Monday, August 19, 2013

Peanut Butter Cups and Peer Pressure

On Sunday mornings, you can usually find me volunteering with the children's ministry program at my church. It's not a typical "Sunday School" program. There's air hockey and Foosball, loud music and videos, games and interactive lessons. The 4th and 5th graders I work with actually want to go to church.

Last week, the large group lesson contained an experiment that kind of blew my mind. It affected me as a YA writer, so I thought I'd share.

The large group leader (we'll call him Mike) introduced a game called Mike's Match-tastic Extravaganza! With a stellar name like that, he had no problem getting 3 volunteers to play the game. We'll call the volunteers Joe, Chris, and Adam.

The secret? Joe and Chris weren't really volunteers. Earlier in the morning, Mike had asked them to "volunteer" and told them exactly what to say.

The game consisted of three questions. If the boys' answers to the questions matched, they would get a prize. Said prizes would escalate through the three rounds. If the answers didn't match, no one would get any of the prizes.

The reward set for the first round was one Reese's Miniature. The sound tech played a clip of a thunderstorm, then Mike asked if it was loud or quiet. Predictably, all three boys said "loud."

The prize for the second round was a Reese's Big Cup. Mike had each boy taste something, then asked if it was salty or sweet. All three boys correctly said "sweet." Easy!

The last and final prize was a highly coveted, sugar-high-inducing Reese's King Size.

Mike showed the boys a whiteboard with two lines drawn on it. Line A was obviously longer than Line B. 

Mike went to Joe (secret "volunteer") and asked which line was longer. Without hesitation, Joe said that Line B was longer.

Next in line was Chris (the other "volunteer"). He was also adamant that Line B was longer.

Last was actual volunteer, Adam. When Mike asked which line was longer, Adam hesitated. I could see the wheels turning in the kid's head. Line A was longer! But if he said that, no one would get any candy! And if Joe and Chris said Line B was right, it couldn't really be wrong, could it?

A set of bright stage lights shone on Adam. At least 100 pairs of eyes watched from the audience. Mike's microphone waited for his answer.

And what did Adam say?

Line B.

Adam succumbed to peer pressure and the lure of chocolate-covered peanut butter candy.

Maybe this isn't startling because the consequences were relatively low and kids really like candy. But if you would have asked me the outcome prior to the game, I would have put money on Adam saying Line A. The correct answer was so obvious. Adam is so sweet and smart. And yet...he made the wrong choice.

So the next time I'm writing and wondering, "Would a teenager really do that?" I'm going to be more likely to say "Yes!" (Especially if peer pressure and/or candy are involved.) On occasion, kids and teenagers make dumb decisions. They suffer the consequences. Then they make even dumber decisions and suffer even worse consequences. But eventually they learn. And they grow. And they change. And isn't that what YA is all about?

(PS - Adam is totally fine. He quickly admitted that he knew Line A was longer, but didn't want to lose the game. He left with a lesson learned and a chocolate-covered smile on his face.)

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