these strong messages is not easy. To reject them puts a young person at risk of losing acceptance by his or her friends. Yet, at times, it becomes necessary to "stand alone" if one is to maintain one's values and grow toward maturity.
The Bible gives an excellent example of a young person who had the courage to stand alone in the face of pressure. Likely a teenager at the beginning of the book that bears his name, Daniel was taken from his homeland of Judah to the ancient city of Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:1–6). Daniel and his friends were expected to eat food and drink wine provided by the king as part of their training to serve within the palace. Although the Bible does not specify what was wrong with this food, Daniel knew eating it would cause him to be defiled (v. 8).
Daniel had to choose. Would he eat the food and become defiled? Or would he uphold his commitment to God and refuse to eat the defiling food? In one sense, it would have been far easier for him to eat the king's food. Refusal was no small matter. Even the chief of the king's eunuchs feared for his life if something went wrong, so Daniel could only imagine how much worse it would have been for a slave to offend the king (v. 10). Eating the food would have preserved Daniel's physical well-being, and he might have rationalized that "God would understand" that he had no other practical choice, as a captive in a foreign land.
However, courageous Daniel did not see it that way. He was willing to do what was right, regardless of the risk. What made the difference for Daniel?
One primary difference was the strength of his conviction. We read that "Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself" (v. 8). In other words, Daniel made up his mind to do what he did. As simple as that sounds, the act of making a firm personal decision is an essential element of doing the right thing. Having made a firm personal decision, you are no longer so vulnerable to the emotional appeal of going along with others. Once Daniel knew in his heart that there was no room for compromise, he could stand alone even in this difficult—potentially life-threatening—situation.
Another important difference was that Daniel's personal decision was founded on the rock-solid foundation of God's word. Daniel knew that God's word is truth (John 17:17). Truth, by definition, is always truth! It was as true when it was written as it is now, and will be true in any circumstance at any time. Daniel knew what he had to do, because God had defined what defiles a person. Daniel did not rely on his own opinion, or anyone else's, to shape his ideas; they were based on the right foundation.
In every young person's life, there will be times when it becomes necessary to "stand alone" and resist the pressure of the crowd. This is not always easy to do. However, the Bible says that "those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" are able to handle such dilemmas (Hebrews 5:14, English Standard Version). Daniel's strength of conviction was based on the solid foundation of God's word, and yours can be, too. By putting God's word into practice in your life now, you can develop the personal strength of conviction that will allow you to accept the challenge when it is time to stand alone.