"If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?" This was a catch phrase of Mom's when I was young and the point is a good one. And although I think this phrase is not used as much as it once was, the issue of peer pressure which this was used to address is as strong or perhaps even stronger than ever. Peer pressure by definition is a feeling that one must do the same things as others to be liked or respected by them. Quite honestly this is not always necessarily a bad thing if one chooses the right peers. I would say there can be positive peer pressure as well as negative peer pressure again with the underlying factor being the choice of peers. I often ask my students who they think their friends are? And then I explain to them that it is not always just the people who live the closest to us or that we have known the longest that are our best friends. As a matter of fact as my students get older I encourage them to choose friends that have similar goals as them. To do this one must search themselves to discover their own identity and then develop goals based on this, their own identity. Once they begin to develop their own goals and build strategies to accomplish these goals, this is where I advise them to make friends with those of similar goals so as to be able to encourage and support each other in this pursuit. In this case friends can become study partners in pursuit of academic goals, training partners in pursuit of athletic goals and even prayer partners in pursuit of spiritual goals or in times of need.
"If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything." This phrase builds on the point I am trying to make in this blog as we see following the crowd can easily turn into a mob mentality in this day in age of social media. For in discovering one's own identity, one should also learn to conduct themselves based on a foundation of core values that they believe in. Core values require no external justification, are not just trendy but rather should be our primary method by which we determine how we treat others and by which we navigate through tough choices in life. And although as the saying goes, there is strength in numbers, following the crowd often kills creativity thereby limiting our individual capabilities. Those who dare to be different at minimum will just do their own thing but also will be the ones that have the potential to lead the crowd. And if the core value system of the leaders are good and strong then the group that follows will end up having the opportunity to really have some great and long lasting accomplishments in life.
Up until now I have largely ignored the the idea of negative peer pressure in this blog and have chosen to mainly focus on the aspects of the positive. But, at this point I feel it will be important to touch on the effects we see of negative peer pressure or running with the wrong crowd. As St. Paul states in 1 Corinthians, "Bad company corrupts good character." Character in this case I believe is synonymous with our identity that I aforementioned. Especially among teens but not exclusively we know that negative peer pressure can lead to using tobacco products, alcohol and even drugs, can lead to other risk taking activities, and can distract one from one's goals whether they be academic, athletic or life goals. Furthermore, it can affect emotional development and stimulate mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. So, we as parents, teachers and coaches need to be on the look out for the signs that our children or students may be suffering from the effects of negative peer pressure. These signs can be sudden changes in behavior, expressing the need to fit in, too much focus on image, constantly making comparisons, and sudden drops in performance in their academics and in others areas of life that include their extra curricular activities such as but not limited to athletics. To be aware I might add that we must put down our own distractions and pay attention to them and also perhaps pay attention to the value system that we project towards them through our own words and more often more importantly our own actions.
In conclusion, it is very important that we are communicating to our children that their behavior will affect others, expressing to them the importance of choosing the right friends, and supporting them in finding positive role models in life.
"Who do the crowds say that I am?" Jesus asked his disciples basically making the point that the opinion of the crowd is seldom, if ever, clear, and often completely wrong.