Peer Pressure and Pop Culture - Why It Shouldn't Phase Us
Peer pressure is a common problem that everyone runs into pretty early in life. Peer pressure is when the pressure comes down on us to do what other people are doing, because we are afraid of what people will say, or do, or think if we don't. Peer pressure doesn't always have to be a bad thing, but the way society perpetuates the concepts of body image and entitlement and self-help, has made it have a pretty negative impact on our society.
But why do we care so much about what others think?
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
Psalm 139, Verses 13-16
These words helped me when I was growing up. I didn't have these verses memorized, but I always remember being taught in Sunday School and church that there is a God, He created us, and He loves us. Perhaps not too many people understood that better than King David himself, and he is the one that wrote these words. And if we start HERE, then should what other people think about us matter? According to the verses, we are like pre-planned characters in a story written by a great author, and He has specific reasons He created us the way He planned. Who are any of us to question that?
Don't get me wrong; I understand the yearning to belong. But we have also let the importance of how we treat others decline over the centuries; there is something to be said for politeness and respect to others as well. Belonging wouldn't be an issue if we just fixed this. But there is only one real way this gets fixed, if you believe the book of Revelation. Since there are many out there who will try to bring us down because we aren't wanting to join in on something that is illegal or inappropriate, I think this reinforces the importance of accepting how God made us, and the common rules and laws established by God for us. In other words, our own self value should be higher to US than any opinion of a peer. But not because of us, but because of our Creator. Peer pressure these days tends to try to negate this. Peer pressure tends to encourage us to ignore any kind of Plan our Creator may have. Peer pressure encourages us to avoid using logic. Peer pressure often leads to bad decisions. Peer pressure often leads to more stress. Peer pressure, when falling into the habit of relying on it more than ourselves or God at all, can set us up for failure... and ultimately, death.
So, again - why do we care so much about what others think?
I had a lot of friends growing up, but I also encountered times where I wished I could be as popular as this friend or that friend. I wanted to be as well-known or recognized by more kids as some of my other friends were. Over time, I realized a lot of these kids knew each other from parties. I didn't go to many parties, but I did listen in on other conversations about them when I missed them. And when I look back now, I am glad I missed out on some of those activities. Not because all the people were up to no good (although I am sure there was some illegal drug activity), but they were exposed to behaviors that open the door for other more negative, more dangerous activity later in life. Risky behavior, once joined, tends to escalate in risk if it becomes the priority. The students and friends whose priority was school work or sports tended to avoid increasing the risk. But what happens when priorities change, or situations change to impact that priority? What happens if the priority is seeking the thrill of risky behavior? The chances of something bad happening increase. Back when I was in school, I saw this happen with some of the people I knew; sometimes in high school, sometimes in college. And I've noticed that the frequency of the risky behavior at an early age has gotten worse each following generation. I even attended the funeral of a football player I once got to coach, and I can't tell you how many funerals my youngest brother has attended; he's ten years younger than me.
But peer pressure doesn't have to just be wanting to fit in the crowd. Peer pressure can come indirectly from what the media says is popular, or what the media on magazine covers and news stories, depicts as popular - pop culture. And popular is what sells. Popular is what gets the attention. Popular is what most people think is the goal. One of the greatest problems coming from this is body image. A young teen aged girl sees the body of a model on the front cover of a magazine...and another...and another. She gets down on herself because she feels like she could never look like that. Add to that some mean girls at school who magnify her thoughts, and the poor girl has a psychological break, or worse, commits suicide. Some kid thinking about trying out for the football team sees all these pictures of muscular athletes, then looks in the mirror - and thinks all of the sudden, he will never have a shot. Maybe after some frustrating trials, accompanied by obsessed fanaticism with his favorite team sport, he gives up on his dream. Or maybe a kid who used to be skinny starts to obsess over girls, so he decides to start lifting weights. He sees positive results, but it isn't enough because of what he thinks he's supposed to look like. He pushes the envelope and finds out there is an easier way to get bigger and stronger. He finds out which person in town, or which gym, has a certain reputation for access to the easier way, and he starts using steroids. Before you know it, he damages his body more than he builds his body; he either gets in trouble with the law because of too much aggression, or the steroids get the better of him and wind up killing him.
Then of course we have all the popular advice out there that we can just fix things ourselves. All you have to do is walk into a bookstore, and find the self-help section! I guarantee you, it will surprise you how many books are there. If so many people have all the answers, what do we need the Bible for? Oh wait, that's the idea, isn't it? But seriously, if we think we can fix all of our problems by ourselves, and that we can handle whatever stress comes our way - we are fooling ourselves. What society does with this implication is set people up for failure. That failure can lead to the collapse of families; that failure can result in suicide; that failure can result in men and women with egos bigger than the Empire State Building, who fall really far when they think they did it all on their own, and want to brag about it. God has a funny way of humbling just about anyone, including me. Therefore, the best self-help one could use is making the decision themselves to seek God and learn more about Him.
But again, that isn't what the world wants anyone of us to think.
I was fortunate. I decided pretty early in life that what the Bible told me mattered more than what all the cool kids were doing. Nothing against the 'cool kids'; but somehow I never took my first hit on marijuana, because it was against the law; never thought I needed lung cancer, so never tried a cigarette; never tried enough beer to acquire a taste, so I never got drunk. I am not bragging; I don't think this was wisdom on my part so much as the weight of impression by a strong support system that included my parents, my grandparents, youth pastors, teachers, and head pastors. But the things they impressed upon me all came back to the premise of the verses from the book of Psalms I quoted earlier.
If I believe in my heart that God made me just the way He intended, His plan is better than mine, and I'm completely unique to everyone else because of how He made me -
Why does anyone else's opinion about ME matter?
Alas, I do not envy the parents who are just starting out; the peer pressure and media influence and pop culture now is ten times worse than it was when my own son came to this world 16 years ago.
Teach them from the Bible early, and that it holds the answers; not the world, or the 'cool kids.' That's what God tells us to do. Maybe the Creator was onto something.
Just my food for thought.