Ever hear of a lemming? You know, the Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Redentia, Cricetidae, Arvicolinae, Lemmini scientific classification kind? They don’t live in Texas, that’s for sure. But are found in the Artic. They, and our teens, have a little in common. Lemmings are rodent cousins of hamsters that spend their lives in the northern regions of the world. Now, we wouldn’t pay these small, furry creatures much attention, except for the fact that they display some bizarre behavior. Every few years, when the lemming population becomes too large (because, let’s be honest, lemmings multiply like rabbits!), they migrate in huge numbers in search of new sources of food. What’s interesting is that there is no lemming Moses figure leading this mass exodus. Instead, these overgrown hamsters move as a giant, panicky group.
This kind of mindless devotion to the behavior of the collective leads lemmings into precarious situations. If migrating lemmings reach a large body of water, like a lake or even an ocean, they will follow each other into the water and swim away from shore without considering the danger. Now, lemmings can swim, but not across a gigantic sea! Most either drown or get eaten by sea gulls, fish or seals. You would think that at some point, a lemming would stop and say, “Hey guys, anyone know where we going? Are we sure we can swim across the ocean?”
Everyone experiences the “lemming years.” Back when I was teen, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I remember doing things that were stupid, dangerous or unwise simply because others were engaged in the same activity. I’m sure that you have your own stories of jumping off cliffs or swimming across oceans while following the crowd. This consistent pull to do what others are doing is what we call “peer pressure.” Just like you and I experienced its influence, your child will face, or is facing, this kind of pressure, as well.
But peer pressure looks different today than it did back then. The siren call of the lemmings on your teen is unlike our own cultural pressures. It’s stronger. It’s more appealing. And it’s more dangerous. That’s why moms and dads need to be equipped to counter the relentless peer pressure their teens are facing each and every day. So what are the likely forces your child is facing now?
Pressure to Be Politically Correct
I’m all for open, respectful and honest debates about the issues. But more and more teens today are feeling the burden to adhere to the specific language and values espoused by a PC culture. It shows up when teens tell you, “You can’t say that!” Or, “That’s YOUR truth. It’s not mine.” If we are raising our kids to live according to God’s authority, chances are they will bump heads with the culture at certain points. But we don’t pattern our lives after Scripture because it’s popular, but because it’s right. It’s true.
To counter the peer pressure to be politically correct, resolve to be graceful towards your teen and others. Show them that having unpopular opinions doesn’t mean you are unloving or a critical person, that tolerance is possible, even in disagreements about issues of religion or politics. To attack the sources of this peer pressure will only reinforce their appeal for your teen. Also, stand by your beliefs. Explain to your teen what you believe and why you believe it. In doing so, you’ll provide a model for swimming against the current of the culture, and weaken the draw of that persistent pressure to go with the flow.
Pressure to Be “Normal”
We were created to be social creatures; to be part of a larger community and to be connected relationally. Kids feel this need intensely during the teen years. It’s what drives a large part of their behavior. Teens desire to be accepted, valued and welcomed within their peer group. That means that if certain aspects of their personality or character stand out, they will try to change in order to fit in. It’s a pressure to appear “normal.”
If normal is defined as “imitating Christ,” then this peer pressure can be a good thing. But if “normal” is simply misbehaving, you need to guide your teen to a new peer group. Encourage them to go to a youth group, where the entire community is focused on pursuing Jesus. Have your teen join the music program at school, where they will get to go on trips, practice and form tight-knit relationships with other peers who have a singular goal in mind. Or push them to get involved with other extra-curricular activities, like the debate team, volleyball, or chess club, where they can work and enjoy the community of other kids with similar, worthwhile goals. Groups, teams, and organizations help to define “normal” in a positive way.
Pressure For Appearance
This is a big one for parents. In every generation it seems like the pants sag lower, and skirts are cut a little higher. Most parents dread clothes shopping with their teens because it means walking into World War III. The styles have changed, and teens feel pressure to be hip, cool and fashionable, which leaves parents with worried looks and splitting headaches.
Here’s my advice for countering this pressure for appearance; decide beforehand which hill you’re willing to die on. For our daughters, modesty is important. There will be certain clothing items that show too much skin and require a firm, “no.” But should you go to war over your daughters desire to dye her hair purple? Or your son’s droopy pants? Think back to some of the fads and fashions of our day. Most were hideous, but we grew out of them. And so will your teen. Set rules about modesty or profanity or permanent body modification, but allow the minor things to go unchallenged, knowing that the pressure to dress that way will soon pass.
Pressure to Be Sexually Active
You don’t have to look far to see that the promotion of sexual activity is all around us. In fact, not having sex is considered weird and abnormal. Your son or daughter will be asked in their teen years, “How far did you go?” or “Did you sleep with him?” or “Why haven’t you slept with her yet?” The pressure to experiment and engage in sexual behavior is a driving force in your teen’s world. And it’s happening at younger and younger ages.
To counteract this sensual push, teens need you to be open and honest. I know it’s difficult to have frank discussions about sex with your child. But you need to balance the misinformation they are receiving in their culture, with the wisdom and insight from your experience. In a sensual world, teens need parents to help them navigate and avoid shipwrecks.
Start by asking questions to get the conversation going. Say “would you ever do something that makes you uncomfortable to be with someone you like?” Or “What’s the biggest pressure you are facing right now?” Now, be prepared, because you might hear some answers that will shock you. But don’t overact. Establish a relationship with your teen that engenders a sense of trust and honesty. They need to know they can ask you any question or confess any mistake without fear. Then, look for opportunities to speak into their world. When a TV show celebrates a couple living together before marriage, take a moment to comment on why that’s not a good idea, and how it leads to more broken relationship. When songs laud one-night stands, share the shame and guilt that comes from such casual flings; the aspects we don’t hear about. If you don’t share healthy sexual boundaries with your teen, who will?
No one can escape peer pressure. It’s always been here, and will continue to push kids to jump off cliffs and swim oceans. But equipped with tools and knowledge, you can help your teen stand out from the crowd and resist those lemming leanings.