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Peer Pressure

"It's the cool thing to do" or "everyone else is doing it." We hear these reasons (and more) everyday. Sex is something that is present in our lives more than most parents would like to believe. The people we should look to for love and support, our parents, are not always there. So we go to our only other source of comfort, our peers, and they tell us to find the love somewhere else. Find the love among friends or sometimes 'more than friends'.

Our boyfriends or girlfriends give us something, or for some, make us something. It's no longer 'Kate,' but 'Kate and Jack.' We feel like this other person is so important to our happiness or social standing that we would risk everything, including our health, to be with them. It's not easy to say no to someone you consider this important in your life. This is why communication with friends and family is imperative. Knowing how to respond to situations before they arise, so peers can't pressure you into them, is very important. Because, unless you know what you want, it will be way too easy for them to push you in their direction.

by Katie - 18 years old

Coping With Cliques

Do you feel like you're auditioning for the sequel to "Mean Girls"? Have you had it up to your well-groomed eyebrows with the tricks of your clique? Do you hate following the dress code of your clique but think you'll be dropped if you don't?

Are you holding back on approaching someone you'd like to be friends with because you think she's in a group that's out of your league? Are you concerned about whether you'll still be popular and included this year at school or whether you'll feel like an outcast - or worse, be picked on?

Whether you're on the outside looking in or the inside wanting out, it can help to know what makes cliques tick.

What's the Difference Between a Group of Friends and a Clique?

Friendship groups are normal and healthy. It's nice to feel you belong and fit in. It's good to know you have friends to hang out with. Being part of a group can help people develop relationship skills, feel close to others, get and give support, share ideas, discover what's important to them, and have fun.

Usually, friendship groups form around the things people have in common. So skaters, jocks, Goths, preps, punks, and even the math club are naturally drawn together because they share the same values and interests. The people in these groups feel they have a place where they are welcome and supported, and where they can be themselves, quirks and all.

Some groups stick together for a long time. Others drift apart after a while as people develop new interests, make different friends, or just find they have less in common. People can move in and out of different groups and can even be part of several at the same time. Even within a group, people often have one or two friends they feel closest to and enjoy the most.

Some friendship groups seem pretty flexible and welcome people to join in. Others seem much more restricted, though. People in these groups make it clear that not just anyone can be part of their crowd. That type of restricted group is sometimes called a clique.

What's the Deal With Cliques?

Cliques are tight groups that usually have a strict code of membership and ways to act. Instead of being centered on shared values and beliefs, many cliques tend to focus on maintaining their status and popularity. For instance, a certain clique may try to make it seem like the people in the clique are "better" than those outside, or that their clique is "better" or higher status than another clique.

Unlike regular groups of friends, where members are free to socialize with others outside the group, people in cliques do everything together. They sit together in class, go to the mall together after school - and they only do stuff with other clique members or people they decide are "cool."

Although people might think it's better to belong to a clique than to be excluded, many times people in cliques end up dealing with lots of pressures and rules. They soon start to worry about whether they'll continue to be popular or whether they'll be dropped. After a while, they may begin to realize that true friends wouldn't be so bossy or demanding.

Why Do Cliques Attract People?

Cliques attract people for different reasons: For some people, being popular or cool is the most important thing, and cliques give them a place where they can get this social status. Other people want to be in cliques because they don't like to feel left out. And some people simply feel it's safer to be on the inside than the outside (it's not, but more on that later).

Cliques give people who like to take control a chance to be in charge (for good or bad!). And, for people who feel more comfortable following, they offer a place where rules are clearly defined. It's always clear to clique members what they need to do to fit in.

Clique membership is usually tightly controlled by the leaders. These social gatekeepers are the ones with the power to decide who should be hot and who should not. This type of membership control usually happens in cliques of girls.

As many great girls have found, entry into a clique isn't guaranteed. In fact, a girl who is seen as likeable and popular may actually be excluded from belonging to a clique. That's because her personality or confidence may pose a threat to the leaders. She may not be a good "follower" - especially if she can be popular enough on her own. Sometimes her friends may even be invited to join when she isn't. Clique members may deliberately exclude her in an attempt to take away her perceived power or the threat they think she could pose. People in cliques sometimes use their power to hurt others on purpose, either by excluding them, being mean, or both.

It's not all roses inside the clique either. A person's standing within the group can always be under threat. Most of the followers cling to the leader not out of true friendship but because they want to keep their position in the group. But even the leader can lose her power. In fact, the queen bee in a strong girl clique probably worries as much - or even more - about being popular and accepted as the outsiders do. Because no one feels secure, clique members often use the tools of flattery, humiliation, or rumors to manipulate situations and preserve their status.

A few girls manage to stay friends with people both inside and outside the clique. But that can be hard to do because there's often intense pressure from the group to be friends only with people on the approved list. It takes a lot of self-confidence to dare to be friends with someone outside the clique.

Sometimes clique members decide they want out. They don't like being limited by the rules, and they don't like leaving others out and hurting people's feelings. As people mature, they usually outgrow the need to be part of a clique.

Surviving Cliques

Whether you're on the inside or the outside, cliques can make your life tough. But there are ways to cope:

Friendships change. Just as the rising power of one or more cliques can make life miserable, shifting social winds can take their power away. You may encounter cliques as a freshman or sophomore. But the good news is that most cliques have disappeared by the end of high school.

Want to know the real secret to being popular and having friends? Be a good friend yourself. People who enjoy true and lasting popularity are those who have good friendship skills. Being a friend means being respectful, fair, interested, trustworthy, honest, caring, and kind. So if you want to have friends, be just the kind of friend you'd like to have.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2005

Virginity: A Very Personal Decision

Sometimes it might seem like everyone in school is talking about who's a virgin, who isn't, and who might be. For both girls and guys, the pressure can sometimes be intense.

But deciding whether it's right for you to have sex is one of the most important decisions you'll ever have to make. Each person must use his or her own judgment and decide if it's the right time - and the right person.

This means considering some very important factors - both physical ones, like the possibility of becoming pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted disease - and emotional factors, too. Though a person's body may feel ready for sex, sex also has very serious emotional consequences.

For many teens, moral factors are very important as well. Family attitudes, personal values, or religious beliefs provide them with an inner voice that guides them in resisting pressures to get sexually involved before the time is right.

Peer Pressure Problems and Movie Madness

Nobody wants to feel left out of things - it's natural to want to be liked and feel as if you're part of a group of friends. Unfortunately, some teens feel that they have to lose their virginity to keep up with their friends or to be accepted.

It doesn't sound like it's all that complicated; maybe most of your friends have already had sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends and act like it isn't a big deal. But sex isn't something that's only physical; it's emotional, too. And because everyone's emotions are different, it's hard to rely on your friends' opinions to decide if it's the right time for you to have sex.

What matters to you is the most important thing, and your values may not match those of your friends. That's OK - it's what makes people unique. Having sex to impress someone or to make your friends happy or feel like you have something in common with them won't make you feel very good about yourself in the long run. True friends don't really care whether a person is a virgin - they will respect your decisions, no matter what.

Even if your friends are cool with your decision, it's easy to be misled by TV shows and movies into thinking that every teen in America is having sex. Writers and producers may make a show or movie plot exciting by showing teens being sexually active, but these teens are actors, not real people with real concerns. They don't have to worry about being ready for sex, how they will feel later on, or what might happen as a result. In other words, these TV and movie plots are stories, not real life. In real life, every teen can, and should, make his or her own decision.

Boyfriend Blues or Girlfriend Gripes

Although some teens who are going out don't pressure each other about sex, the truth is that in many relationships, one person wants to have sex although the other one doesn't.

Again, what matters most differs from person to person. Maybe one person in a relationship is more curious and has stronger sexual feelings than the other. Or another person has religious reasons why he or she doesn't want to have sex and the other person doesn't share those beliefs.

Whatever the situation, it can place stress and strain on a relationship - you want to keep your boyfriend or girlfriend happy, but you don't want to compromise what you think is right.

As with almost every other major decision in life, you need to do what is right for you and not anyone else. If you think sex is a good idea because a boyfriend or girlfriend wants to begin a sexual relationship, think again.

Anyone who tries to pressure you into having sex by saying, "if you truly cared, you wouldn't say no," or "if you loved me, you'd show it by having sex" isn't really looking out for you and what matters most to you. They're looking to satisfy their own feelings and urges about sex.

If someone says that not having sex after doing other kinds of fooling around will cause him or her physical pain, that's also a sign that that person is thinking only of himself or herself. If you feel that you should have sex because you're afraid of losing that person, it may be a good time to end the relationship. Sex should be an expression of love - not something a person feels that he or she must do. If a boyfriend or girlfriend truly loves you, he or she won't push or pressure you to do something you don't believe in or aren't ready for yet.

Feeling Curious

You might have a lot of new sexual feelings or thoughts. These feelings and thoughts are totally normal - it means that all of your hormones are working properly. But sometimes your curiosity or sexual feelings can make you feel like it's the right time to have sex, even though it may not be.

Though your body may have the ability to have sex and you may really want to satisfy your curiosity, it doesn't mean your mind is ready. Although some teens understand how sex can affect them emotionally, many don't - and this can lead to confusion and deeply hurt feelings later.

But at the same time, don't beat yourself up or be too hard on yourself if you do have sex and then wish you hadn't. Having sexual feelings is normal and handling them can sometimes seem difficult, even if you planned otherwise. Just because you had sex once doesn't mean you have to continue or say yes later on, no matter what anyone tells you. Making mistakes is not only human, it's a major part of being a teen - and you can learn from mistakes.

Why Some Teens Wait

Some teens are waiting longer to have sex - they are thinking more carefully about what it means to lose their virginity and begin a sexual relationship.

For these teens, there are many reasons for abstinence (not having sex). Some don't want to worry about unplanned pregnancy and all its consequences. Others see abstinence as a way to protect themselves completely from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some STDs (like AIDS) can literally make sex a life-or-death situation, and many teens take this very seriously.

Some teens don't have sex because their religion prohibits it or because they simply have a very strong belief system of their own. Other teens may recognize that they aren't ready emotionally and they want to wait until they're absolutely sure they can handle it.

When it comes to sex, there are two very important things to remember: one, that you are ultimately the person in charge of your own happiness and your own body; and two, you have a lot of time to wait until you're totally sure about it. If you decide to put off sex, it's OK - no matter what anyone says. Being a virgin is one of the things that proves you are in charge, and it shows that you are powerful enough to make your own decisions about your mind and body.

If you find yourself feeling confused about decisions related to sex, you may be able to talk to an adult (like a parent, doctor, older sibling, aunt, or uncle) for advice. Keep in mind, though, that everyone's opinion about sex is different. Even though another person may be able to share useful advice, in the end, the decision is up to you.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2005

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