Peer pressure. Say those two powerful words, and they can strike
fear in your heart! But add the word "positive" and you have a tool
that will help kids learn...to make the best choices. Positive peer
pressure. These three words pack a powerful punch -- just the kind
of positive punch we want in children's lives to help them make
good decisions when we're not around. It's important to understand
the nature of positive peer pressure and take action to foster its
"Peer influences are normal and necessary in our lives," says
Liisa Hawes, marriage and family counselor with the Calgary
Community Learning Association. She adds that our peers support our
sense of self and offer us a sense of belonging. Peers begin to
affect us at a young age.
"I have a 3-year-old daughter who couldn't sit still for
mealtimes if it were just us," says Chris Lister, a mother and
preschool teacher's aid. "But when she was in her classroom, she
willingly sat with a group of her peers to eat and 'chat' in her
limited vocabulary. She seemed to eat better in this setting,
The beneficial influence of peers continues into adulthood. If
we ask ourselves why we do what we do, we'll admit that many of our
choices come from the groups we hang out with -- even as adults.
For example, when we go to work or church, most of us wear clothes
that fit that environment. We all have a basic need for acceptance,
and that's why peer pressure works -- whether it's positive or
What The Bible Says
We can find a great definition of positive peer pressure in
Hebrews 10:24: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on
toward love and good deeds." The Greek word that translates to
"spur" in this verse is paroxusmos, meaning "incitement." Incite
means "to provoke to action." In addition, paroxusmos provides the
basis for a great but seldom-used English word "paroxysm," which
means "a sudden attack or outburst." The word "consider" in Hebrews
10:24 means to give serious, deliberate thought about a specific
topic. So the meaning of the entire verse becomes clearer with the
understanding of these words.
God commands us to consciously plan ways to incite one another
to outbursts of goodness. This is positive peer pressure at its
best! It's like a riot of positivity! An examination of the gospels
reveals the amazing fact that if it weren't for positive peer
pressure, Peter might not have followed Jesus. In John 1:40-42, we
learn that Peter's brother, Andrew, was among John the Baptist's
followers. When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Messiah
(John 1:35-36), the first person Andrew ran to tell was Peter.
Scripture records that Andrew "brought" Peter to meet Jesus,
implying that Andrew used some degree of persuasion. At first
sight, Jesus looks straight into Peter's uncommitted heart and
declares him to be a rock. Once Jesus makes this heart-to-heart
connection, Peter attaches himself to Jesus. But it likely wouldn't
have happened without Andrew's positive peer pressure.
From Negative To Positive
We can actually use positive peer pressure to help kids defuse
situations such as bullying. Susan, age 14, was in tears. Other
girls at school teased, "you're just like a boy," because she loves
athletics. Then the situation got worse. They stopped talking to
her because she dared to have lunch with another girl this "in
group" had ostracized. "I wouldn't mind so much if it wasn't a
church school," she sobbed to her mother. They're supposed to be
"Why don't you start your own group for outcasts?" Susan's
mother suggested. "After all, that's what Jesus told us to do -- go
to those outside."
Susan followed her mother's advice and, within a week, a group
of seven girls were fast friends. Of course, as a group of their
own, the others' teasing no longer mattered much. In another case,
Genetta Adair tells a story about her friend's son, Brad, and a new
kid in school named Matt. Matt thought swearing would make him
sound cool and help him make friends. Brad, however, boldly told
Matt that kind of talk didn't impress him. Quickly, Matt's behavior
"I'm glad for Brad's courage to speak up," Genetta says. "Brad
could've just shunned Matt and never had a positive influence on
him. With that choice, though, Brad would've missed out on a great
friendship." Brad and Matt's interaction is an example of positive
peer pressure helping someone change a negative behavior. Positive
peer pressure can also encourage friends to do things that are good
for them, even if they're reluctant to take the plunge. My
daughter, Elizabeth, was looking for her niche in high school. She
thought about trying out for the dance-line team. But because she'd
had some bad experiences with new things in the past, she was
nervous about failing. Thanks to encouragement and a few tips from
friends, Elizabeth not only made the team but also won an award at
dance-line camp for her performance. She's happy she listened to
her friends, and the experience still motivates her to excel.
What To Do
Follow these helpful tips to encourage positive peer pressure
with the kids you minister to.
Tip 1: Build relationships. As Christian
educators, we may lose sight of the fact that we are kids'
shepherds -- not just their teachers. Help kids find healthy
relationships at church that they can depend on outside of church.
If your church is large, help kids discover who the other kids are
who attend their school. Plan activities outside of church where
kids get to have fun together. Give parents class rosters so they
can arrange connections between their kids and others at church.
Spend a significant part of your class time letting kids get to
know each other and pray for one another. Celebrate friendships at
Tip 2: Show Jesus as the peer kids can trust.
Patty Hall, a Sunday school teacher, tells how this principle
worked in her young life and later in her classroom: "When I was
growing up during the late '70s, a lot of things were going on --
drugs, sex, etc. But whenever I left our house, my mother would
kiss me goodbye and say, 'Remember, Sweetheart, if Jesus came
tonight, would you be ashamed of where he might find you?' Ouch! I
don't know how many times that kept me out of harm's way." Patty
continues, "It still works! When I was teaching the high schoolers
at our church, at the end of each class I'd remind them of the
phrase my mother ingrained in me throughout my youth. I didn't
think it was getting through to them. But one day, a girl known for
her wildness told me how much that little phrase helped her. She
used it to stay clear of trouble, and she turned her life back over
to the Lord."
Tip 3: Lead kids in role-plays. We all tend to
learn by repetition and practice. Role-playing exercises in Sunday
school give kids opportunities to experience possibilities of what
they might do or say in real-life situations. Propose various
scenarios that involve kids in every type of positive peer
pressure: changing or avoiding harmful behavior, daring to do
something they've never done before, and resisting negative peer
pressure. Then debrief each role-play with kids to point out the
positive things they did or said.
Tip 4: Issue a positive peer pressure
challenge. Make it a game for kids to watch for positive
peer pressure in action in their everyday lives and then report
these incidents back to your class. Affirm children who are brave
enough to share. Examples from children's experiences are often the
best teachers of all. With positive peer pressure, we can help our
kids master a new tool to keep their lives on track with God.
Positive peer pressure can help them stay clear of trouble and
"spur one another on to love and good deeds."
Jill Nelson is a children's minister in Madison,
One of the key ways we can foster positive peer pressure is to
help children choose friends wisely. Good friends have kids' best
interests in mind and help them become better people. When kids
hang out with the right crowd, they're less likely to step into
harmful behaviors and attitudes. The strong, sensible values of the
group win out. In my own parenting, I've found that I really can't
choose my children's friends for them, but that doesn't make me a
helpless bystander. This brief Friendship Checklist can help you
determine if you're helping kids choose good friends.
__ Am I listening with wisdom and love to what kids say about
their friends? What do they say about their friends' personalities,
the things they like to do together, or their home lives?
__Do I communicate with kids about my childhood friends -- why I
picked them and what made them good or bad choices?
__Have I talked with kids about the many times Scripture
addresses the influence friends have on their lives -- both
positive and negative? (Proverbs 22:24-25; Proverbs 27:6)
__Do I deliberately place kids in environments where they have
the best opportunity to form peer relationships that reinforce
Friendship Across The Ages
The concept of friendship is unique at each age. Follow these
age-specific guidelines to help kids form positive friendships.
(ages 2 to 5) Everyone who ministers to children this age has
witnessed the heartbreak of the child told, "We don't want you at
our table." To promote inclusion of withdrawn or rejected kids,
plan activities that encourage everyone to participate. Focus on
cooperation and teamwork rather than competition and the
elimination of "losers." Vary the sizes of work and play groups.
The shrinking violet of the large group may blossom in a more
intimate setting. Don't allow children to choose their game leaders
or group members. Use arbitrary designators such as clothing color
to form teams. Use simply worded Scripture verses that provide
guidelines for building friendships.
(ages 6 to 9) By this age, most children have learned social
skills and have circles of friends at school, at church, and on
sports teams. They've participated in sleepovers and been invited
to birthday parties. However, there are always some children who
still feel they don't fit in. You may have to be the first to
befriend a withdrawn or rejected child; the teacher's pet at this
age is usually highly esteemed by children. Encourage participation
from everyone in class activities. Point out opportunities for
friendly expressions to other children. Include less popular
children in groups or teams where their special abilities can
(ages 10 to 12) As kids this age draw away from adults and long
for approval and acceptance of their peers, those whose social
development has lagged behind are likely to experience loneliness
and isolation. Some shy children will be blessed with gregarious
friends who'll draw them out and provide valuable models of
positive character traits. Other lonely children, desperate to be
part of any group, may be willing to accept abuse and be coerced
into negative behavior such as shoplifting or drug use. Teach kids
biblical accounts of loyalty and lasting friendships, such as the
bond between David and Jonathan, the devotion of Ruth to Naomi, and
the unity of Daniel and his companions in captivity. Provide
opportunities for fun and fellowship. Encourage friendship with
other young Christians who can provide spiritual support. Promote
involvement in church programs and teams. Steer preteens toward
participation in church youth group activities. Adolescence is a
time when a child's self-esteem can take hard hits. Be there with
the comforting message that God's love endures forever. --
Robert Choun Jr.
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