Erin Oliveri started to realize she was a lesbian when she was about 13. “We’d be playing kissing games at parties and I didn’t want to kiss any of the guys,” she says.
For the next few years, she struggled with figuring out her sexual identity. Growing up on Staten Island -- a short ferry ride away from Manhattan but light years apart in terms of attitudes toward homosexuality -- she went to a small, Catholic, all-girls’ high school where everyone knew everyone. “It wasn’t the most welcoming environment...
Say you're invited to a party where you know there will be alcohol or drugs. A friend decides to cut class. Someone offers you a cigarette. Or friends talk about having sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends. How do you respond? Are you tempted to follow their examples? Or can you stand strong in your own belief system?
At some point, everyone has the desire to fit into a group. If you're interested in sports, you might hang out with the "jocks." If you're interested in music, you spend time with others who enjoy music. You belong to that group and feel secure when you are part of it. The group identifies who you are and what you’re about.
But what if people in "your group" start doing things that are wrong, hurtful, or even illegal? And what if these same people are your friends?
This is what we refer to as peer pressure -- the pressure to conform to the behaviors, attitudes, and personal habits of "the group." In many cases, there are serious risks involved. Let’s look at some common situations. Think about what you would do in each:
"My friends told me about this party at this abandoned warehouse on Friday night. I know there’s going to be alcohol involved, and someone there is supposed to bring some marijuana. I don’t drink or do drugs, but I don’t want them to think I’m a loser."
"This older guy at church that I really like smokes cigarettes. He keeps offering them to me and my friends. Last week my best friend Stacy smoked one with him."
"My girlfriend keeps pleading with me to go all the way with her. She says 'everybody’s having sex' these days, but I want to save myself for marriage. All of my friends have had sex, and I really like my girlfriend. I don’t want her to think I’m some kind of prude."
In all of these cases, your decision about how to handle the peer pressure can have great consequences:
What if the cops bust the party at the warehouse and you are arrested? How would your parents react when the police call them? How would an arrest affect your college admissions or your reputation?
As for the second example, it goes without saying how bad smoking is for your health, including the risks of lung disease, heart disease, and cancer. It's all too easy to get hooked on cigarettes.
Speaking of long-term effects, you really have to think through what you’d do in the third example. Having sex even one time could leave your girlfriend pregnant. You’d have to change your life from student … to father. And what if you got a sexually transmitted disease? How would you cope if you found out you had gonorrhea or HIV?