How to teach your children to handle peer pressure

February 22, 2019

Peer pressure is the feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one’s age and social group to be liked or respected by them. All of us are subjected to peer pressure in both positive and negative ways and in subtle and overt manners. The influence of our peer groups leads us to conform to social norms and ultimately helps us develop our sense of self and our place in society.

During the early adolescent through late teen years, children become more aware of a desire to fit in and find their niche in society. This makes them more susceptible to the positive and negative influences of peer pressure. But parents can play a powerful role in shaping these peer interactions.

Shaping your child’s peer interactions

Know their peer group: The most important and obvious step a parent can take is to help their child select the right group of peers. For better and for worse, your child will be influenced by the people they associate with. The Bible doesn’t use the term “peer pressure,” but it has quite a lot to say about the company we keep and avoiding negative influences:

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov. 13:20). “My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them” (Prov. 1:10). “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Cor.15:33). We can’t completely control whom they will be exposed to, of course, but whenever possible, a parent should know their child’s peers. And as much as we can, we should choose whom they will spend their time with.

Intergenerational influences: One of the most unfortunate realities of the modern era is that children spend too much time with children. Outside of parents and teachers, most teens and children do not associate with older people daily. Unfortunately, this is often true even in our churches, which tend to be voluntarily segregated by age groups.

Intergenerational community is part of God’s vision for the church, which is why we—and our children—need friendships that cross generational lines. Having older “peers” in their life can dilute the effect of their own age cohorts and give teens a broader perspective on life. It is also helpful for older children and teens to have an adult in the church (and outside their family) they can turn to for guidance or to talk to about their struggles.

Peer problems for parents: While helping to select our child’s friends and associates is one of the most effective steps we can take for limiting negative peer groups, we should avoid three dangers:

1. The bad-company project. In our attempt to be caring and compassionate, we may put our children in relational danger. A prime example is when we encourage our child to befriend children whom the apostle Paul would deem to be “bad company.” We justify the relationship by telling ourselves that our child will be a positive and perhaps even godly influence on their wayward neighbor. But we Christian parents tend to overestimate our children’s moral influence and leadership abilities. Instead of being a role model, our children may be the ones who are enticed to sin. 

If you encourage such friendships, try to encourage settings where other Christian adults or children are also present (such as youth group) and avoid private, one-on-one encounters.

2. The Eddie Haskell effect. The popular television sitcom Leave It to Beaver (1958 to 1965) featured a recurring character named Eddie Haskell, who “has become a cultural reference, recognized as an archetype for insincere sycophants.” When adults were around, Eddie was ingratiating and polite. But when adults were not in the room, Eddie would show his true character as a bullying, conniving jerk.

When you were a teenager, you probably knew people like Eddie. They were well-liked by parents only because parents didn’t know what horrible influences they were. How can we avoid falling for the new generation of Eddie Haskells? The easiest way is usually to spend plenty of time around our child’s peers. Teens who are two-faced often have trouble hiding their true natures for long. By being around your child’s friends in various settings and circumstances, you can often gain a better understanding of their character.

Another approach is to simply ask other children or teens what the suspected Eddie is really like. If their experience is markedly different from your own, it could be a red flag.

3. The online-only friend. You should know whom your children are associating with, which is why they should never have friends they only know from online interactions. This may seem like a harsh rule—and a difficult one to enforce—but the danger of negative peer influences rises exponentially online. If possible, set the rules for online engagement early in your child’s life so that when they are older, abstaining from online-only friendships will be the established norm.

Tips for training children

The five years prior to “no”: Peer pressure tends to be something parents address when a child reaches early or late adolescence. That’s when we begin telling them they should say no to various temptations to engage in sinful or inappropriate behavior. The problem is that this is usually the time when parental influence in on the wane and peer influence is on the rise.

Rather than waiting until they are under pressure, begin laying the groundwork about five years before they can be expected to deal with an issue. This may lead to some awkward conversations (such as talking to your 10-year-old girl about sex and drugs), but by planting the seed early, you can shape how they’ll respond later in life.

Clear signals: Your kids need you to send them clear signals about what types of behavior are inappropriate. This should be obvious, but it’s shocking how often Christian parents inadvertently encourage negative peer influences by undermining their own values. For example, some parents allow teens to drink alcohol at home, claiming, “I’d rather they drink under my roof, where I can watch them, than do it somewhere else.” The result is that these underage minors will drink alcohol at home—and anywhere else they can. This is the message they are getting from their parent: “There’s nothing wrong with underage drinking; just be safe about it.”

Instead, we should be clear and consistent in our disapproval. Sending clear signals is almost always more effective than trying to carve out exceptions. For example, a survey by Mothers Against Drunk Driving found that teens whose parents told them underage drinking is completely unacceptable are 80 percent less likely to drink, compared with those whose parents give their teens other messages about drinking.

Give them a plan: What will your child say if they are encouraged to engage in certain behaviors, such as taking drugs? The truth is, you probably don’t know. You may have given them vague suggestions or recommended the generic “just say no.” But unless you have talked to them in detail about how they’ll respond, you can’t really know what they’ll say when the time comes.

Consider role-playing common peer-pressure situations. Your teen will likely find such practice cheesy, annoying, and a bit embarrassing. But the practice will be beneficial, as they are likely to realize when they are faced with the real-life scenarios. They may not enjoy these conversations with Mom or Dad, but knowing they’re armed with the right words to say can be secretly comforting for them.

Be their backup: The risk of giving in to peer pressure can be compounded when the child has already engaged in forbidden behavior. For example, if they snuck out to go to a party and the person they rode with is pressuring them to drink, they may feel they have no other choice but to join in. Reduce that pressure by letting them know you are their means of escape. Make sure they know they can contact you whenever they are in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation and you'll always come get them. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t suffer the consequences of their misbehavior, of course. But they should understand that the repercussions will be lighter than if they hadn’t come to you to save them from further danger or harm.

Focus on Jesus: Help your child truly understand that Jesus is not just watching what they do, but that, as a believer, they are united with Christ (2 Cor. 4:10). Remind them, as Paul says, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5). And as John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). Because they are in Jesus, and Jesus is in them, they are accepted by one greater than any of their peers, and they are connected with one who has the power to overcome any pressure.

Note: This article is taken from Joe Carter’s new book, The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents: Help Your Kids Learn Practical Life Skills, Develop Essential Faith Habits, and Embrace a Biblical Worldview.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24