Living Pressure Free By Terri Pilcher

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I was talking to a girl the other day who loves this rapper named Nellie. She said I should … listen to his album,” says Shelby Roe, a high school freshman. At first, Shelby told the girl she wasn't interested, but eventually she gave in. The music, which contained a lot of bad language and sexual references, made her very uncomfortable. Shelby wishes she'd never given in to peer pressure. Like Shelby, we've all experienced negative peer pressure. Maybe you've watched a movie you hated because your friends liked it. Maybe you joined in making fun of a classmate or a teacher because everyone else was. Maybe you shared your old test papers with a friend who is taking the same course this year. Everyone makes mistakes and gives in to peer pressure once in a while. As teenagers, this pressure is particularly difficult because we define ourselves by our social relationships. But as young women of God, we must learn to cope with negative peer pressure. It's not always easy, but here are some proven strategies to help you stand up to peer pressure: avoid “high-pressure” situations If you are a teenager, you already know that certain environments are more conducive to negative peer pressure. Typically, the less adult supervision there is, the more peer pressure you are likely to encounter. The easiest way to avoid peer pressure is to avoid risky environments: parties, one-on-one dates, and so on. Trust your instincts: if the idea of a situation makes you uncomfortable, then it is probably smart to avoid it. This goes double for situations where you might be exposed to drugs or alcohol, both of which lower inhibitions and make you far more prone to be pressured into actions you will regret. College freshman Colleen Hamrick has never drunk alcohol or done drugs. She suggests that girls who want to stay pure do what she did: “A lot of times, kids would hand out flyers for parties that said, ‘No parents,' and I just wouldn't go. I avoided bad situations as early as possible. It just gets harder once you're actually in the situation.” develop positive friendships Just as certain situations are more likely to expose you to negative peer pressure, so are certain people. One of the hardest – but most important – things you must do as a teenager is choose good friends. But what is a good friend? The qualities valued by society – prettiness, popularity, athleticism – do little to tell us what a person is like on the inside. Dr. Greg Popcak, a counselor and the author of several Catholic books, suggests that you evaluate friendships by asking yourself, “When I'm with this person, is it easier to live up to the values I believe in, or is it harder?” If it's harder, then that friend will probably draw you into bad situations. If someone offers alcohol at her parties, do you really want her as a friend? What if she pressures you to date earlier than you feel you should? Or if she encourages you to watch R-rated movies? If your friends do not respect and value your moral choices, they are not your friends. But not all peer pressure is negative. In fact, the best friends you can make are those that expose you to positive peer pressure. These kinds of friends will help you to make the right choices. They will encourage your academic achievements. They will pressure you to avoid guys that are trouble. They will push you to try new extracurricular activities. They will help you to get out of uncomfortable, “high-pressure” situations. Above all, they will respect the decisions you have made about how you live your life. plan ahead Know where you are going. Know whom you are going with. Know what you will do if things get out of hand. High school junior Anna Collins goes to parties where some of the kids drink but says, “I generally hang out with people who don't drink at all … and if it comes up, I'll leave the party.” She insulates herself by staying with classmates who share her values. It's always a good idea to go out with one or two trusted friends; that way, you have a support system to rely on if you feel uncomfortable or pressured. If there is a problem, Anna makes sure that she has a way to contact her parents: “My family has only one cell phone, and when I go out, I usually have it.” Carrying a cell phone is one way to give yourself an “out.” Make sure that your parents know where you are going and that they will be around to answer the phone if you need help. If you feel weird calling home for help, ask your parents (or a trusted friend) to give you a call at a specific time; that way, they can check up on you without your looking strange. There's nothing wrong with completely avoiding a problem party, even if your friends are throwing it. Again, don't be afraid to ask your family for help. If you aren't sure how you feel about an invitation, recruit an adult to help you assess the situation. When Shelby goes to a party hosted by someone she doesn't know well, she says, “my parents or an older sibling will drop me off, and they will see what's going on in the house, try to have a little chitchat with the parents. If they don't think it's okay for me to be there, then they'll say, ‘we were just stopping by to say hello.'” It's easy to avoid peer pressure when you can leave the party or choose not to show up at all. have faith in yourself Not all peer pressure can be avoided, however; if it happens at school, you can't simply leave. In school, peer pressure runs the gamut from mild (to gossip about a classmate, to share answers on a homework assignment, or to dress a certain way) to extreme (to help a classmate cheat on an exam, to cut classes, or to skip lunch to maintain a rail-thin figure). And unfortunately, the older you get, the greater the peer pressure you will encounter. “When I was in first grade, I got pressured into stealing a piece of the teacher's candy,” says eighth-grader Katie Berg. “Now, I've been asked to try drugs.” Katie's answer? “No, no, no, no,” she says. “Eventually they figured it out.” Before you can stand up for your beliefs, you have to know what you believe in. Young women of faith may find themselves targets of another kind of peer pressure. Often, Christian values contradict societal values, and this conflict creates a lot of pressure for Christian girls to conform. The pressure to date and become sexually active occurs frequently. Colleen recalls being targeted in sociology class for her beliefs about premarital sex. She found that, “Usually, if I kept firm… and never compromised, then people caught on and said, ‘We're never going to change her.'” Refusing to compromise becomes easier as your peers recognize your self-confidence. Take pride in the fact that you don't follow the crowd; celebrate your “weirdness.” The more you respect yourself and your choices, the more other people will, too. confide in a trusted adult It doesn't matter with whom you discuss the pressures you are facing: a parent, an older sibling, a teacher, a priest. But talking not only helps you deal with peer pressure; it gives you a chance to just vent. “If you don't talk, then things are going to get stuck inside … I've done it before, and I got really upset and was rude,” says Shelby about times when she felt hurt. Girls who successfully avoid pressure know that vocalizing their fears and frustrations gives them confidence when things get tough. You might even find that adults who went through many of the same experiences when they were young can offer emotional support and suggestions on how to cope. Every burden is easier to bear if you have help carrying it – even Jesus needed help carrying His cross! Think your parents won't listen to you? Or, even worse, that they'll listen but won't understand? Just give them a chance. Remember, they love you more than anyone else in this world does. Making sure that you grow safely into a healthy, happy adult is their first priority. Dr. Popcak suggests that you start by saying, “Look, I was afraid to tell you this, and it feels kind of weird to talk about this, but I really need your help. If I didn't talk to you, I'd just ask my friends. I didn't want to go there. I wanted to ask you first.” He concludes, “I don't know too many parents who would be angry if you approach them that way.” cultivate a prayerful relationship with God You are a daughter of God. Just like your earthly parents, God wants to see you grow up happy and safe. His grace will provide you with the strength you need to be true to yourself and to your values. Daily prayer will give you the strength you need to be the person God calls you to be. Undoubtedly, you will give in to peer pressure at some time in your life. But God will not give up on you, and nor should you give up on yourself. “Learning to walk is learning how to stand up and try again,” says Dr. Popcak. “Don't give in to Satan's lie that once you fall down, you stay down.” When you fail, go to confession and hear the priest say, “You're forgiven.” You'll do it right next time.


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