Sometimes we think of peer pressure as something that only affects our kids. But it is a natural part of our makeup, and it affects us all.

I was at a Harley rally with one another parent not too long ago. Now, I’m in my 50s, and there were a lot of guys there even older than me (really). I can tell you that I saw evidence of peer pressure there too, everywhere. People were conforming to the “biker look,” wearing things they wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing at home or work, because they wanted to fit in. I sat for awhile and just watched them go by, shaking my head in amazement.

But it wasn’t just “them.” I walked into one of the shops, lined in front with one Harley after another parked exactly the same, to buy a new helmet. I put it on and looked in the mirror. My first thought was, “That doesn’t look cool.”  Then I realized how silly it is at my age to be worrying about looking cool. If I ever had a cool phase (I’m pretty sure I didn’t), it’s long behind me now.

What was going on? I wanted to fit in with everyone else there. That’s a natural part of our makeup and character. So it should come as no surprise to us that peer pressure is such a powerful force in the lives of our teens.

Peer pressure—the desire to fit in with others—is a good thing. It is part of God’s design for us. At the very beginning He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are meant to be in relationships and community with other people, and that’s made easier by everyone fitting in. There can even be a very positive side to peer pressure; it can motivate us to do better and be better people if we are with positive role models who are living right.

The problem is that much of the peer pressure our children face today can be negative. I hear from so many parents heartbroken because of the immoral or damaging things their teenagers’ friends have introduced to them. When the natural curiosity of a teen to experience new things combines with the desire to belong to a group that is doing negative things, it only gets more negative like adding two negative numbers together.

At the very core and foundation of teen culture today is a lack of relationship. Kids are talking to each other (or at least texting) all the time, but they’re having an extremely difficult time engaging in a meaningful way. They simply don’t know how to develop deep, honest and meaningful relationships. That places a higher premium on shallow things, like their appearance and conformity to the norms of the crowd. What’s more, the “digital grapevine” leaves them in constant fear of being called out and picked on in the virtual realm for being “different.” I believe this makes peer pressure a much more powerful force in the lives of teenagers than it was when I was growing up.

Here’s another way things have changed. Back in the day, when our peers pressured us to do something wrong, they knew it was wrong and we knew it was wrong. That didn’t always keep us from doing it, but at least we had a sense of looking over our shoulders to keep from being found out while we did it. Today, peers are pressuring our teens to do things that are wrong, but they aren’t presented or thought of in that way. Instead they’re being asked to do things with the sense that those things are expected and accepted as “normal.” That’s a huge difference, and it makes peer pressure so much harder to resist.

Because we remember what it was like when we were young, we may tend to think that our children are choosing to do wrong for the sake of doing wrong, not understanding the impact of these expectations on their lives. It’s probably a mistake to automatically assume they are rebelling against you or your family’s beliefs and values. Often they are not viewing things through a moral lens at all, but rather through the lens of wanting to fit in in their world. Let me illustrate this principle with the example of music.