Helping Teenagers Choose Positive Peers
By Sheila Gregoire
Kids are simple to figure out. They don't want to eat fish; they do want ice cream. They want TV, Xboxes and the Internet; they don't want Shakespeare. And they want cool friends; they don't want geeks.
In general, then, whenever they're given the chance, kids choose badly. It's hardly surprising; our natural bent is to wander away from wisdom. After all, when one is mature, one does eat fish (because it fights against cancer), one does like Shakespeare (because it makes you look smart), and one seeks geeky friends (because they tend to be further up the ladder to success). We'll still stash ice cream in the back of the freezer and play on the Xbox when everyone else is asleep, but we've grown up. We've learned what's good for us, and we want to pursue it because it leads to God.
Kids, though, are still at the stage where cool rules. Even if they follow Jesus, they may still pull away from you because they're busy separating to find their own identity. That's why they find you strange. You talk about seventies sitcoms and you wear pathetic clothes. So they run screaming in the opposite direction, hoping to lure cool friends, because that's how they gain popularity and the fleeting self-esteem that comes with it.
Parents Can Always Influence Their Children
But never fear: as parents we can still have a positive influence on our kids' lives by praying for them and by surreptitiously influencing which friends they choose. I don't mean by reverse psychology, where we criticize friends we secretly love to increase their appeal. No, instead I suggest sending kids to places where they are more likely to meet safe friends.
Encourage Their Hobbies and Talents
Obviously this is easier to do the younger you start, but even if your child is older, you can take steps to steer them in a positive direction. Encourage them to pursue hobbies or talents. That way, they can fit in with a group of like-minded people without having to change who they are. Band class was my husband's road to salvation in high school. He had been teased relentlessly because he was smart, but when he joined band he found other "geeks" and didn't feel so out of place anymore. He may not have fit in with the jocks, but he had enough friends who liked him the way he was that he felt less pressured to change.
Encourage Safe Youth Groups
Later he also joined a church youth group, and found other friends for whom drinking and swapping venereal diseases was not high on the list of things to do on a Friday night. Many church youth groups offer a low-stress opportunity to socialize. Kids who have trouble making friends, and are thus the most vulnerable to peer pressure, can often find much-needed acceptance here, because youth groups are focused on sharing the love of Jesus, they're not focused on only attracting the popular kids.
Promote Part-Time Jobs
Finally, it may not seem glamorous, but flipping burgers has an upside. People who work at McDonald's, or Wendy's, or Taco Bell are likely to be a tad more responsible than your average high schooler. At least you know they're sober enough to show up regularly for work. When I had part-time jobs I often worked with people older than I was, and fitting in with the high school crowd seemed far less important once I caught a glimpse of the outer world.
Don't despair if your child has decided you're not cool. Just manoeuvre their lives so they're likely to meet other positive influences. And then, when the teen years are over, you can look back and rejoice that you encouraged them to be mature, even if they don't know it.
Sheila Wray Gregoire is the author of four books. Do you want to encourage your teens to help more around the house? Get your FREE household organization charts, including chore sheets and plans for family meetings, at http://sheilawraygregoire.com/freehouseholdorganizationchartsp345.php.