ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

Filtering by Tag: healthy relationships

It’s Okay to be Sexually Confident!

Sex can be confusing! Not just the act itself, but all of the social and emotional aspects surrounding it. We are constantly given mixed messages about sex: Be dominant! Be submissive! Ask for what you want! Be coy! Too slutty! It’s a whirlwind of contradicting information. No wonder it’s so hard to be sexually confident. We want to be ourselves and have great sex lives, but we don’t want to get rejected or hurt anyone, and we want to protect ourselves. The first thing to remember on the path to sexual confidence is this: You deserve a wonderful, healthy sex life. Beyond that, everyone is different. Likes and dislikes, religious beliefs, long-distance relationships, sexual orientation—all of these things can determine a person’s current feelings on sex. But the key is in treating sex seriously, but with a dose of humor as well. Two willing adult partners in a safe environment sounds clinical, but it is really the starter for great sex for a lifetime. So long as we respect our bodies and each other, great sex is out there for the having.

The Changing Family

We all know that the two parent, two child household is now just one of many, many combinations that make up a family. That said, how do we navigate traditional family dynamics with the new reality? What is the polite thing to call a former mother-in-law? Do you buy your step-dad a Father’s Day card? Do you continue to call your uncle’s husband your uncle? Do you have to have your half-sister in your wedding if you aren’t close? You’ll find all of the correct answers to these questions and more below:

Just kidding. For every familial relationship, for every holiday and reunion, for every plane ride back to your home town there is a new set of rules. So why not just stick to the basics:

When in doubt, be as kind as you can. Your step mom knows she’s not your mom, there is no need to remind her. Odds are, she’s not trying to be, she’s just trying to make you (and herself) feel as comfortable as possible. Why not indulge her? Instead of acting defensive around new family, no matter who they are, don’t punish them for not knowing you yet. Offer gracious thanks and try to interact.

Sometimes, it’s gonna be awkward. And that’s okay. If you are in a new relationship with someone who has kids or your elderly parent is getting remarried, whatever the case may be, there is plenty of uncharted territory. The only recourse is to accept this as a fact and try to move forward. That may even mean acknowledging the surprising nature of life, making a joke of it and pushing along.

New and “non-traditional” family can provide new and “non-traditional” love. The beauty of forging ahead into an uncharted family dynamic is that there aren’t a million examples all around you. This can feel lonely, but it can also be a good thing. Most people could talk for hours about their relationship with their mother, and it’s easy to compare and contrast which can often lead to one party feeling badly. But a blended family might have less to compare it to, leaving more room to avoid unnecessary hang-ups.

Just be yourself. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a cliché, but it’s so true! Let these people in a little bit, show them who you are, and the family-like love we’re all supposed to feel for anyone who is remotely related to us, may flow more freely. Or it may not, but at least you can say you were kind, and that you tried.

Unhealthy expectations won’t help you succeed

inner_voice_bubbleThere is a little voice inside of us that loves to torture us. And in many cases, there is a part of us that loves being tortured. The voice loves to tell us how badly we’re doing, how other people are better, richer, smarter, thinner. The voice is a punk. The voice will try to convince you that it is ambition talking, that it is trying to make you better so that you can have all you want in life. The voice is lying. Ambition is not feeling perpetually behind. Ambition is not a constant berating of your current status. Ambition makes you feel good, not terrible. Ambition doesn’t want to make you better than others, it makes you want to be a better version of you.

The voice is a trickster. It will tell you that it’s only trying to help, that it wants to see you succeed by making you feel less than. The voice is manipulative because if we are not careful, the voice inside our heads that tells us we are not good enough will start to come out of our mouths. Then the voice will turn on our friends, our children, our partners.

In order to be the happy and healthy versions of ourselves we deserve, we should have ambition. We should strive for excellence and be wary of complacence. We should also give ourselves room to grow, and to falter. The clearest sign of a person with a future of success is not if they never make a misstep, it’s how they handle the constant missteps and how they treat others. The voice doesn’t know that.

Learning to be Alone Makes us Better Partners

We’ve all been there:  basking in the glow of sharing a life, an intimate moment, a new experience. The googly eyes we get when someone has left us enchanted is all a part of what makes us human. Meeting someone new, or a change in a trusted relationship (like engagement, cohabitation, or marriage) can lead us to slip into what’s commonly referred to as “the honeymoon phase”.  But then in time something else happens. Suddenly the house, the apartment, the bed (heck, even the city) feel small. The charming nuggets about your partner can now feel like intolerable ticks. Being alone isn’t always easy, but neither is being with someone. The expression “the grass is always greener” was invented specifically for this type of conundrum. We want a partner, but we don’t want to lose ourselves in the process of finding a special someone. How can we adapt?

Maintaining some semblance of life separate from your partner may help. A social group, a class, a job, or a hobby that your mate could really care less about may not be a bad thing. If kids are in the picture, that may mean that a biweekly book club without your partner is not in the cards, and that’s okay. Start small. It can be helpful to have different tastes in books and movies and if possible allowing a little private time for yourself to enjoy your romcoms (romantic comedies)or war novels without the love of your life looking over your shoulder.

If you are wracking your brain to think of the last time you’ve been alone for a night, a meal, or even a few hours, it may be time to devote a little time to the other person in your relationship: you. An activity meant just for yourself will not automatically lead to separate bedrooms, so don’t hesitate to tell your partner if you need some time for yourself. The happier you are, the happier they are. Besides, of course you should hang out with yourself; who wouldn’t want to hang out with you?

Beating the Stigma of Being the “Odd One Out”

Can we be frank? Young adulthood can suck. It can be wonderful and perhaps the best years of our life, but that doesn’t make them easy. This is the age we can so easily be trapped between the rules of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s easy to get excited when school is a thing you look back on, but without the safety and structure of the institution of a high school or college, playing by society’s rules can be tricky. We live in a world where statistics play an incredibly important role in assessing our self-image. We hear about them all the time. An article recently hit the media stating that the amount of money a person should be making per year is equal to their age in years, and if you are “good” at what you do, you should make double your age. Is that what we measure ourselves against?

Another recent study says that the average age of marriage continues to rise for young men and women. Another notes the rise in couples who cohabitate before marrying. Again, are we pressured to conform to the “average.”

The problem with these statistics is that it’s incredibly easy to read them and feel out of place.

Perhaps you are unmarried in your mid-twenties, and are feeling like the only single person in your peer group. Perhaps at 27 you are making $25,000 per year.  Perhaps you and your spouse did not live together before tying the knot. Statistics are meant to help us better understand our society, and the needs and characteristics of the people in it. But when you pin down an “average,” statistics do a funny thing: they make anyone outside that small bubble feel like an outsider, and anyone inside the bubble feel ordinary.

So how do we go about our lives and think of statistics as what they were intended to be? It starts with the way we view others. Freeing ourselves from negative judgment when encountering peers who don’t fit into a box designated as “average” helps us connect and be more considerate. If most of your friends don’t have kids, but a close friend is a new mom, consider her feelings before planning a last-minute trip for all your friends.  If you’re getting married as a friend is divorcing, recognize the challenges he may face at your wedding. The kindnesses will be remembered when you are the odd one out.

Perhaps when that newly divorced friend makes twice as much money as his age, he’ll pick up the next dinner check.

Who Says You Can't Go Home?

The economy is in a rut and the student loan collectors are beginning to call. So where do you go next? The answer for many of us is moving back in with our “ ‘rents.” Moving home after being independent for an extended period of time can feel like a major downer.  It’s easy to feel demotivated and depressed as you confront this major lifestyle change.  However, it really doesn’t have to be that bad! Here are some tips to help make living with the “ ’rents” a more positive experience:

1)      Remember first and foremost that your parents are doing you a favor by providing you free or discounted shelter.  Remember to say thank you – your parents will appreciate your gratitude.

2)      Set a time frame for how long you plan to live at home. If you are job-hunting, don’t allow yourself to get too distracted.  Make yourself a schedule and stick to it.

3)      Set ground rules with your parents.  If you are living with any new roommates, it’s important to assert your needs and set boundaries.  Your dad might not want you coming home after the sun has already risen…however, you also have the right to tell him not to snoop through your stuff.   Mutual respect will go a long way.

4)      Remind yourself that your time with your parents is still an opportunity to move forward and build your life.  You can continue seeing friends, dating, and more.

5)      Establish local support networks.  Give your friend from high school a call, hang out in local coffee shops, and reintegrate yourself in your community.  Seek new friends.

6)      Stay the responsible adult you are or are becoming. Contribute. Regressing to being taken care of by our folks is so tempting but so stunting. You don’t want to be living on their couch in your 30’s.


Going Home for the Holidays? How to keep your cool...

You walk in the door and your mother nags you about your hair.  Your father comments on your lack of drive.  Your uber-successful big brother rubs his new car in your face.  Sound familiar?  Why is it when we go home we somehow become a kid again?  We resume our childhood roles –the older responsible one, the rebel, the baby.  How can we get through the holidays without letting our family drive us crazy?  The first thing to remember is that families install and push each other’s buttons.  Don’t take things so personally.  Parents are parents and it’s a job that never stops.  Mothers especially have a language all their own.  It’s their job to turn us into productive members of society.  Think of the National Geographic shows where the mother lioness cuffs her cubs.  It’s the same thing.  If we think of nagging as a mother’s way of saying “I love you,” it takes the sting out of it.

Try non-reaction.  We can’t change our family but we can change how we react to them.  When we stop reacting, things change.  When we don’t engage and let our buttons be pushed, the roles tend to change naturally.   Like a radio station, try a 10 second delay.  Before you react to something, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  You’ll be able to react more like an adult and less like a kid.

The Perfect Gift

No need to drive yourself crazy about presents. The holiday season hits and something comes over us.  We spend money we don’t have on presents no one probably even needs and stress ourselves out running from house to house or event to event.  We get angry when dinner burns or Uncle Ron gets drunk.  Why do we do it to ourselves?  Even Hollywood understands that the perfect holiday doesn’t exist.   

For one thing, our expectations get the best of us.  Perhaps if we know that something could happen to throw a wrench in things, we won’t be so upset when it happens.  It’s easier to go with the flow when we’re less rigid and when we remember the reason we are celebrating the holidays. “Holiday” comes from the words “holy days” as in, to make the day sacred, special, and peaceful.

The other thing is that we think that presents will let others know that we care-even if we can’t afford them.  Your presence is the best gift of all.  Instead of running around grabbing the last minute gifts or stressing over the money you don’t have, ask if you can help decorate, cook, bake, or set the table.  Ask about their childhood, holiday or other special memories.  Engage with those who are there.

Twenty years from now, no one is going to remember the gifts.  They will, however, remember the time and attention you spent with them because it will strengthen our family bonds and show others that we really do care about them.

Home for the Holidays – Sound Off

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, and I am thankful for all the support they have provided over the years. Regardless, they constantly drive me up the wall. And between the crying children and my aunt’s smooches and all the awkward small talk, Thanksgiving dinner can make me feel as though I’m losing my head. So how do I cope with the holiday season? One strategy I’ve used is to avoid alcohol. I find that when myself or others around me are in a drunken haze, it is much more difficult to have meaningful and fulfilling conversations. Additionally, I am much more prone to spilling something embarrassing about my boyfriend or guilty pleasure CD collection that I wouldn’t normally want my second cousin to overhear. Being sober also enables me to guide the conversation. By asking my family members questions about their lives, I am able to avoid the awkwardness that comes from being put on the spot. Last, I always make sure to establish an escape plan before dinner begins. One year, I made a deal that I would text my best friend S.O.S. if I needed her to call me so that I had an excuse to step outside. Another year, I planned to step into the living room to watch some football if I was finding dinner overwhelming.

Since I’ve begun employing these strategies, I’ve been able to calm down and appreciate my family members. What do you do to remain cool and collected during the holidays? Sound off below!


Bullies at work

If you thought bullying stopped in high school, think again.  If you haven’t already experienced bullying in the workplace or in a relationship, you most likely will at some time.  Bullies don’t automatically outgrow their patterns of behavior.  It’s easy to laugh at the television show The Office or the movies Horrible Bosses and Office Space as extreme cases.  But bullying does exist at work, and more often than not it happens when no one is watching.  The difference between a boss who is having a bad day and one who is a bully is that a bully repeats the behavior.  This can include yelling insults, gossip, taking credit or sabotage. Here are Dr. Michelle Callahan’s top ten suggestions on dealing with workplace bullies:

1. Don't get emotional.

2. Don't blame yourself.

3. Do your best work.

4. Build a support network.

5. Document everything.

6. Seek help.

7. Get counseling.

8. Stay healthy.

9. Educate yourself.

10. Don't expect to change the bully.

No matter how old you are or whether it is in social circles, relationships, at school or at work, you don’t have to put up with being bullied.

Parental Recovery

They were out getting high, now they’re out going to “meetings!”  Don’t I matter to them? Having a parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol affects people on many levels.  A big question often asked is, “Why am I not important enough to make my parent stop?”  Al-anon, the 12 step support group for people whose loved ones drink too much, has a great saying: “You didn’t cause this and you can’t fix this.”  Let’s say we get through this tough period and amazingly our parent gets clean and sober.  Suddenly, they are in recovery meetings every night and we’re back to feeling ignored or unimportant.  Let’s try a different perspective.  There is a pendulum action happening, from going to  bars or drinking every night to spending time getting better every night.  Would you rather your parent be drunk or sober?  Eventually the pendulum does find the middle.

Consider asking your parent if you can join them.  Or, since the meetings last only an hour, ask them if they can pick one or two nights when they socialize after the meeting, and come home early the other nights.  It’s important to support our loved ones in recovery but also to remember that we matter and that we can voice our needs.

So random… or not so random

An added incentive for doing “random acts of kindness” is that not only do you get a great feeling, but recent studies have actually shown that doing kind acts improves your health. According to Larry Dossey, M.D., former co-chair of the National Institutes of Health Panel on Mind/Body Intervention, an act of kindness gives you a “helper’s High,” which can boost your health both physically and mentally. Also, don’t forget that you are releasing stress from the person you are helping out. In the game of life, kindness is a win-win for everyone.(http://www.hearthealthyonline.com/heart-disease-overview/stress-management/random-kindness_1.html)

Smile at someone.  Send a card. Visit the sick. Lend a pencil. Hold a door. There are so many different random acts of kindness a person can perform on a daily basis.

How do we thank someone who does a kindness for us? Is there even something we can do to thank these people? Each of us has our own personal method of expressing appreciation.

It is especially hard to thank people who do us a kindness, but don’t ask for anything in return: for instance, our enlisted servicemen and women. Each and every day these men and women, as well as our fire fighters and police, go out and risk their lives for our safety. Now, how do we thank such a kindness?

Elizabeth Laird of Texas has affectionately been dubbed “the Ft. Hood hug lady.” She received this nickname because she waits at Ft. Hood during every troop deployment and homecoming, hugging each soldier as he or she gets on the plane or returns.  Laird has volunteered for the Salvation Army for many years and has been hugging these soldiers for almost 10 years now. She described this as her way of saying “Thank you” to the many soldiers who risk their lives daily to defend our freedom and preserve our safety. Many of the soldiers look forward to these hugs and describe them as “the last hug I receive before I leave and the first I hug I get when I return home!” (Watch her in action http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFdj-s08UJQ )

Elizabeth Laird has found her way of saying “Thank You.” What is yours? For more random acts of kindness, please visit http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/Kindness-Ideas/

How to Spot an Emotional Manipulator

Tricked, fooled, deceived, bamboozled, flim-flammed, used… It’s happened to all of us before, and it’ll probably happen again. There are some people out there who use manipulative tactics to get what they want, and they could be closer than we think. So how can you know that you’ve become the victim of such a situation? Here are some tell-tale signs: • Victimization and Guilt: Some individuals consistently make themselves the victim in any situation. Upon first meeting, they may seek to establish a false image of being vulnerable and quickly disclose personal information in order to gain sympathy. When confronted about anything, they quickly turn it into an issue they have with you, rather than something they themselves did wrong. Once they have you on the hook, they can make you feel guilty in nearly any situation when in fact, it was you who had a bone to pick with them.

• Egocentrism and Exaggeration: For a manipulator, a critical step in the guilt/sympathy game is constantly redirecting the conversation so it revolves around him or her. You will soon learn that there’s always some kind of problem or drama going on, and it will always be exponentially more terrible than whatever you may be going through.

• “Crazy Making”: It is not uncommon for emotional manipulation to be accompanied by skillful lying. You may hear this person saying something one minute, and later denying it.  He or she will rationally and convincingly persuade you to believe that you are imagining and inventing things and conversations that never happened, making you seem crazy.

• Passive-Aggressiveness: Emotionally manipulative individuals will rarely express themselves openly.  Talking behind someone’s back, for instance, creates a situation in which it’s his or her word against someone else’s. Guess who you’re going to believe… Another classic passive-aggressive approach is mind reading. Expecting you to know what they’re thinking without their saying a word sets you up in a perfect position to make you feel guilty for not being able to perceive their needs.

If this perfectly describes your friendship or a string of recent encounters, you now have some of the tools to recognize what may be going on here. My next piece of advice: run. The last thing you need is someone playing puppeteer and pulling at your strings to get what he or she wants. You should never feel that you need to stay in a friendship like this. When you start feeling out of control, claim it back. Don’t be afraid to walk out the door.

Original article: www.friedgreentomatoes.org/articles/emotional_manipulation.php

What's love anyway?

How do we know this love that will last? How do we ever know that they will stick around when times are hard or when we don’t feel so great or aren’t looking so great? We’ve got to look not only at their outside but also at their inside. Are they good looking to you on the outside and good people on the inside?  Are they kind – to you and to others? Are they loyal friends to you and have they held on to good friends over time? Are they considerate of your feelings and the feelings of others? Are they trustworthy - are they worthy of your trust? Do they have character; will they go to bat for someone else even though there might not be anything in it for them? How do they treat you after some of the first glow has worn off? Are they givers or takers? Are they emotionally healthy? Are their heads on straight? Are they carrying around so much baggage that it is weighing them down? It will weigh you down, too, in the long run.

Do they listen to you - not do what you say, but rather really hear you? Are they able to care and be caring, or is it all about them and their needs and wants? Can they share who they really are with you, their warts and all?  Do they share with others? Do they play well with others? Do they play fair with you?

Q&A: “I’m in a rough middle school, do you know anything that can stop the harassment some of us get for being different than what goes for “cool” around here?"

It is really hard to feel like you are being singled out and picked on.  I think we’ve all been there. But it can help to remember that you actually aren’t out there alone. We need to ask ourselves,  “Realistically, how many bullies are there compared to the number of us who are either the targets or the bystanders?  Don’t you think the rest of us outnumber bullies?  So why do they have all of the power?  It’s time to take our power back. Rosalind Wiseman (author of Queen Bees and Wanabees, which was the inspiration for the movie “Mean Girls”), gives us a great tool to stand up for ourselves called SEAL.  Check it out. Even if you only do one of these steps, you’re successful.  It doesn’t mean that everything is going to magically get better, but if we don’t start standing up to bullies in smart ways, then they win all the time.

In a recent video on her site, Rosalind Wiseman said that the when a bullies choose their actions they have to be willing to take the consequences.  In other words, “choose your actions, choose your consequences.” The same is true for us. What are the consequences of our not standing up for ourselves?  The answer seems pretty obvious, the bullying will probably continue.  So, what might be the consequences when we DO stand up for ourselves?  Well, it could very well stop the bullying or it is possible it may not change their mean behavior at all.  But either way, you’ve done something.  You weren’t the silent victim giving the message that it is okay to treat me this way. Standing up will make you feel better and stronger, giving yourself the respect you deserve.

Finally, don’t suffer alone.  It’s always good to tell others, especially an adult, and it doesn’t have to be your parents.  It can be a counselor, teacher, sister, aunt.  Let them help you decide whether or not to talk to someone in authority at your school.  Telling is not snitching – it’s part of standing up for yourself and for all those other people who are targets.

A group of Windsor Mill Middle School kids put together the video “Stress & Drama” which looks at one of the thousands of situations out there.

Our Relationship with Things Over People

Name three things wrong with this picture. Thinking of that perfect gift?  As the holidays are approaching, when we consider what presents to get for others, we might reflect on the idea of giving the gift of being more present in the lives of those we really care about. Think about giving them the gift of our time, the gift of our love, the gift of our listening; the gift of caring, the gift of taking interest in their lives, the gift of lifting the spirits of another with honest words of gratitude, and letting them know that their being part of our lives is their gift to us that we so value and appreciate.

"Spoon Theory”: An Exercise in Empathy

A close friend who lives with a chronic illness taught me a lesson about the challenges of her daily life by using a 5 minute exercise that Christine Miserandino, somewhat humorously, called the “spoon theory” exercise. You see, the main difference between somebody who is sick and somebody who is healthy is being limited in making choices between things that the rest of us take for granted. An able-bodied person like me can replenish her energy by taking a nap, working out, or drinking some coffee. But it’s often very difficult for a sick person to get this energy back.

The “Spoon theory” exercise uses plastic spoons as a tangible representation of a sick person’s energy. The exercise with my friend went as following:

  1. First, my friend gave me a handful of kitchen spoons, which symbolized all the energy I would have for an entire day.
  2. I was told that once my spoons were gone, they would most likely be gone for good.
  3. I was asked to describe my daily routine in detail.
  4. For every activity that caused my friend pain or that she found exhausting – activities as seemingly simple as getting out of bed, taking a shower, choosing clothing, driving to work, and typing on the computer – my friend took away a spoon from my supply.
  5. Once my supply of spoons began to run low, I was told that I would begin having to make decisions about how to spend the rest of my day.
  6. She reminded me that at least one spoon would be lost by driving home after work in rush hour traffic. Another spoon would disappear if I decided to cook dinner, yet another if I washed my dishes afterward.
  7. My previous plans for that evening were to go to the gym and later hang out with my friends. Each of these would diminish my spoon supply as well!

This five minute exercise helped me to gain a whole new understanding into my friend’s lifestyle and choices. How difficult it is for her to accomplish everything that she wants or needs to do on a typical day! I gained an infinite amount of appreciation and respect for how much she actually does.

I have since thought about the “spoon theory” whenever I have a long day at work or a tedious school assignment. I am all the more grateful for all the privileges that come with being an able bodied, healthy person!

Q&A: "It seems like everybody but me is having sex and I am getting a lot of pressure to do it, too."

There are many people who feel like you do – that everyone else is doing it but not them. Married people think that singles are doing it more while singles think that married couples are. And in college it must be that simply everyone must be doing it all the time because everyone knows…. Go Ask Alice, an online health information service from Columbia University, cited a recent study on a number of American campuses that “80% of students had zero or 1 sexual partner the preceding year.”  Furthermore, “students in this study perceived their fellow students were more sexually active than they actually were. In fact, 59% of students reported having no sexual activity within the past 30 days.”  This relied on the respondents to define for themselves what “sexually active” was.

If you are considering having sex with someone, check out our video to keep yourself physically protected from HIV.

Q and A: When and how do I bring up the idea that we should both get tested for STD’s?

When and how do I bring up the idea that we should both get tested for STD’s and share the information with each other when we are starting a relationship? The beginning of a relationship is the best time to get to know someone before you decide whether or not you want to have sex with him or her.  We all show up in relationships with our “game face” - meaning that we don’t let the other person see all of our goofy traits and habits in the beginning.  If you wait and get to know the person, you’ll see who he or she really is.  Then you can decide from there if you want to have sex.

Sex is a very grown up activity with very grown up consequences.  We feel very strongly that if you can’t have an open and honest conversation with your partner, then you probably shouldn’t have sex in the first place.  If you wait and get to know the person, and that person is trustworthy, then you’ll hopefully know what he or she has been up to for the past few months.

Testing should be brought up during the first conversation about sex.  It’s a serious topic but it’s also okay to keep the conversation casual.  “I read so much in health class about STD’s that I think we should get tested before we go any further.”  If the person respects you, then he or she will go along.  Some people may be defensive about getting tested.  How will you handle it if he/she refuses to get tested?  That would send up a warning signal in my head.  If your partner is not willing to protect you, is that really the person you want to give your body to?

Some STD tests are fairly immediate such as Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Herpes.  However, the HIV test is not.  It tests for antibodies that fight the HIV virus, which can take a few months to show up.  So, the test results that you get from an HIV test show what the person was doing 2-3 months before the test, not last week or last night.  A person can contract and spread HIV within 24 hours.  Click here for testing sites.

Once you do get tested, you still should use a condom.  If you have sex with someone unprotected, you‘re sharing the germs of every person that person has had sex with unprotected.

Finally, before you have sex, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I want to have sex?
  • Whose idea is it to have sex?  Do I feel pressured?
  • Do I think that he/she will leave if I don’t have sex?  What if I have sex and the person still leaves?
  • Do I know this person well enough to trust him or her?
  • What are some possible consequences to having sex?  Am I ready to deal with them?

The Power of Words

Words can hurt and words can heal.  Most of us have felt the sting of a cruel joke or felt humiliated by teasing.  Bullies seem to know just the right buttons to push and the hurt can last long after the abuse has ended. Once a thick-skinned kid who couldn’t care less what other people thought of me, when middle school started I began to feel a little unsure of myself. I was definitely an easy target – dorky (the first of my peers to get glasses!), clumsy, overweight, and with a mouth full of braces.

Bullies take advantage of a person’s insecurities. In my case, they called me names like “stupid,” “ugly” and “fat.” I tried my best to convince myself that no amount of teasing could ever get to me, reminding myself that “sticks and stones could break my bones, but words could never hurt me.” But unfortunately, this is far from the truth.  Verbal insults make you doubt yourself and your abilities. I became terrified that my personality and physique were inherently flawed. My confidence sank and school became an increasingly poisonous environment. My desperate desire to be accepted led me to become preoccupied with popularity. I went on crash diets in the hope that being skinny would make the teasing stop and begged my parents to buy me expensive clothing so I would look cooler. Even after the bullies matured and the teasing had stopped, I continued to feel self conscious, powerless, and depressed.

It was the kind words of friends and family that helped me overcome these emotional damages. My friends reminded me that I am lovable, friendly and intelligent. Their carefully chosen, supportive words of encouragement made me feel confident and strong. With their support, I was able to pick up the broken pieces and leave that part of my life behind.

My middle school experience taught me firsthand about the power words can have both to destroy and to heal. Words can be the most powerful of weapons and we should all be careful not to misuse the influence that they can have. Even name calling as a joke can be extremely hurtful. Let’s all be mindful of the words we use because we can never underestimate the impact that they might have on other people.

How did (or does) middle school experience affect your self esteem? Did it build you up as a person or hurt you? Write us your comment- we are curious about what your experience was like.