The recent battery charges against five Lakeside Middle School students for simulating lewd acts on unwilling classmates is a sad, stark lesson in one thing in particular:
You have to believe that some, if not all, of those kids heard a voice in the back of their heads telling them what they were doing was a horrible idea. But they went along with the gang.
It’s a phenomenon we humans must battle all our lives: going with the herd when we know we should break from it.
Peer pressure is a powerful force that can nudge folks into places they know they shouldn’t go – especially young folks, since their sense of identity is still forming and they give unwarranted weight to the opinions of them by their peers, the cosmopolitan little dears.
This has always been the case, but today’s no-holds-barred media, along with social media sites such as Facebook, can make the herd all the more attractive.
Here’s a secret for you young people: The herd is often wrong. It takes wisdom and courage to stand apart and go your own way. But when you feel it’s right to do so, trust your instinct. It’s probably right.
There are all kinds of statistics about how peer pressure leads to risky, self-destructive behaviors, including substance abuse, smoking and sex. Middle school is an especially delicate time as puberty hits and, with it, perhaps a little cockiness. The good news is that experts say peer influence peaks at about age 14. So if you can make it through those years without giving in to your friends’ bad ideas, then you’ll be better off. (Just remember your courage when you’re an adult and the rest of the board of directors wants to do the wrong thing!)
Probably the most important thing for vulnerable students – other than parental involvement – is having the right friends. The time-honored caution against falling in with the wrong crowd is time-honored because it is so right.
So the next time you hear your friends suggest something that goes against your moral code, ask yourself this: Is it in your best interest to do it?
And if you find yourself asking that a lot, you might find new friends.