As a teenager, I didn’t understand why my mother constantly repeated that, “Your friends make you or break you.” But as a parent, I have come full circle. I understand that peer pressure – no matter at what age – affects each of us in our daily life. In fact, look at your closest friends, and study how their behavior influences your own.
According to the motivational speaker Jim Rohn, we are indeed the "average of the five people we spend the most time with.” Our closest friends at each stage of our lives reflect our inner values and impact our personal choices. And I honestly believe that we subconsciously choose friends who support the values, whether negative or positive, we want to develop in our lives at that particular moment.
As a parent, it is vital to teach our children that people’s behavior can actually rub off on us. For example, if we hang with gossips, cheats, or liars, we soon copy their behavior because we subconsciously integrate it into our own. If your best friend thinks it’s o.k. to cheat on tests or steal coffee and tea from the office, soon you’ll follow their example. If we experience cruelty or abuse in our families, we assume every family is like that. If our friends are heavy drinkers or do drugs, soon we will too. In fact, in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, one of the first things they ask you to consider is, "People, places and things." And do you need to separate from anyone or any group that encourages drinking or drugging. Because you can easily relapse into old habits. That’s how strong the pull of other people actually is.
Study after study demonstrate how socialization through our families, friends, business colleagues, and media influences not only our behavior but can actually change our values, norms and expectations as we leave one group for another. By destroying our old identities of student, friend, parent, boss, drinking buddy or any other role, we seek to fit in our new peer groups and meet their expectations. Furthermore, these studies show how changing our peer groups, workplaces or even communities can improve or impair our moral compass.
I see this regularly with my daughter’s friends and their peers.
I witness how all of us use our friends repeatedly to justify our behavior. We tell ourselves that since Jane or Bob are doing it, then it must be ok for us to do it as well. However, in these instances, our friends are actually mirrors, reflecting our true integrity.
So look carefully at the 5 closest people in your life and ask yourself what are their values. Are they motivated? What do they cherish? Where do they spend the most time? On what do they spend their money? Are their friends respected members of the community or are they pariahs? Are they complicit in unethical behavior or mock people who are upstanding? Do they honor their families, their spouses and children?
Since integrity is a muscle, watch your friends to see how they behave when no one is looking. Listen to the answers carefully because your closest friends, whoever they may be – lover, spouse or colleague – they are the true reflection of you and what you treasure.