Key Scriptures: 2 Samuel 15-17, Proverbs 13:20, 1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Corinthians 15:33-34, Proverbs 1:10, Acts 5:29, James 1:12-15, Hebrews 2:18, Galatians 2:11-13, Judges 14 – 16, Esther 1
Guiding Question: How can we avoid giving in to negative peer pressure?
Optional Introductory Activity: Once students have arrived, send two students together on a quick errand outside of the classroom. (Choose students you can trust to return in less than five minutes.) Quickly explain your the other students that you want to do an experiment on peer pressure. Have the majority quickly move from their chairs and have them sit on a desk or the floor (Not both.). Have only one or two students that don’t participate and are sitting how they were when the students left.
Instruct students to refrain from saying anything until you give an agreed upon signal. At that point, a couple of the students perceived as leaders shoils encourage the returning students to sit the way they are sitting. When the students return, be talking with the students about something. Give them a few seconds to decide how they will sit. If they sit as they were before leaving, quietly give the agreed upon sign to the others. The chosen students should encourage the returning students to sit in the new unusual way. If the students look to you for reassurance, ignore them and continue talking.
After the returning students have decided whether or not to give into the non-verbal or verbal peer pressure, ask them why they made the choices they did as to how to sit. Have the one or two students who were seated the original way explain if they had any strange feelings about sitting differently from the majority of the class, even though they understood what was happening. Have them share incidences from their lives when they or someone they know gave into peer pressure. Why do they believe the person gave into the pressure, rather than resisting it?
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) The dictionary defines peer pressure as influence from members of one’s peer group. Adults sometimes make it sound as if only teens are impacted by peer pressure. The truth is adults can be as susceptible to peer pressure as teens. We also tend to assume all peer pressure is negative, because it often is. Positive peer pressure does exist, but it is rare and often more difficult to exert on others than negative peer pressure. In fact, positive peer pressure can be so difficult to exert successfully, that those trying to use it can end up using toxic techniques…turning positive peer pressure into something toxic as well.
There are several stories in the Bible that involve peer pressure. The story of Absalom is ultimately a story of conspiracy. Absalom was cunning, devious and manipulative. One of the tactics he used was peer pressure. Read 2 Samuel 15-17. Where are the points in the story when Absalom used peer pressure to advance his quest to take the throne for his father King David? How did David use peer pressure to begin thwarting Absalom’s plans? How can just one or two people use their influence to create a type of peer pressure that causes a lot of people to follow them? How do ego and self esteem play a part in giving in to peer pressure from others? What role does trust or the lack of trust play in peer pressure?
Absalom was not the only person in the Bible to have peer pressure impact his life. Review the life of Samson in Judges 14-16. At what points was Samson’s life impacted by his willingness to give in to peer pressure? Why was Delilah’s peer pressure to tell her the secret of his strength so impactful? The more we want to be liked and accepted by a person or a group of people, the more likely we are to give in to any peer pressure they choose to exert upon us. Why are we often more susceptible to the peer pressure of those we like or admire?
Read Mark 15. Why was Pilate susceptible to the pressure of the people to crucify Jesus? Why do we sometimes give into peer pressure even if we don’t particularly like or admire the people pressuring us? Even though Pilate was probably richer and more powerful than the people pressuring him, Pilate valued being accepted by the people and feared what might happen if he didn’t give into their peer pressure. Although the people were technically not his peers (because they didn’t have Pilate’s status) Pilate allowed the number of people and the force of their pressure sway him. Why does it sometimes seem easier to give into peer pressure than to resist it? Why didn’t knowing the right thing to do prevent Pilate from crucifying Jesus? Why do we sometimes give into peer pressure even though we know doing so is not in our best interests, is dangerous to us or others or is sinful?
God understands Satan can use peer pressure to make us more likely to give in to the temptation to sin. In fact, the Bible has advice about how to avoid negative peer pressure and the temptations to sin it can create.
The Bible counsels the best way to avoid negative peer pressure is to carefully choose the people with whom we spend a lot of time. Read Proverbs 13:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:33-34. With what types of people do these verses say we should avoid spending a lot of time? What can we do to lessen the influence of people who would have a negative influence on us when we are forced in situations like school classes and extracurricular activities to spend time with them?
The Bible also tells us that when we are tempted by peer pressure to sin, there are some things we need to remember. Read the following passages of scripture. What does each passage encourage us to remember when we are tempted to sin by negative peer pressure?
- 1 Corinthians 10:13. God wants us to remember that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can withstand. Note though that even though God always provides a way of escaping those temptations, we must look for that escape route and take it. God will never take away your free choice. He wants you to make the right choices and He will help you if you let Him. Ultimately though, it is your choice and it is your responsibility to make the right choice.
- Proverbs 1:10. Proverbs gets very concrete with its advice in this verse. If someone tempts you to sin, just say “No”! Isn’t it interesting that saying “no” will get us out of a lot of bad situations, yet we are often afraid to say that one little two letter word. Why can it be scary to just say “no” to peer pressure?
- Acts 5:29. You can read the entire story to get the full context of this verse. Basically, they were arrested and God sent an angel to free them. When they begin preaching, the authorities came and brought them before the Sanhedrin who were like religious judges for the Jews. The Sanhedrin told them they should stop preaching about Jesus. It’s important to remember, the Sanhedrin could jail and punish them in just about any way they chose as long as the Roman authorities did not object. They could have made life miserable for the Apostles. Yet, Peter and the other Apostles responded that they needed to obey God rather than people! Why is it hard to remember that it is more important for you to obey God rather than give in to peer pressure?
- James 1:12-15. Sometimes when people are tempted by peer pressure, they may say something like, “God you need to stop tempting me!”. These verses explain that God does not tempt us. We have selfish desires that make us vulnerable when Satan tempts us by using peer pressure and others methods.
- Hebrews 2:18. Finally, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was tempted too. He understands how hard it can be to stand up to peer pressure and do the right, godly thing. Because of that empathy, he is fully capable and wants to help us to avoid sinning when tempted. The underlying assumption though is that we need to ask for his help and then take the help he provides. Can you think of a time when you or someone you know was tempted, they had a clear way to avoid the peer pressure and sinning, but gave into it any way? Why do you think they did not make the right choice?
Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. Teens often fail to withstand peer pressure, because they do not have enough strategies that will help them stand up to it. Many are also concerned with not losing any popularity in the process. Helping them learn, practice and remember helpful strategies can make it more likely they will ignore negative peer pressure in the future.
How much time you spend on this activity and the way you conduct it will depend in large part upon your students. If they seem confident and appear to be avoiding giving in to negative peer pressure, you may want to frame the activity as encouraging them to create picture books or activities to teach younger children how to avoid negative peer pressure. This can also be a great service project if you have the extra time.
Students who appear to be struggling with peer pressure should spend the activity time brainstorming and practicing effective strategies. Depending upon how badly they are struggling, you may need to actually teach them some effective strategies and provide multiple practice opportunities through real world scenarios. A few students may need ongoing practice to help them to easily remember and incorporate effective strategies in their life.
Below is a list of possible strategies to avoid succumbing to negative peer pressure. While some of these seem secular in nature, the avoidance of negative peer pressure and the sinning it may cause in one’s life is inherently biblical.
- Say, “No!” firmly
- Have memorized positive statements to use after saying no. For example, if someone is pressuring a teen to get drunk, they may reply, “No thanks. I need every brain cell I have!” (Alcohol has been shown to damage and destroy brain cells.)
- Repeat yourself. No need, to make up new excuses if they keep asking. Just keep saying the same thing over and over until they quit asking.
- Walk away.
- Avoid situations where you may be subjected to undue peer pressure (like a party at someone’s home with no adults present).
- Agree with a friend ahead of time that you will both decline negative peer pressure in one or more specific areas. (Note: This can backfire if the friend caves.)
- Hang out with people who are better at standing up to peer pressure than you are.
- Remind yourself of the verses we studied and the possible consequences if you do something you know is wrong.
- Stop making popularity a life goal.
- Seek help from adults problem solving scenarios that cause you trouble.
- Get plenty of sleep and healthy food. (It’s hard to be strong when you are tired and hungry.)
- Have more than one group of friends so if you need to distance yourself from a group that is unduly pressuring you to make bad choices, you still have other friends to hang out with.
- Spend less time with people who are a bad influence. (While you should be kind to everyone, you should not spend a lot of free time with people who encourage you to make bad choices.
- Come up with positive alternative suggestions for the negative ones. (Certain personality types can often pull this off with flair!)
- Remember you are not as alone as you may feel when standing up to negative peer pressure. There are other teens who feel the way you do about obeying God. As you get older, you will often cross paths with these people and they can become friends who encourage you to be more godly.
- Don’t believe the lies about you some teens may use in their attempts to pressure you. They are purposefully choosing words that hurt in hopes of getting you to change your mind. That does not mean those descriptive words are even remotely true about you. (Although sometimes what they think is an insult, may actually be a complement!)
Application Challenge: Review everything you learned about peer pressure from the lesson. Think about your life over the last year. When were times you felt peer pressure? How did you react? If you need more strategies to avoid peer pressure in the future, review the strategies you learned in class and practice them. If you are great at standing up to peer pressure, try to help someone who is younger or gives in to it easily by teaching them some of the strategies you use successfully.