How Friends Influence Behavior

How Friends Influence Behavior

How Friends Influence Behavior

You only live once! Life is short, make the most of it! Sow your wild oats while you can!

You have likely heard these messages or perhaps said them to your teen or a friend. However, those who take the message to heart without any boundaries often experience ongoing ripple effects from their actions or the choices of those around them. For example, consider Olympian Ryan Lochte’s fellow swimmers that night in Brazil or the young man who took the up-skirt pictures at school and sent them to friends.

In his series, “Guardrails,” Andy Stanley reminds us that friends influence the direction and quality of our lives. Guardrails are things that can protect us from danger, such as going over a cliff.

“The thing that makes friendship so great is the very thing that makes friendship so dangerous,” says Stanley.

He contends that people drop their guard when they are around those who accept them. And, when they feel completely accepted, they are much more open to the influence of the people around them.

Nicholas Christakis, in his TED talk, “The Hidden Influence of Social Networks,” also addresses being open to the influence of other people. Christakis’ research shows that non-drinkers who spend time with people who drink significantly increase their chances of becoming drinkers themselves. This also holds true with risk of divorce, obesity, violence, immoral activity and other issues.

An ancient proverb even says, “Walk with the wise and become wise. For the companion of fools suffers harm.”

“Wisdom is contagious,” Stanley asserts. “If you surround yourself with wise people, it is contagious. You will become wiser by just being in their company. A wise person understands that all of life is connected. What you do today, think about today will influence who you are tomorrow. There are no isolated events, thought patterns or relationships.

“When you are with people who live as if life is connected, who make decisions as if life is connected, it will impact how you make decisions, view the world, your morality, your reputation, your family, everything.”

Regardless of age and life circumstance, Stanley offers five “red-flag” scenarios that indicate a need for guiding or protective guardrails.

  • You realize that your core group isn’t moving in the direction you want your life go. Having opposite value systems is a cause for concern.

  • You catch yourself trying to being somebody you are not. If you ignore your values in a certain group, you are moving away from who you really are.  People who know you well may say things like, “When you are around them, you are different.”

  • You feel pressure to compromise your values. If something has never been a temptation before and you begin to actually consider it as an option, ask yourself why.

  • You say to yourself, “I’ll go, but I won’t participate.” Although you may not actually do the behavior, you are there when others do it. A companion of fools suffers harm.

  • You hope the ones you love don’t find out where or with whom you have been. It may not be that you have to defend yourself, but something on the inside tenses up when you think about telling them.

It's true: You only live once. But, it is also true that your actions and the actions of others can powerfully impact you for the rest of your life. Teaching your teen how to put guardrails in place could be one of the most powerful and long-lasting gifts you give them.