Who or What Determines Peer Standards?
As youths get older they become more aware of their peers and their standards. The desire to be popular and accepted by those in their own age group becomes a powerful influence in their lives; so is the fear of rejection. With the declining influence of parents over the course that young people take, these young ones become especially vulnerable to molding from their peers. Also rapidly filling up any vacuum that may be left are movies, television, music and advertising.
These promote the idea that sexual activity is necessary for a person to be accepted and loved. Some US studies reveal that by the time youths reach nineteen, 90 percent have already had sex. Yet Dr. Corinne Devlin, head of the McMaster University Medical Centre Reproductive Regulation Clinic, candidly states that what many young people really want is not sex.
In a report in the Toronto Star, she said: “When teens do have sex it’s often for non-sexual reasons-to be thought ‘normal’ or to have some basic adolescent questions answered, such as ‘Do you like me, or do you want to hang around with me?’ There’s a very clear message going around: If you care for someone, the way you show it is not by honor, respect, companionship. You show it by having intercourse.”
That message is drummed into teens wherever they turn.
It’s the same message in music and top-selling records aimed at youths. That, along with the conduct of popular musicians, contributes to establishing peer standards. “The group I associated with had its own music and idols,” relates Karen, who is now a single parent, “and so I would listen to records that were accepted by my friends. I didn’t realize, though, how much I was influenced by music, not only in using drugs and engaging in sex but also in developing a feeling of resentment against my parents and anyone with authority.”
Further contributing to peer standards is the vulnerability of youths to the influences of sensuality and emotion. With the onset of puberty teens ride the crest of a wave of new experiences, realizations and feelings that they have never had to deal with before. And with the growing rejection of earlier moral standards, many find themselves going along with conduct they don’t personally like.
How to Cope With Peer Pressure
Young people are looking for direction and feel the need to talk with someone. Discerning parents encourage open-minded discussions from an early age and take time to listen to the problems and temptations teenagers are facing. Most youths readily respond to love and attention; they need assurance that they are wanted and understood. When it is not found at home, a youth will search for it elsewhere. That can make him vulnerable to peer pressure.
Often young people give in to peer pressure because of a lack of confidence in themselves or due to feelings of insecurity. So if your parents encourage you to develop your talents, abilities and skills, recognize the value of it. “Adolescents who are good at something feel important in their own right,” says Beth Winship, a US teen adviser. “They don’t have to depend on peer approval for good self-image.”
And if your parents try to teach you proper moral values along with adult skills such as decisiveness and self-control, don’t fight it. One young girl said: “My parents were firm with me. I didn’t like it at times, but I’m glad they put their foot down and limited my associations.” Because of that parental help, she did not give in to pressure to engage in drug use and sex.
Since your associates are going to influence you and your morals, it is important to be selective as to your friends. Associating with those who have good values and standards can assist as a protection from wrongdoing. Thus, this peer pressure can serve for good.
However, being selective may also mean fewer associates. How can a person cope with this problem and deal with feelings of isolation? One teenager expressed herself this way: “When I didn’t go along with others in school, with their ideas on drugs and sex, they soon left me alone. Although this lifted a lot of pressure off me to conform, it did make me feel a little lonesome. But then I looked around until I found another girl who was serious about studying, who had similar values to mine and with whom I could associate during school hours. This helped a lot.”
Some wise youths who have no parents they can talk to have made friends with older, more experienced individuals who could give them sound advice. As the Bible says: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise.”-Proverbs 13:20.
To stand firm against peer pressure to do unwise things, you need to have strong personal convictions and sufficient motivation to follow through. How can you get these? Well, who knows more about life than mankind’s Creator? In the Bible he has had recorded the guidelines for a life that is truly satisfying.-Psalm 119:9-11, 105.
Getting to know Jehovah as a friend, as someone who can be approached for help anytime day or night through personal, heartfelt prayer has given many the courage to be different and the strength to resist when the world tried to ‘squeeze them into its mold.’ (Romans 12:2, Phillips) “The greatest help I found in coping with peer pressure and in resisting a life of immorality, drugs and alcohol was in developing a close relationship with Jehovah God,” reflected Michelle.
As many youths among Jehovah’s Witnesses have learned, they are generally respected and admired for standing up for right principles. They know that, as expressed at Proverbs 29:25, “trembling at men is what lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.”