On a warm sunny day, a steady breeze wafted through the high school courtyard where a young satsangi boy was standing among a group of his friends. Wearing a light green American Eagle shirt and washed-out faded jeans, the satsangi youth and his friends were relaxing after school had been dismissed on a Friday afternoon. This scene was nothing out of the ordinary for high school students across America. Yet, there was one unique element in this situation: the small box of cigarettes that was being passed around the group.
Eventually, the box landed in the satsangi youth’s hands as his friends looked on in anticipation. As one of his friends handed him a cigarette, he took it into his hands and thought, “What am I doing? I don’t smoke. I don’t even want to be seen with a cigarette in my hand.” As these thoughts were running through his head, a friend offered to light his cigarette and within seconds the satsangi began smoking it. The moment the cigarette hit his mouth and he took his first puff, he thought, “Disgusting, I am never going to smoke anything from now on.” This is the force of peer pressure.
Teenagers like me, both boys and girls, face situations like this everyday. I have always been taught in mandir the negative impact of peer pressure on our lives. Every day, satsangi youth across the country struggle to overcome peer pressure. We are faced with so much temptation that to remain firm in the face of it all is truly a difficult feat.
Peer pressure is the stress felt from friends and family to act, behave, think, or look a certain way. Peer pressure can have both a positive and negative influence, but there are more situations of the negative outcomes of peer pressure than positive ones. Now don’t get me wrong: there are many peers that can have a positive influence. Most of the time when I am given positive pressure, it is mainly from my true friends. Adults have often told me, “Always choose your friends wisely.” This advice is especially true when it comes to pressure from your peers.
One example of positive peer pressure happened during my freshman year of high school. I was struggling with geometry and wanted to give up. However, I had a best friend who was always there for me no matter what. Whenever I felt like giving up, she would tell me that giving up is not going to get me anywhere in life. Many times, we would stay up all night and try to help each other. That is the type of positive influence that every teen needs in her life.
However, friends can influence in a negative way too. When this happens, we often behave in a manner that makes us ashamed later. One of my really good friends had selected a group of friends that she thought would not pressure her into doing things that she did not want to do. However, before long, she found herself at one of their houses for a birthday party where they began passing around beer. She was soon offered one yet she remained firm in her niyams and did not take it.
Effects of Peer Pressure
Peer pressure plays a big role in a teen’s life and parents are the best adults to help any teen overcome the negative influences effectively. During my early teenage years, I had a friend who always wanted to spend every weekend just hanging out at the mall. I went the first couple of weekends thinking that I would have fun. After a couple of the times, I realized that this friend was just using me because I was a cover for her to be able to meet up with her boyfriend. She didn’t actually want to hang out with just me. I decided to talk to my mom, who was able to give me some really good advice on how to handle the situation. I eventually told my friend that I didn’t want to hang out with her over the weekend anymore.
For any teen, having to stand up to a peer is difficult. Studies have shown that parents can help teens resist negative pressure.1 The number one step parents can take is to set a good example. If parents smoke or drink, their children will automatically assume that it is acceptable to do so as well. Parents can also effectively teach their children how to say no affirmatively by recognizing their child’s positive traits and building their confidence. Having strong self-esteem will impact the teenager’s hobbies, interests, and activities, helping to resist peer pressure.
Why Fall into Peer Pressure?
So if peer pressure is an experience that most high school students wish to avoid, then why do so many fall into it? The answer is simple: everyone wants to feel liked or needed in this world. No matter one’s background, age or religion every human wants to feel that “I fit in”. However, this desire to fit in should not force anyone to make negative decisions. Everyone who faces peer pressure on a daily basis has the ability to work around it.
Peer Pressure and Being Swaminarayan
As a devotee of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, I am faced with more challenges of peer pressure than others, especially because I don’t eat meat, eggs, onions or garlic. I also do not eat out. When I tell other people about my being a committed vegetarian, they think that I am crazy and am going to die at a young age. But they are not aware I can get my nutrition from Indian food and do not realize it is a part of my religion. They start saying things like “Just try it, no one is going to find out,” and try to pressure me into eating meat. Even after all the pressure from others, I know I am able to resist and not fall into peer pressure. Whenever I am pressured to eat meat I explain why I cannot, and that in fact I am quite happy not to eat it. Plus, I always tell them it’s good for the environment…better than recycling!
And while questions about being vegetarian and not drinking alcohol have become easier to answer over the years, the main issue most teenagers like me don’t know how to address is dating. In high school, dating is the gateway to social acceptance. And what kinds of situations come up in the high school dating scene?
Well, let’s travel to Lakeside High School on Valentine’s Day. On this day, the halls of the high school were filled with hearts and decorations of deep red. A sastangi youth was in Language Arts when suddenly, someone knocked softly on the wooden door. Standing outside the door was a member of the school bookstore, which sold Valentine’s Day goodies. The store employee had a single red rose in her hand. The teacher answered the door and handed the satstangi the rose. Along with the rose was a sweet note saying “Will you go out with me? Love Amber.” The satsangi was in total shock when he read this note to himself. Soon the whole class, realizing what the note said, started pressuring him into saying yes to Amber. The satsangi youth knew everyone wanted him to say yes and start a relationship with Amber. However, he decided to follow Swamishri’s words and explained to Amber that this is the time for him to focus on his studies and that dating would distract him from his education. He said that they could be friends but nothing more at this time. The satsangi was able to resist the peer preesure from his classmates and still able to keep a friendship with Amber.
Whether I am Swaminarayan or not, it is easy to fall into peer pressure. But I have to keep reminding myself there are always ways to overcome it. Peer pressure is extremely hard to avoid in our fast-growing world, but I can try to lower the chances of even being pressured. I believe the best way peer pressure can be avoided is by hanging out with other teens who have the same boundaries as me. And if I do make friends with different boundaries, I have to make sure that they understand and respect mine. What helps me the most is that I always stay aware of my feelings and always have a trusted friend by my side with similar goals and interests who can help steer me in the right direction if I were to stray. And most importantly, I must have the courage to say no, the confidence to explain why, and the faith to know that I have made the right decision. With Swamishri in my life, I know that I can overcome peer pressure.