Being Shy



A closer look at what shyness is, why it happens, and how to conquer life without letting shyness get in the way


What is shyness?

Shyness is usually associated with being quiet, insecure, and/or socially anxious. Being shy is not necessarily bad. We can all feel shy from time to time, so it’s alright to feel a little uncomfortable in new situations and with new people.

There are ways to overcome these challenges, so you can still be shy and achieve your goals.

What causes shyness?

Some people are born more shy than others. Sometimes you can grow out of shyness and sometimes it can stay with you. Shyness is generally associated with new situations and can often pass; it can also attribute to the people you hang out with. Examples of times when you might feel shy are on your first day of school or starting a new job where you don’t know anyone. Over time you might start to make friends and your shyness may start to go away as you become more comfortable and confident in your new situation or with new people.

Here are some situations where you might find yourself being more shy than others:

  • Public speaking, e.g. class presentations

  • Speaking to someone you think is attractive

  • Meeting new people

  • Going to a new place

  • Eating and drinking in public

  • Exams

  • Performing

  • Talking to someone important, e.g. your boss or principal

  • Job interviews

Symptoms of shyness

How you might behave:

  • Quietly and passively

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Avoiding social situations

  • Speaking quietly

  • Nervous behaviors, such as touching your hair or face a lot

What you might feel physically:

  • Fast heart beat

  • Dry mouth

  • Shaking

  • Sweating

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Butterflies in your stomach or feeling sick

  • Feeling like the situation is unreal or you are removed

  • Fear of losing control, going crazy, or having a heart attack

What you might think:

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, the situation, and others

  • Wanting to be perfect to avoid judgment

  • Blaming and beating yourself up, particularly after a social situation

  • Believing yourself to be weaker than others

  • Thinking “I don’t fit in” or “I’m unattractive”

What you might be feeling:

  • Embarrassed

  • Self-consciousness

  • Silly

  • Low self-esteem

  • Sad

  • Lonely

  • Depressed

  • Anxious/ worried

Blushing and sweating

When you’re feeling shy or embarrassed in a social situation or in any of the situations mentioned above, you might find yourself blushing or sweating more than usual. It’s also possible to blush for no apparent reason. In embarrassing or stressful situations, the body’s fight or flight response is activated. This releases extra adrenaline into the bloodstream causing more blood to rush to your face, neck and ears. Anxiety and nervousness can make you sweat more on you face or under your arms.

These physical displays of embarrassment, shyness and/or nervousness are often more noticeable to you than to others. You may also think that people are going to judge you or think that you are weak or dishonest by blushing or sweating. However, others often just see you as being shy or nervous.

Sometimes breathing can help to reduce the symptoms of blushing. See the fact sheet on Relaxation for information on breathing techniques.

What can you do if you are feeling shy?

It can be really useful to talk to someone if you feel that your shyness is keeping you from doing things that you want to do. You may want to consider talking to your family, friends or counselor about it. Here are some tips that can help you start overcoming your shyness:

Prepare a topic for conversation. Thinking about what you might talk about with new people can really help the conversation and any awkward feelings. It helps to pick a topic that you know a lot about and feel confident about.

Smile and be friendly. You are more likely to be friendly to someone who smiles at you, so try it yourself. Opening yourself up to people can make them feel more comfortable and more likely to be friendly in response.

Practice social skills. Start practicing your social skills one at a time. Try smiling at someone or saying ‘hi’, and keep practicing at home until you feel confident to try it out in a social situation. Once you feel comfortable with that, you can move onto something else—like trying to hold eye contact during a conversation.

Worse case scenarios. It may help to run through some of the worst things that could happen, so you can learn how to handle stumbling over your words when giving a class presentation or dropping your drink at a party. Thinking about some of the worst scenarios that you could come across may help you realize that they might not be as bad as you initially thought and would also prepare you for these situations if they were to happen. In case something embarrassing does happen, humor is a great way to release the awkward energy. Instead of taking something seriously, allow it to happen and laugh about it.

“I’m shy”. Letting other people know that you are shy can sometimes make the situation more comfortable. People are generally understanding, caring and patient, so they will help support you.

Reward yourself. It’s extremely helpful to tell yourself that you did really well after you’ve been in an uncomfortable situation. It is also important to remember that sometimes things can go wrong and that you should look at the things that did go well, like the fact that you tried.

Is shyness affecting my social life?

Sometimes being shy can impact on your life. You might find that you avoid social situations or new people because you are too shy and sometimes you may feel afraid to do simple things like asking someone a question or avoiding taking the bus because you don’t like everyone looking at you. If you feel that your shyness is impacting on your life, have a look at the Social Anxiety article.

Self-esteem and confidence

Building your self-esteem and confidence can often help reduce shyness in some situations. Low self-esteem can influence the way you behave. Sometimes shyness can hold you back from new experiences because you become overly concerned with the possibility of failure or looking stupid.

There are ways of building your self-esteem like becoming friends with yourself and challenging your self-talk. Focusing on your good qualities helps to build your confidence and self-esteem, learning not to compare yourself to others and realizing that no one is perfect.

Check out our articles on Self-Esteem and Challenging Negative Self-Talk for more information.

How can you help a friend who is shy?

If you know someone who’s shy, try to help the person feel less nervous. Think about how it feels for you when you are feeling shy. You can even try telling them about a time that you felt shy. It might help them to understand that everyone feels that way sometimes, and they’re not alone.


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for



Being Homeless

A closer look at what homelessness is, why it can happen, and how to find help


What is homelessness?

It’s estimated that more than 2 million youth will face homelessness every year. Being homeless doesn’t always mean sleeping on concrete. Homelessness is when you don’t have a safe and reliable home to live in. Sometimes people choose to runaway and sometimes they are forced out of their home.

Some common stereotypes are that homelessness is caused primarily by rebellion or drug use. In reality, there are many reasons that people can become homeless. Reasons include:

  • Being kicked out or feeling unwanted at home, like coming out as being gay or trans

  • Drug and alcohol abuse

  • Domestic violence

  • Family and relationship breakdown with parents, siblings or extended family

  • Gambling

  • Overcrowding

  • Physical or mental illness

  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse

What does homelessness look like?

Being homeless doesn’t just mean living in a cardboard box. Homeless programs and community planners recognize different kinds of homelessness.

Couch Surfing. It may not be as physically rough or dangerous as sleeping on the streets, but sleeping on a different couch every night has its own set of mental challenges. These challenges include a loss of stability, and in some cases the feeling of being a burden to the family or friend that you are staying with. Having a place for personal items is also tough when you are switching to different houses all the time.

Shelters. Shelters are available in most large cities, and at times in smaller cities. On average they exist to fill a gap of housing and are not meant for long term housing. All homeless youth shelters have different policies on how long you can stay. In most cities these shelters can be found through the city hall information center or by calling the non-emergency police number. You can also call 1-800-RUNAWAY for help in finding shelters in your area.

Squatting. Squatters seek out condemned or unoccupied buildings for short term shelter. These buildings usually do not have electricity or water. Sometimes this term applies to homeless people breaking into houses whose occupants are away for long periods of time.

Where to get help

If you are homeless, or feel like you might be at risk of becoming homeless, there are services that can help you find a place to stay, put you in touch with a social worker or find advice about money, employment and, if you’d like, support for longer-term issues.

Transportation and clothing. If you are enrolled in school (K-12) and do not have stable or healthy housing, you have access to the McKinney Vento program—a federal law that ensures immediate enrollment and educational stability for homeless children and youth. Each school district is mandated to have a McKinney Vento liaison. These liaisons will help you with things like transportation, clothing, and toiletries so you can attend school.

Emergency accommodation and food. If you need a place to stay immediately, call Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. They have a database of emergency accommodations and food services around the US, many of which are free. The U.S. Department of Housing website can also put you in touch with emergency and refuge accommodation.

Getting home from long distances. If you’ve run away to another city or state and want to go home, Greyhound offers a free ride home. For more information about the Home Free Program, call 1-800-621-4000.

Homeless youth resources and referrals. The National Runaway Safeline offers various services for homeless youth across the United States. The program offers counseling, referrals and general information. For more information, call 1-800-RUNAWAY or visit National Runaway Safeline.


Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Managing Expectations



A closer look at what these pressures are, who puts them on us, and how we can manage them


Everyone goes through times when they feel pressure to achieve certain goals, behave in a particular manner or even look a certain way. These pressures, or expectations, might have a positive influence and can challenge or motivate you to do your best. However, unrealistic expectations might not be helpful, and could have a negative impact on your thoughts, feelings and behavior.

Where do expectations come from?

Expectations and pressure can come from different sources, including:

  • You. Sometimes the expectations you put on yourself can be the most unrealistic and hardest to meet.

  • Family. Family expectations can vary, and might include how you behave or dress, what sort of person you can date, your grades, or what sort of career you choose.

  • Peers. Sometimes your friends or significant other might expect you to dress or behave in a certain way. Check out our Peer Pressure article for more information.

  • School. Your school or teachers may expect you to get high grades and get to class on time.

  • Teammates or coaches. You might experience pressure from your sports club, teammates or coach to participate and do well. They may also expect you to do well academically, regardless of how much time you spend in practice.

  • Work. Some managers or employers might set unrealistic goals and targets for your work performance.

  • Society. Sometimes society, through media and advertising, expects you to look or behave in certain ways, or buy certain products.

Why place expectations on yourself?

Everyone has goals and expectations for themselves. Here are some reasons why you might have the expectations you do:

  • You might feel that meeting high expectations is the only way to gain the approval of others.

  • You might think that achievement is the only way to be happy.

  • You might set high expectations for yourself to push you to strive for, and achieve, bigger and better things.

  • You might be setting yourself up to fail on purpose. That is, you might be more afraid of achieving your goals than failing to achieve them, or you might really expect to fail. This is called self-sabotage.

Why do others place expectations on you?

There are many reasons why people might put expectations on you. Here are a few:

  • The people who care about you the most often want the best for you, and might forget that you already know what’s best for yourself.

  • Some people might try to live their lives vicariously through you. They might want you to have experiences that they always wanted but never had the chance to have.

  • Others might assume that an experience that worked for them will work for you, too. These people might forget that the choices they made might not work for everyone.

  • Some people might have different cultural traditions or values than you do, and might try to place these principles on you. For example, your parents and grandparents might have been raised in a time and culture with values that are very different to your own, and they might not realize that the expectations they are placing on you are not ones that you would choose for yourself.

How expectations affect you

Although reasonable expectations can be a positive pressure in your life, too much pressure can cause you to burn out. Depending on how much pressure is placed on you, and for how long, expectations can affect you negatively in the following ways:


  • Stress or anxiety

  • Feeling helpless, overwhelmed or powerless

  • Feeling down or depressed

  • Feeling guilty

  • Experiencing a sense of failure or low self-esteem


  • Family problems, like fighting or poor communication

  • Problems at school or work, like difficulty concentrating or poor performance

  • Relationship or friendship problems

  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol


  • Poor eating habits, like overeating, eating too much junk food, or losing your appetite

  • Feeling fatigued

  • Not getting enough sleep

  • Feeling run down and sick

Managing expectations and pressure

Being an individual, even when you’re working with a part of a group, means making decisions based on what is best for you. This means taking ownership and responsibility for what you do and how you think. It might be hard to resist unrealistic expectations, even if you know they aren’t right for you. Here are some suggestions that can help you manage pressure and expectations better:

Talk to someone outside the situation. Talking to someone outside the situation, like a friend, parent or counselor can be a great way to express your feelings. These people are also in a good position to help you identify expectations and help you work out strategies to deal with them.

Talk to the person setting the expectations. Sometimes a person who is setting unreasonable expectations might be unaware that they are putting unfair pressure on you. When you talk to this person, it might be helpful to use a phrase like ”When you treat me like this, I feel…”

Challenge and reset your expectations. Sometimes it can be helpful to re-think your own expectations. This can help you decide if your goals are achievable. A useful question to ask yourself might be ”What would I suggest to a friend in this situation?”

Have a variety of options for the future. Sometimes expectations are only focused on one outcome and if you don’t meet it, you might feel disappointed or like you’ve failed. Usually there are a number of ways to achieve a goal. Try to have a couple of strategies for achieving your goals. It might help to talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member or counselor, about what different strategies might be.

Chill out. Sometimes getting some space and a change of scenery can be helpful. It’s important to give yourself permission to do this regularly. You might want to go for a walk, or listen to your favorite music, read a book, go to the movies, or whatever works for you.

Express your feelings. Writing down your feelings in a journal or private online space can be a great way to gain some insight into a situation and reduce the power of unrealistic expectations. Expressing yourself creatively can also help you think about alternative solutions to problems.

You might also try to express yourself in other ways that won’t cause you bodily harm, or damage to another person or property, like yelling, punching or crying into a pillow, or dancing round the room to loud music.

Look after yourself. Expectations can lead to a lot of stress. It’s important to take time out to do something that you enjoy. And even though you might not feel like it or have time, exercising and eating well can help you feel better. Getting plenty of sleep can also keep you healthy.

Exercise helps stimulate hormones, such as endorphins, which help you feel better about yourself and your life. If you haven’t exercised a lot before, it might be a good idea to start doing something small a couple of times each week, like a 15-minute walk or a couple of laps around a pool. Visiting your doctor for a medical check up can help you ensure that you’re healthy.

Avoid drugs and alcohol. Try not to use alcohol or other drugs—including lots of caffeine or other energy drinks—in the hope of feeling better or forgetting expectations and pressure. The feeling is usually temporary and the effects often make you feel worse.

For more information, check out the Related Articles below.

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for




The link between thinking and feeling

Have you ever worried about something that upset you for a few days, only to realize that if you had changed how you thought about the problem, you could’ve felt better much sooner? Let’s take a closer look at how we can change those thoughts into something more positive.


Changing the way you think will change the way you feel

Things go wrong at times. People let us down. We make mistakes and can become disappointed. Whether we get upset about it and how upset we become depends largely on the way we think about those situations. Sometimes we can make ourselves feel pretty miserable even when our situation is not that bad, simply by thinking in a negative, self-defeating way.

What is self-talk?

As we go about our daily lives, we constantly think about and interpret the situations we find ourselves in. It is like we have an internal voice that determines how we perceive every situation. We call this inner voice our “self-talk,” and it includes our conscious thoughts, as well as our unconscious assumptions and beliefs.

Much of our self-talk is reasonable, for example: “I’d better prepare for that exam,” or ”I’m really looking forward to that game.” But sometimes our self-talk is negative, unrealistic or self-defeating. For example, “I’m going to fail for sure,” or ”I didn’t play well. I’m hopeless.”

Negative self-talk

Negative self-talk often causes us to feel bad, and can make us feel hurt, angry, frustrated, depressed or anxious. It can also make us behave in a self-defeating way. For instance, thoughts like ”I’m going to fail for sure” might discourage you from working hard when you are preparing for your exams, and you might actually fail as a result.

Remember: the way you interpret events has a huge impact on the way you feel and behave.

The ABCs of self-talk

The relationship between your thoughts, feelings and behavior can best be explained by looking at the ABCs of your self-talk.

A is for activating situation. The activating situation is a situation that causes you to feel bad. An activating situation could be a party where you don’t know a lot of people, a stressful time in school when you’re overloaded with essays and assignments, or a time when you made a silly comment that you might later regret.

When you identify the activating situation, it’s important to stick to the facts. For example, instead of saying ”I tried on my jeans and I looked so disgusting and ugly and fat,” try saying to yourself ”I tried on my jeans and they were too small.” Can you feel the difference when you read those examples? One is your perspective (or beliefs) and another is stating exactly what happened.

B is for beliefs. Beliefs make up self-talk, thoughts and assumptions that we have about a situation. Identifying self-talk can sometimes be tricky. This is because it is so automatic that you might not even be aware of what’s going on in your own mind.

When something happens and we feel upset, we assume whatever happened has made us feel this way. But it’s our beliefs about the activating situation, and not the situation itself that makes us feel the way we do. It’s our thoughts that largely determine the way we feel.

Let’s say a friend of yours blew you off after school. In your mind, you might think, “Wow. They must not even care about me. I’m probably not good enough for them. Maybe I did something wrong...” In turn, you spend a bunch of time and energy lost in anxiety and worry, and potentially blowing the situation up to something it’s not. In reality, your friend’s mom had a medical emergency and had to rush home unexpectedly. You made an assumption about what happened, which made you feel worse about yourself, instead of considering your perspective being limited.

C is for consequences. The consequences of our beliefs are how we react to them, including feelings and behaviors.

  • Feelings are emotions like sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, embarrassment, joy, excitement or stress.

  • Behaviors are the actions that stem from those feelings, like communication, withdrawal, asking for help, starting an argument, going for a run, staying in bed or raiding the fridge.

We often blame ourselves when things go wrong, compare ourselves to other people in a way that makes us feel inferior, exaggerate our weaknesses, focus on failures and predict that the worst will happen. Thinking negatively about situations makes us feel bad, and it can also cause us to behave in unhelpful ways.

Negative self-talk can also affect your self-esteem. When you feel down, it is more likely you’ll be hard on yourself, and you might criticize and judge yourself unfairly. The worse you feel, the more negative your self-talk is likely to become.


Put it into practice

Activating situation:

You get your exam schedule.


  • “I’m not going to be able to do this.”

  • “I’ll fail and the whole thing will be a disaster. My parents will be so disappointed in me.”

  • “I won’t be able to pass the class, and then I won’t be able to get a good job. I’ll end up a loser.”

Consequences (feelings and behaviors):

  • You feel stressed, panicky, and have butterflies in your stomach.

  • You can’t bring yourself to sit down and study. You lose focus.

  • You sit down in front of the TV and eat a box of cookies.

One of the most important skills you can develop to deal with stressful situations is to identify your self-talk. It is the stories we tell ourselves that shape the beliefs we have. How can we rewrite the story? How can you shift your beliefs to have better outcomes (consequences)? The best way to understand the connection between A, B and C is to see how it applies to your own situation.

Think of a time in the last two weeks when you have found yourself feeling bad. You might have been feeling upset, stressed, angry, sad, depressed, embarrassed or guilty. In your journal, write down your situation, the thoughts that come up about it, and how those thoughts make you feel or behave. Doing this exercise can be a useful tool to help you challenge the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking, and replace them with more reasonable and helpful thoughts.

Check out the fact sheets on Challenging Negative Self-Talk and Common Thinking Errors for more info on how to challenge the negative or unhelpful aspects of your thinking.


Information for this article was provided by:

  • “Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions” by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences (2005)


Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for

Relationship Issues


Soaring or Settling?

A closer look at examining your relationships and handling conflict


Figuring out what’s best for you

We have lots of different relationships in our lives with our friends, family, teachers, doctors, classmates, coworkers and romantic partner(s). Sometimes relationships work well and are easy going, and other times they can be hard and you might wonder if they’re worth it. Most relationships will have some form of conflict in them. This might make you feel like:

  • Avoiding them or taking a break from being around them

  • Breaking off your relationship

  • Putting up boundaries for yourself

  • Talking about your issues to come to a mutual understanding

Reassessing the relationship

In reassessing a relationship with another person, you might want to consider some of the following questions.

Are you getting what you want from the relationship?

If being in the relationship isn’t making you or the other person satisfied, it might be worth reconsidering how much time and energy you put into that person. You should also consider what you want from the relationship. Are they supportive of you and your endeavors? Do they make you feel validated in your experiences? Do they add value to your life, or do they add more stress?

Are you willing to compromise?

When you disagree, argue or fight with someone, you might find it hard to listen to their point of view. To maintain a relationship, you may both need to:

  • Agree to disagree

  • Walk away and take time out

  • Compromise

  • Keep talking about what is important to you, and listen to what is important to the other person

  • Respect yourself and the other person

  • Think about what is fair

  • Remember that having different opinions and ideas is ok

  • Use effective communication with each other  

Avoiding conflict is not necessarily healthy. Resolving an argument in a respectful way can be a sign of a healthy relationship.

How significant is the person to you?

If this person means a lot to you, it’s probably worth putting effort into maintaining the relationship. You might have relationships where you feel you have limited choices. These relationships may be with a teacher, employer, co-worker or family member. It’s also not uncommon to be in a relationship with someone you do not like. You might not like the person because:

  • You have a clash in personalities

  • They may have done something you don’t like

  • You don’t agree with their decisions or rules

  • They are abusive

If someone is being abusive, you might want to check out the Abusive Relationships article for more information. It’s not okay to be abusive, nor is it okay to be abused. If you are experiencing violence, you might want to talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member or counselor.

How often do you have to see the other person in the relationship?

If you are fighting with a teacher or parent, chances are you are going to have to see that person regularly. This can make it difficult to change the relationship and you might have to compromise on some things for the time being. Even if you have to see them everyday, there are still things you can do to manage.

Are you safe?

In some cases you might feel threatened in a relationship or fear for your safety. If you don’t feel safe with someone, avoid situations where you are alone with that person. Make a safety plan for yourself by:

  • Letting people know where you are and who you are with

  • Telling friends, family and people you trust about your relationship, and asking them to help protect you by being around when the abusive person is there

  • Listening to your feelings, and leaving a place as soon as you feel unsafe

  • Keeping a phone and transportation money with you when you’re away from home, or arranging for someone to pick you up

  • Having someone with you or close by when you end the relationship

  • Talking to someone about what you can do to legally protect yourself

Your local police can advise you on steps you can take to protect yourself. See the fact sheet on Staying Safe for more information. You can also contact the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) for assistance 1-800-656-4673.

Resolving problems

If you feel that a relationship is worth maintaining, you might need to be clear about what problems you are having and try to find solutions with the other person in the relationship.

Before talking to the other person you may want to:

  • Write down a list of your concerns

  • Consider talking to someone who isn’t involved in the situation—they can provide a different perspective and help you sort things out for yourself

  • Think about what you are willing to compromise

  • Think of a time and space where you can talk about your relationship calmly

It can be hard when faced with conflict in a relationship, but sometimes conflict can make a relationship stronger. You’ve tested the waters and know you can survive. Other times, it’s important to have boundaries and to be firm in knowing what and who is right for you. It’s okay if things don’t work out, because everyone one of us is walking a different path. It looks different for everyone, so just because you don’t agree with the way they’re living their life or treating people, doesn’t mean it’s for you to change them. Let them learn their own lessons, just as you will learn your own.

You have every right to live your life in a way that makes you feel loved, supported, and free. If you don’t feel like your relationship allows for that, consider how long you want to exist in that space. If you think things can change, make a plan with this person so that the conflict doesn’t have to happen again. Regardless of your choice, you and the other person both deserve happiness, either together or apart.

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for


Staying Safe


Assessing your safety

A closer look at keeping yourself safe


Steps you can take to stay safe

At times we underestimate the amount of danger we could be in either because we don’t realize we’re in danger, or we don’t want to accept how dangerous a situation is. Being safe is important.

Here are actions you can take to ensure your safety:

Assess the situation. Ask yourself: How likely is it that someone could hurt me? If it’s necessary, you might have to move to a location that is safer or not take risks that you could avoid, such as walking across campus or home from a bus stop alone late at night.

Find support. Making a decision to leave a situation or relationship, where you feel unsafe might be hard and scary. If possible, talk to someone you trust, like a friend, teacher, counselor, or other mental health professional.

Talk to the police. If you feel you are in imminent danger, call the police. They can also help if you or someone else has been hurt, or if someone has threatened your safety.

Believe in yourself. If someone is threatening to hurt you or harming you in any way, it can be hard to maintain your self-confidence. Remember: It’s never O.K. for someone to hurt or threaten to hurt you. You are worth far more than that.

Know your rights. It might be a good idea to check out your legal rights if you suspect someone is breaking the law. Harassment and assault laws, as well as other laws dealing with your safety, vary from state to state.

Prevent access to your internet activity. If someone is hurting you and you are searching for help on the internet, you may not want that person to have access to this information. Remember to turn your browsing history off or to delete it after the fact, if you feel you have to.

Generally, it’s good to be cautious about your safety when using the internet. With so many forms of personal information on the internet, you have to be careful. The Nemours Foundation and WebMD offer several suggestions for internet safety.

Stop and think about the consequences of taking unnecessary risks

Some things that jeopardize your safety are things you can control, which is great! That means you can be proactive at ensuring you’re safe. Some of those things might be:

  • Making good decisions about drinking and not driving

  • Knowing your limits when drinking alcohol

  • Not going home with someone you don’t really know

  • Not having unprotected sex

  • Watching your drink at a party (See Date Rape Drugs for more information)

  • Driving yourself to a party, so you can leave if things feel unsafe

  • Being aware of your surroundings

  • Not picking up hitchhikers

  • Listening to your gut or intuition

It’s particularly tempting when you first get out on your own and are not under your family’s eye to experiment and try things that you might not have tried before. That’s natural, but you can still be independent without making unsafe choices. Our Risk-Taking article offers more on this topic.

Consider a safety plan

It might be necessary to have a safety plan in place before you leave the situation where you feel unsafe. Consider these points before making your safety plan:

Have somewhere safe to go. If you can’t think of anywhere to stay, you might want to contact a shelter.

Tell someone. If possible, tell your friends and family members to see if they can help protect and support you. You might also want to talk to someone who’s removed from the situation, like a counselor, social worker, or one of the trained volunteers at the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, or RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network at 1-800-656-4673 or Lines for Life’s Suicide LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255. Even if you’re not suicidal, they’ll still talk to you and give you support regardless of what you’re going through. If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

Have cash on hand. If you can, save some money so you can leave a situation you don’t feel safe in. In these situations, you might need to pay for transportation or temporary housing, so having cash on hand can make this easier.

Minimize your time alone. Remember: There’s safety in numbers. Try and be around other people whenever possible.

After you feel safe

Once the crisis has passed, it’s usually easier to work out what to do in the future should you find yourself in the situation again. If someone close to you is putting you in danger, it might be necessary to end your relationship with the person, which could include moving. This will probably be a hard step to take, so have as much support as possible.

If you’re concerned for your safety in the future it might be necessary to talk to the police, change your phone number or screen your calls through an answering machine. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides important advice about protecting your identity after moving to a new location. You might want to check out the website even if you are not worried about a specific person, as it contains useful tips for anyone to protect themselves.

Remember: There are many people and services that can help. Just talking to someone you trust about your concerns can help you see your options more clearly.


Additional resources, and information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Date Rape Drugs


Date Rape Drugs

A closer look at what date rape drugs are, how they affect you, and how to stay safe


Date rape drugs are types of drugs that are used to aid someone in committing sexual assault or rape. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks can be spiked with date rape drugs, and it can happen at clubs, bars and parties. The effects of date rape drugs depend on a number of factors, including your size, weight, and the amount or combination of drugs used. If you were to consume these date rape drugs, you may become unconscious or unable to defend yourself or remember what happened during the time the drug was in your system.

Types of date rape drugs

Three common types of date rape drugs used in the U.S. are GHB, Rohypnol (also known as “roofies”) and Ketamine. These drugs are powerful and fast-acting. Once you swallow a date rape drug that’s been put in your drink, it can take effect either immediately or within a half hour. You may not know that your drink has been spiked with one of these drugs until you start to feel the side effects—like dizziness, nausea, confusion, sleepiness, or a drunk feeling—because these drugs are often clear in color, odorless, and tasteless.

Aside from these drugs, alcohol is the most common drug used to commit any type of sexual violence like sexual assault and rape. Someone might add alcohol to a non-alcoholic drink or add more alcohol to an alcoholic drink to make it much stronger. Don’t assume that you can always taste the alcohol in your drinks. If your drink is sweet or has strong flavors, the taste of alcohol can be masked.

How to prevent being drugged

  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended. If someone offers you a drink, go to the bar with them

  • Don’t share drinks or drink from a communal punch bowl that someone else has prepared

  • Buy your own drinks and know what you are drinking

  • Don’t drink something you did not open, or see opened or poured

  • If you’re unsure about your drink or if you think it tastes strange, stop drinking it. In some cases, GHB can taste salty, although this taste is often masked by the taste of a drink.

What to do if you think you’ve been drugged

If you think someone has put a date rape drug in your drink, immediately tell someone you trust, like a friend, or call the police. If you’re in a public place, you can also tell the bartender, waitress, manager or security staff.

You might not realize that you’ve been drugged until several hours, or even days, after it happens. If this is the case, it is still important to tell your doctor that you suspect you’ve been drugged. They can check for the presence of certain drugs through urine or blood tests within 24 hours. Depending on the circumstances, a doctor or the police may ask you to take a sexual assault kit (or series of tests to determine if you may have been sexually assaulted while you were drugged). You may not have realized that you were assaulted. To find out more about sexual violence and assault, please review the Sexual violence fact sheet.

Date rape drugs and the law

Although certain drugs like Ketamine are legal in the U.S. for medical purposes, they’re tightly restricted and should not be used to drug someone against their knowledge. Roofies are illegal in the U.S., and in every case, sexual assault and rape are illegal.


Information in this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Interpersonal Violence


Interpersonal Violence

A closer look at what it is, how that can look, and how to get help


What is interpersonal violence?

Interpersonal violence occurs when one person uses power and control over another through physical, sexual, or emotional threats or actions, economic control, isolation, or other kinds of coercive behavior. Some different types of interpersonal violence include:

  • Abuse is any behavior toward another person that is physically violent or involves emotional coercion, or both and one person is in a position of authority.

  • Bullying which is a type of harassment that can be verbal, physical, or online. It can also take the form of coercion where someone is threatened by another person and as a result of those threats, the person being bullied feels intimidated and pressured into acting a certain way or doing a certain thing. This is called peer pressure. Bullying can occur in all settings—school, work, home, neighborhood and the internet.

  • Intimate Partner Violence occurs when one intimate or romantic partner tries to maintain power and control over the other through words and actions that are physically and emotionally abusive. Dating violence can take many forms including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual or economic abuse. It occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and can be instigated by either males or females. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced some form of severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.

  • Sexual Violence is any type of sexual activity that a person does not agree to. It can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. This can happen between strangers, acquaintances, coworkers, classmates, “friends”, intimate partners and family. It includes:

    • Inappropriate touching

    • Vaginal, anal, or oral penetration

    • Sexual intercourse that a person says no to

    • Rape or attempted rape

    • Sexual harassment or threats

    • Peeping or Voyeurism (watching private sexual acts)

    • Exhibitionism (exposing themselves in public)

  • Youth Violence refers to aggressive behaviors, including slapping, hitting, kicking, bullying, punching, fist fighting and knife fighting, as well as robbery, rape and homicide.

  • Gang Violence refers to acts of aggression and violence and criminal activity committed by a group of peers where the group usually has an identity (e.g. a name; a sign; a neighborhood). In some neighborhoods, the pressure to join a gang occurs early and can be very difficult to resist. Members often join to feel a sense of family and community, and to achieve power and respect. On the flipside, members may worry about their own safety and fears of being abused by others in the gang. Gang members include all genders.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, call a friend or family member you trust. You also can call a crisis center or a hotline to talk with a trained volunteer. One hotline is the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673.

Feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and shock are normal. It is important to get counseling from a trusted professional. The US Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health Information website provides additional information about what to do if you have been sexually assaulted.

What triggers violence?

There are a number of reasons why a person might become violent. Some of those reasons might be:

  • Anger

  • Frustration

  • Sadness

  • Trying to control another person

  • Having a short temper

A person’s belief system might also influence how the person behaves. Someone who acts aggressively or violently may believe that violence is an acceptable way to deal with anger or an acceptable way to get something that the person wants. The person may also have grown up in a family where violence was part of how family members interacted with each other.

Some ways to stop being violent

Violence is NOT okay and nobody should have to put up with it. Being angry, confused or frustrated are all normal emotions, and there are non-violent ways of expressing these emotions. If you’re having trouble managing your anger, you might want to check out the Anger & Violence and Anger Management articles.

Deciding to do something about your violent behavior is a big step and it takes a lot of courage.

Look at what makes you violent. To stop this behavior, it might be useful to make a list of the things that trigger your violent behavior. This could be a person, a situation, a mood, or drugs and alcohol. By knowing what triggers your violent behavior, you can start to avoid these things or try to work out ways to deal with the situation.

Who is affected by your violent behavior? Does it hurt anyone physically or emotionally? Do you want to have safe and secure relationships, or do you want people to be afraid of you? These questions might help you see how your violent behavior can negatively affect you and the people around you.

Talk to someone. Putting an end to violent behavior is not always easy, and having someone to support you can be helpful. You don’t have to do it by yourself. Going to counseling or visiting another mental health professional might be able to help you find ways to deal with your violent behavior.

Drugs, alcohol and violence

Using drugs and alcohol increases the likelihood that a person might act in a violent way. If you’re finding that you become violent while drinking or taking drugs, you might want to look at ways to better manage your drug and alcohol intake. A counselor or other mental health professional who specializes in addictions counseling can help you do this.


Information for this article was provided by:


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Knowing Someone Who Is Being Bullied


Do you know someone that’s being bullied?

A closer look at what you can do if you know someone that’s being bullied


What is bullying?

Bullying usually involves one or more people teasing, being violent towards, or harassing somebody on an ongoing basis. Bullying can happen in person or online and through cell phones. Check out the Cyberbullying and Being Bullied articles for more information.

Is someone you know being bullied?

Bullying might be difficult to recognize, as it can happen when the person is alone. People who experience bullying might be scared to talk about it, or they might feel ashamed about being bullied. This could lead to them trying to hide what is going on. If you haven’t been present when a person is being hassled, some indications that he or she is being bullied are:

  • Lack of motivation

  • Vagueness (especially when he or she is talking about certain topics)

  • Unusual behavior

  • Physical injuries

Take care that you don’t immediately assume that the problem is bullying. These signs might be visible for a variety of reasons, and not only because a person is being bullied. People can show these signs because of their personalities or because they’re dealing with other issues.

What to do if you think someone is being bullied

Talk to that person. It’s a good idea to talk to the person you think is being bullied to find out more about the situation. Try to remember that the person you are talking with could be very sensitive about the situation and could be scared to talk about it.

Let that person know you care. Help boost this person’s self-confidence. If a person is being bullied, it could affect his or her confidence. It can help to let this person know that you are a friend and that you care. It can also help to point out all the great things he or she has to offer others to boost his or her self-esteem.

Include the person into your group. Making a special effort to include the person into your group could help raise the person’s confidence.

Stick up for him or her. If you see someone is being bullied, it might be helpful to say something. Take care to ensure that in trying to stick up for the person being bullied, you don’t make the situation worse or put yourself in danger.

Speak to someone. Letting someone else know about the situation can help you solve the problem. A teacher, counselor or another adult could be helpful. It might also be helpful to involve the person experiencing the bullying in the discussion. Together, you can go and talk to someone about the situation.

Bystanders’ role in bullying

A bystander is mainly someone that is outside of the actual bullying, aware that it’s happening, and making a decision to not become involved. Whereas those bullying and being bullied are directly involved, bystanders observe the bullying happen and choose not to act. There are several things a person does, or does not do, that can make them a bystander. Some of those things include:

  • Purposefully ignoring the event entirely

  • Witnessing the event and choosing not to take the appropriate actions

  • Witnessing the event thinking something along the lines of, “at least that person wasn’t me.”

What is so wrong with being a bystander?

Research on bullying has often concluded that it occurs most frequently in the presence of bystanders who choose to merely watch the events unfold instead of doing something. By being there, you may give bullies more incentive to embarrass and threaten their victims because they will have an audience.

Unfortunately, many people believe that being a bystander is the best option to take. Some reasons people may not intervene:

  • Believing it’s “none of their business,” and therefore they choose not to take sides because it seems too nosy

  • Feeling as though stepping in will make them the new target for the bully

  • Thinking intervening will only make things worse

  • Fearful that telling a teacher or other adult will make them a “snitch” or “tattletale”.

  • Feeling it won’t doing anything or change the circumstances (this is especially true in students who have approached teachers before regarding bullying, only to find that no action was taken)

If you are in a bystander situation, how do you intervene?

Bystanders need to realize that bullying is a serious problem, and that a lack of action on their part will only give bullies more opportunities to torment their victims. Some argue that close to 50% of all bullying events stop when a bystander decides to intervene, which just further shows the importance of intervening. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when you witness bullying:

Don’t assume that this is a private matter between the bully and the victim. Incidents of bullying, especially those that are frequent, are often not because of personal reasons.

Don’t combat violence with violence. It takes a lot of courage for someone to step up on behalf of a bullied person. However, don’t use insults or physical violence to defend the victim. Now is not the time to show off. You will most likely only make it harder for the victim.

Do not get discouraged if you have already talked to the teachers and nothing happened. Keep trying. Teachers and other school authorities will respond if they find out that the bullying is becoming a recurrent problem. Try talking to other teachers and counselors so that you can get more people involved in trying to stop the situation.

If you feel that this is none of your business, put yourself in the victim’s shoes. Bullying can cause severe anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration in a person, and can turn their life into a nightmare. You wouldn’t want to feel that way.

Is stepping in yourself the only way? What if the bullies might try and attack you?

You should never step in to protect a bullied victim if it might also put your own safety at risk. If this is the case, you should talk to a teacher, counselor, or even the school principal if the problem keeps happening. Be sure to ask if you can speak to them in private, in case you are afraid of being the next target for bullies. Even if you are not directly stopping the bullying, by taking action and going to seek outside help, you are taking steps away from being a bystander.


Information for this article was provided by:


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for


Anger Management


Time to get your anger under control?

A closer look at managing your anger


Everyone gets angry at one time or another. Anger is a normal human emotion. It’s how a person acts when feeling angry that can be problematic. When anger builds in intensity or gets out of control, people can behave in ways that are destructive. In fact, anger can become so intense that the feeling itself may be better described as rage. When anger gets out of control, it can lead to problems in personal relationships, particularly if anger leads to emotionally or physically abusive behavior or other acts of violence.

The good news is that people can learn to manage their anger. In some cases this means learning to express anger in healthy ways, learning to keep yourself calm and controlling your reactions when faced with something that triggers your anger and avoiding people or situations that make you angry or enraged, or leaving a situation if you feel yourself becoming angry or losing control.

Expressing anger in healthy ways

Communicating assertively—not aggressively—is a good way to express anger in a healthy way, while maintaining effective communication. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means expressing your feelings and needs in a way that is respectful of yourself and others. Generally this works best if used before your anger gets out of control.

For example, let’s suppose you are in a cafeteria line just about to get your tray when someone steps in ahead of you. An aggressive response might be, “Hey, buddy, who do you think you are? Go to the back of the line.” An assertive response might be, “Sorry, but I think I’m next. The line forms over here.”

Keeping calm

A physiological response also happens when a person gets angry. Heart rate increases and muscles become tense. These physiological responses can actually be cues that signal the person that they are becoming angry. Recognizing those cues and learning how to calm internal responses when faced with a person or situation that arouses anger can help angry feelings subside.

Different relaxation strategies might also be helpful:

  • Breathing deeply

  • Repeatedly telling yourself to remain calm or take it easy

  • Counting from 10 backwards

  • Imagining or visualizing an image that helps you relax or feel calm.

These responses can also be used before coming face to face with the person or situation—almost as a way to anticipate or prepare for what is stressful.

Remembering to slow down and stopping to think before reacting can also help you keep your cool. Reacting impulsively to what someone else says or does can fuel anger. By slowing down and stopping to think, you are better able to listen and really hear what the other person is trying to communicate. By stopping to think you can also give yourself time to think of other ways of solving the problem you might be facing.

Controlling your reactions

At times the things we say to ourselves or think when faced with a situation or person who makes us angry, can actually fuel your anger. The scientific term for changing your thinking is “cognitive restructuring” and it’s a technique rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy. Changing the way you think means switching up the irrational kinds of messages you give yourself to those that are more logical. For example, switching your thought patterns from “this is how things HAVE be” to “I’d ‘prefer’ this, but I can survive if it’s not…”.

Avoiding or leaving a stressful situation

In some cases, a person can identify the situations that often trigger their anger. Staying away from the situation isn’t always an option, but in some instances it could be. For example, if you know that it really pisses you off to see your old girlfriend hanging with her new boyfriend, you might want to avoid going to their favorite place to hang out. It doesn’t mean you will never go where they are, but maybe avoiding them initially while you are getting over the break up might help you keep your cool.

Also, if you feel yourself getting angry, another option is to leave the situation before things escalate. Sometimes people feel that leaving isn’t always easy to do because your reputation or need for respect is on the line. Cognitive restructuring might be useful as a way of challenging these thoughts.

It’s important that you give yourself the space you need to become level headed. If you don’t, you may end up saying or doing things you later regret. Tell the other people or person that you need to take a walk, and when everyone is able to talk calmly again, you’ll continue the conversation. It’s okay to have boundaries like this.

How might counseling help?

All of the above mentioned anger management techniques, and others, are skills that a counselor or other mental health professional can help you develop. If you feel that your anger is out of control and it’s affecting your relationships and other important parts of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to better manage your anger. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in helping people manage anger and aggressive and violent behaviors.

Information for this article was provided by:


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for


Joining a Gang


Should I join a gang?

A closer look at why people join gangs and how you can respond to the pressure of joining a gang

Why do people join gangs?

Many communities in the United States have gangs in them. And some of these gangs have been around for a long time and over many generations. It isn’t surprising that many people in these communities find themselves (both male and female) having to make a decision about whether or not to join. There isn’t just one reason for why people join gangs and the more reasons one person has to deal with, the harder it will be for them to resist joining a gang. It is important to know that having all these issues in your life DOES NOT mean you are absolutely going to join a gang. In fact, many people who deal with some incredibly hard issues in their life do not join a gang. Knowing what to expect, what the other possibilities are, and deciding how to handle yourself are part of making this decision.

Pressure to join a gang

When gangs are all around you, it may seem normal or expected to join. You might not think so, but ultimately, your choice is based on variety of factors and all are very hard to deal with. Sometimes a person’s environment and the people in it can make it seem normal or natural to join a gang. For example, if you live in an area full of gangs, or there are many gang members living near you or going to school with you, you might think it’s normal to join a gang because it seems to you that everyone else is joining. This normalizes gang activity to those that live in those neighborhoods.

If you live in a neighborhood where there is a lot of poverty and gang activity, you might think there’s no way to get ahead and live a happy life. Perhaps for that reason alone you might consider joining a gang to survive the chaos of the neighborhood, the economic distress, or simply to protect yourself. It might seem strange to those not in these situations, but protection from a certain group of individuals could cause a person to get into a gang because they think the gang can protect them.

You might also think that the gangster life is glamorous. People admire the power that a gang member seems to possess in that particular community and wish to attain the same stature. Gang life might also seem glamorous because of the drugs, money, violence, and respect acquired through fear and intimidation. This attracts many people to pursue a life in gangs, but there is nothing glamorous about gang life and you aren’t really protected either—you are constantly in fear of confrontations with rival gangs or the police. Being in a gang increases your chances of getting arrested, seriously injured or killed. Having drugs around may also increase the chances of you developing a drug problem or getting busted for drug possession or selling.

It is really hard to avoid these temptations, especially when everything around you seems to point to the gang life. Some alternatives to joining a gang might be:

  • Joining a sports team or group. Find friends and connections through mutual interests. The people you put yourself around will influence your decisions, so try to surround yourself with people that are going to support you and push you to always be better. It can also feel good to be a part of something bigger than yourself, like through volunteering, joining a play, or starting a band.

  • Focusing on school. If you’re getting good grades, this could help you get scholarships and grants to put towards a technical school or college after high school. This can help you fast-track your career.

  • Journal. Try spending some time writing down your thoughts and feelings about your situation. What are all your options and what is the best one? Weight out the pros and cons. This might help you find alternatives and solutions to joining a gang.

  • Tap into your creative side. Learning to play an instrument, dancing, painting and other forms of art can help you express yourself or distract you from what you’re feeling in a healthy way.

  • Get a part time job. This can help you feel like you’re moving towards your goals in a positive way.

Many communities have community based organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and even some of the local colleges and universities have programs for young people in the community. Talk to your school counselor or favorite teacher too. They might have ideas for you.

The gang life isn’t glamorous and can’t offer you real protection when you think of what could happen to you—going to jail, living in constant fear for your life, or actually dying.

When most people around me are in gangs, why shouldn’t I join, too?

Sometimes the people closest to you can be a huge influence on making a decision to join a gang. Having parents or other family members involved in gangs only intensifies the likelihood of joining a gang. If it’s not having family members that cause someone to join gangs, a friend or friends in a gang may be a really strong motivator to join a gang. If your friends are gang members or associated with a gang, they can be an influence to join. Peer pressure and peer acceptance are some of the main reasons why people get involved in gangs. These things are hard to deal with especially when you feel like you don’t want to be left out of what your friends or family members are doing.

An environment with gangs, violence, and poverty can make a person grow up too fast. Sometimes if you don’t have family support or role models to look up to, you go looking for it elsewhere. Not feeling loved or supported can lead to anger and anger can lead to acting out. Check out the Anger and Violence article for more information about how to deal with your anger.

Many think they’ll find what they are looking for in a gang. Unfortunately, chances are that if you have family and friends in a gang, these same family members or friends have been arrested, put in jail, shot, or even killed. Do you want that kind of life? Do you want to run the risk of being killed? Seriously think it through. Our Risk-Taking article may help you in your decision making process. Sometimes finding a trusted adult to talk to, like a teacher or guidance counselor, can help you deal with the pressure or offer suggestions for how to resist joining a gang.

Having no hope for the future

Sometimes we have a tendency to focus on the positive or fun aspects of joining a gang, like hanging out with friends and gaining prestige. It’s important not to forget the negative impact it could have on your life, though. You might think without joining a gang, there’s not real hope for your future. Maybe asking yourself, “Why care about the negative things that can happen to me?”

The bigger issue underneath this attitude is one that is much harder to tackle. When there is no hope for the future, a person feels that it is easier to go on a destructive path without care or worry of who gets caught up along the way. The truth is that joining a gang is a decision that only a person with no hope for the future can make. If you had hope for a future—a good college education; a good job or career; a family—you wouldn’t choose a life of fear of being hurt or jailed. Would you?

Sometimes finding hope comes in the simplest ways, regardless of your neighborhood or environment:

  • Getting an A on an exam or even a C in a really hard subject

  • Making the football team

  • Getting a part time job

  • Going to a restaurant outside of your neighborhood

Just like there are many factors (sometimes working all together) that lead to people joining gangs. There is not one way, but many ways to keep from joining. Question your options. Talk to someone. The decision to adopt a gang lifestyle is one that has the potential for negative and devastating things to happen—where people die, get hurt, or go to jail. More potential for worse off circumstances than another other lifestyle decision you could make.


Information for this article was provided by:

  • Thornberry, Krohn, Lizotte, Smith & Tobin’s “Gangs and Delinquency in Development Perspective” (Cambridge Press, 2003).

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for

Helping a Friend in a Sexually Abusive Relationship


Is your friend in an abusive relationship?

A closer look at how you can support them

It is usually difficult to know if a friend is in a sexually abusive relationship. That being said, there are some warning signs that you might notice, especially in their behavior. These can also be true if your friend is in an emotionally, mentally, or physically abusive relationship.

What to look for:

  • Your friend is losing interest in activities he or she used to enjoy

  • Your friend is overly worried about what his or her boyfriend or girlfriend thinks

  • They’re acting overly happy or seem to be worried and anxious when with their partner

  • If someone calls your friend’s partner out on something negative, your friend makes excuses for their partner all the time

  • They avoid friends and social activities that do not include their partner

  • Your friend jokes about their partner’s violent outbursts

  • Your friend has unexplained injuries and the explanations seem odd or unlikely

  • Your friend’s behavior has changed dramatically since they started dating this current partner

How you can help

If you do suspect that your friend is being abused by their partner, there are some ways you can help, but it is always important to remember that if you believe that you or your friend are in some immediate danger, you need to go to the police.

Encourage your friend to talk. Try to get your friend to do most of the talking. Here are some open-ended questions you can ask your friend:

  • How are you feeling about your relationship?

  • What do your friends and family think about your relationship?

  • Do you have plans for the future of your relationship?

Try to talk when you’re alone with your friend, not in front of other friends or family members, especially their partner. Sometimes it can be easier to talk if you’re also focused on another activity like going for a drive, making a meal or doing the dishes. You should talk to your friend or seek help from an outside source, but do not confront your friend’s partner. This could make the situation worse and you could even be putting yourself in an unsafe position. You will also want to suggest that your friend not talk to their partner about your conversation.

Listen to your friend. Don’t be judgmental. If your friend is in an abusive relationship, they probably already feel down. Don’t make your friend feel worse.

Don’t blame your friend for what’s happening. Don’t tell your friend what they should have done differently. Concentrate on what makes them happy and how your friend can take action to change things now.

Don’t tell your friend what to do. Instead, encourage your friend to think about options. You might ask your friend if he or she has already tried getting help, or you might suggest places to seek help.

Be specific about why you’re concerned. For example, say things like, “I feel bad when he says you’re stupid” or “We hate to see you nervous and unhappy.”

Make sure your friend knows they have your support. Your friend might be feeling very isolated and alone. Let your friend know that you are there for them, and that they have already begun seeking help by talking to you. Make sure your friend knows you are willing to support them in any way that will help.

Help your friend work out some realistic strategies. What works in this situation will depend on how willing your friend is to see that there is a problem.

Your friend has to find their own way through the situation, but talking to you or a trusted person can help. If your friend does not want to talk to you about it, you might just suggest that your friend call a helpline (like one of the ones listed below), where they can get help without bringing anyone personal into the situation. Encouraging your friend to realize their strengths as an individual can be the best protection you can give, and the best way to ensure that your friend does not become a victim of abuse again.

Where to get help

Finding the courage and the appropriate way to talk about these issues with your friend is important. If you need advice or information for how to do this, there are lots of services and support available. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you or someone you know is in a violent relationship or has been sexually assaulted. Though you should not feel personally responsible for a friend’s situation, you can always choose to help.

You can call:

For more information, you can check out our articles on Abusive Relationships and Sexual Violence. Kids Health may also have useful information on sexual abuse.

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

What to Expect When Calling a Helpline


Calling a helpline

A closer look into what to expect when calling a helpline

Why should I call a helpline?

Talking in real-time to a trained counselor or volunteer provides you with immediate support and allows counselors to easily connect you with additional places to get help. If you’re feeling nervous about calling, that’s okay. It can be scary to pick up the phone, especially if you don’t know what to expect.

If you’re facing a serious issue or worried for your safety, we encourage you to contact crisis helplines, such as:

  • Lines for Life: Suicide LifeLine - For those going through crisis and those concerned for them

    • Call 1-800-273-8255 (24/7/365)

    • Text 273TALK to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: Alcohol and Drug Helpline - For individuals and family members seeking crisis intervention, treatment referral, and chemical-dependency information

    • Call 1-800-923-4357 (24/7/365)

    • Text RecoveryNow to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: Military Helpline - Support for service members, veterans and their families

    • Call 1-888-457-4838 (24/7/365)

    • Text MIL1 to 839863 (8am-11pm PST daily)

  • Lines for Life: Youthline - Support for youth in crisis or when needing help

    • Call 1-877-968-8491

    • Text teen2teen to 839863

    • Email at

    • Chat online here

    • Teens are available to chat with you from 4pm-10pm PST daily, all other times are with adults

  • Your Life Your Voice - Trained counselors to talk to 24/7, ran by Boystown (for everyone)

    • Call 1-800-448-300

  • National Runaway Safeline - If you’ve run away from home

    • Call 1-800-RUNAWAY

  • The Trevor Project - If you’re struggling with LGBTQ challenges

    • Call 1-866-488-7386

  • RAINN -  If you’re struggling with sexual violence, like rape, abuse and incest

    • Call 1-800-656-HOPE

Common questions you might have

Who answers your call? When you call a helpline, a trained counselor will answer your calls. Many have a background in mental health or social work, but all volunteers receive training in crisis counseling and suicide intervention.

When should you call? You do not have to be in a serious crisis to call a helpline. Some people call simply to obtain information and referrals for local community services. Others call because they have something that’s on their mind that they want to talk over with someone outside of the current situation. Of course, if you are in a serious emotional crisis, they’re there for that too.

How can they help? Above all, the counselor who answers your call is there to listen.  Whether you’re feeling hopeless, angry or confused, counselors can help you process your feelings and assess your situation before working out what comes next.

Different helplines focus on different topics, but all will be able to provide support, information and referrals. Whatever your issue, your call will be answered by someone who will be supportive and non-judgmental, and who will try to understand exactly what you’re saying and how you’re feeling.

They want to help you stay safe, think through your situation or problem, explore your options, and to help you figure out what you want to do, if anything.

What types of questions will you be asked? A lot of help lines are designed to be anonymous and confidential. This means that while you may be asked to give your first name, you will not need to provide any additional identifying information like last names or addresses, etc. Many find that this anonymity helps them to feel more comfortable when answering personal questions about their situation.

Some sample questions you may be asked include:

  • Are you in a safe place to talk?

  • How can I help you today?

  • How old are you?

    • This helps counselors understand your eligibility for different types of services.

    • If you are a minor (legal definition varies from state to state) and have specific questions related to your age and the issue you’re experiencing the counselor can address those questions.  

  • Tell me a little about what happened that led you to call?

  • When you are upset, to whom do you usually go to for support?

  • Is there anyone else that you feel you can talk to about this situation?

  • How are you surviving, and do you need a safe place to go?

    • For those callers who express a need for safe shelter, counselors, like those at National Runaway Safeline, will need to know your city and state to begin locating an available safe shelter for you.

Why do they ask so many questions?

It‘s important for them to get a clear understanding of your situation and see it from your perspective. Remember, they don’t know you or anything about your life. They don’t ask questions to be nosy—they ask questions to find the source of your trouble and develop an action plan that makes you feel comfortable.

Regardless of age or location, these services are in place to provide support and assure your safety. Honesty about your situation will help counselors determine the best resources for you whether you’re dealing with LGBTQIA+ issues, child abuse, mental health struggles, etc.

Are there alternatives to calling?

Yes. We know some people may be more comfortable reaching out over the Internet, and many services also offer chat, email, online forum or text options.

You can also reach out to someone in person. Speaking to a trusted adult, teacher, school counselor, doctor, or another mental health professional is also a great option.

No matter how you reach out, the most important thing is getting help. You’re not alone!

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for

Peer Pressure


Peer Pressure

A closer look at how you might be affected by peer pressure and ways to avoid succumbing to it

What is peer pressure?

Peer pressure is the influence you feel from a person or group of people to do something you might not otherwise consider doing.

It’s not uncommon to want to be part of a group and feel like you belong in a community, especially if you are new or less experienced than the people around you.

Peer pressure often happens because you don’t want to be alone or left out. So you go with what other people think in order for them to include you. A peer can be anyone around the same age as you, like a friend, classmate, or even someone you’ve seen on TV and admire. You might try to live up to people’s expectations, but it’s important to be mindful to not have other people’s expectations cloud what you want.

If you’re dealing with peer pressure, you’re not alone.

How does peer pressure affect us?

Peer pressure isn’t always a negative thing. It can be a positive influence and help challenge or motivate you to do your best. However, it’s helpful to recognize that peer pressure can also be negative. It can result in you doing something that doesn’t fit with your sense of right and wrong.

Peer pressure might influence you in a number of ways, including:

  • Fashion choices

  • Alcohol and drug use

  • Decision to have a romantic partner

  • Choice of who your friends are

  • Academic performance

Where does peer pressure come from?

Peer pressure can be present at school or within a broader community. It can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Peer pressure can affect you in a number of different ways:

  • Directly. Peer pressure can be as simple and direct as someone telling you what to do. It might be a good idea to talk to someone you trust if you feel threatened, or if you are being hurt or pressured into something you don’t want to do. You could talk to a family member, friend, teacher or counselor.

  • Indirectly. Peer pressure might not always be obvious to you. It’s not uncommon for a group of friends to have particular habits or activities that they do together. But when you’re with a different group of friends, it might be unlikely that you do those same things. For example, you might only smoke when you are with certain friends, or you might be more likely to study when you are with other friends.

  • Individually. Sometimes the pressure comes from you. Feeling different from a group can be hard. Sometimes this happens when people move to a new city or start a new school or job. This often means having to make new friends and fit into a new environment. To avoid feeling out of place, you might do things to make sure you feel like the rest of the group. When people feel unsure about themselves, they might be more likely to feel the effects of peer pressure.

What can you do about peer pressure?

Being an individual means making decisions based on what is best for you. It means taking ownership and responsibility for what you do and how you think. But being an individual also means that you can be a valued part of a comfortable and welcoming group. It might be hard to resist peer pressure and stay an individual. Here are some suggestions that can help you manage peer pressure better.

Value common interests. Hanging out with people who like doing similar stuff may help you avoid a situation where you feel pressured into things you don’t want to do. Remember that being seen hanging out in the “cool crowd” might not be as much fun as it looks if you’re not comfortable with the decisions that crowd is making.

Say no. Having the strength to say no can be hard, but it can also make you feel good to stick with what you believe in. Explain to people in a calm way why you don’t want to be part of something, and you might earn respect from others and gain confidence in yourself.

Try not to judge others. If possible, try not to place judgments on other people’s choices. Respecting someone else’s choice may help them to respect yours. Remember that you don’t have to agree with their actions. Focusing on the reasons why you don’t feel happy with the choice might help you to not judge them.

Take action. Taking action against negative peer pressure can be easier when you’re more comfortable in your environment. Standing up for yourself and others can be a way to gain that comfort. Both of these are ways in which you might be able to create a positive atmosphere within a group.

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Psychiatric Hospitals and Wards


Psychiatric Hospitals

A closer look at what to expect

What happens in psychiatric hospitals and wards?

Psychiatric hospitals and wards specialize in treating people who are experiencing a variety of different mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, anxiety and eating disorders.

Psychiatric hospitals and wards can be part of a larger hospital or located in a smaller building like a clinic.

Many people find spending time in a psychiatric hospital a very helpful way to:

  • Rest and reflect

  • Find out what is happening emotionally and why

  • Stabilize medications they might be taking

  • Get intensive treatment from doctors and other health professionals with specialist training, like nurses, occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists

Voluntary and involuntary admission

A voluntary admission is when a person enters a psychiatric hospital at his or her own request or at the suggestion of a doctor, parent, or guardian. This can be at a time when that person feels he or she needs some extra support. Voluntary admission can be organized by the person who is being admitted or by a doctor, parent, or guardian.

There are times when a person becomes so ill that they are at risk of hurting themselves or others and hospitalization becomes necessary even though the individual does not wish to enter a hospital. This is called an involuntary admission. This occurs when someone else has recognized that the person is imminently a danger to him or herself or others. In most states, police officers and designated mental health professionals can require a brief commitment of an individual for psychiatric evaluation. If the individual is evaluated and needs further hospitalization, a court order must be obtained.

Where are psychiatric hospitals located?

You might find it difficult to research psychiatric wards and hospitals over the Internet, but your medical doctor or psychiatrist should be able to recommend one that will suit you best.

Some are privately run, while others are within larger hospitals. Some might also have a limited number of places available, while others may only admit people at certain times of the year.

Things you might consider when choosing a psychiatric hospital is the cost, program (including any restrictions in activity and other policies), size and length of stay.

How much will it cost to stay at a psychiatric hospital?

The cost of a stay in a psychiatric hospital or ward varies widely. Some run on donations or require a very small fee, while others are privately run and expensive. You or your parents might be able to claim back some of costs through private health insurance or through federally funded health insurance programs.

How much time do people spend in psychiatric hospitals?

The length of stay depends on a variety of factors. These can include what you are being treated for, the type of treatment you need and what your doctor decides will help you best. Most stays are short-term.

It’s common that programs will run for a set period of time, and most people stay for the duration of that period. Involuntary patients may have the length of time set by a judge. After that set amount of time expires, a doctor will usually decide if further treatment is needed. Sometimes, the judges and doctors will not agree and a lawyer might need to get involved.

What happens in the psychiatric hospital?

Upon arrival at the hospital, a patient will have a consultation with a doctor.  The doctor will give an assessment of the situation a patient is in, and tell him or her a bit more about how everything works. If you’re a patient, this is a good time for to ask any questions you might have about your treatment or what you should expect. Depending on state law, you might get a second opinion from another doctor early on in your stay.

During your stay, the activities you take part in will vary depending on what your goals are. They might include:

  • Group work. This is a group discussion with other patients that is facilitated by a social worker, nurse, doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor.

  • Individual therapy. This is one-on-one counseling with a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor.

  • Personal time. You’ll probably find that you have a lot of time to yourself during your stay. How you fill this time is up to you, but it might include interacting with other patients, doing work or studying if you feel able, or just chilling out and reflecting. Depending on the hospital and your needs, you might have your own room, or you might have to share with others. You might also be allowed to bring your own books, phone and music.

  • Visitors. Many hospitals have set visiting times so you can see family and friends. You might also be allowed to go home during weekends.


Unless it is an emergency situation, you can work with your psychiatrist on deciding whether medication should be part of your treatment.  Medication might include antidepressants, sedatives, antipsychotics and occasionally electric shock treatment for very severe mental illnesses. Just because a person is on more or less medication than you doesn’t mean that you are any better or worse than they are.

What to do if you’re unhappy with treatment

If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied with any part of your treatment, it’s important that you talk about it with your doctor or psychiatrist. They may not realize you’re unhappy unless you say something. You might then discuss ways to adjust your treatment so you’re getting the best possible outcome. If you continue to be unhappy with your treatment, you have the right to ask for a second opinion.

Dealing with fears about going home

You might look forward to going home, or you might feel scared or nervous at the thought of leaving the hospital. You might be scared that things will go back to the way they were, that you’ll be alone, or that you won’t be able to cope with the added pressures of home, like chores, work and school. The first few days at home can be tough. If you’re having a rough time, it’s important to make use of the supportive people you have around you. Try to identify people that you can talk to or call when you are having a hard time, like friends, family or a counselor. You might want to set this up before you leave the hospital.

It might also help to arrange activities before you leave the hospital so you have something to look forward to and to make you feel less alone. It’s a good idea to investigate and list these activities before leaving the hospital so that supports are in place before returning home, making the transition a little easier and less overwhelming. Hospital staff or a community mental health team member can assist you in doing this.

You or your doctor might also arrange for you to attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) as a way to transition from hospital to home. IOPs meet three to five days per week, for three to eight hours at a time. Like a hospital, you do a variety of work, including group and individual meetings, art therapy or recreational activities. Unlike a hospital, you go home at the end of the day. An IOP might also be an option if you aren't able to find a hospital that can help you, or if you want a treatment option that is in-between outpatient therapy and inpatient hospital stay.  


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Communicating About Grief


Navigating grief and conversation

A closer look at how to connect with others after the loss of a loved one

Telling family about your loss

After someone dies it can be hard for everyone to adjust. Family members might argue with each other more often, and sometimes being with your family can be uncomfortable for you. However, it can also be a time when you can grieve together.

Try to be understanding of your family’s reactions. Doing things together like having dinner, playing a sport, or hanging out and talking about some of the things you’re feeling might help you all to better understand how each other grieves.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died. You might not want to mention that person for fear of upsetting others, but don’t forget that your family members and friends are probably already upset, even though they might not be showing it. The silence created by not talking about the person who has died might make your family members feel like that person was not significant, or that this person didn’t exist at all.

Telling friends

Friends of the person who has died might have deep feelings of grief as well. Like you, they may also want to have something of their friend’s. Try and be sensitive to their requests.

Including these people into your grieving might help you get through your own loss. Friends may also be a great source of support and good people to talk to about some of the major decisions you need to make.

Coping with other people’s reactions

Chances are your friends won’t know what to do or say to make you feel better. This can be difficult for both you and the people who are trying to support you. It may help to let them know how you’re feeling and that it might take time for you to get back into your normal routine. If there are things that your friends and relatives could do to help you out, it may be a good idea to let them know.

People may ask you a whole lot of questions that you may not want, or are not ready, to answer. It’s O.K. to tell people that you aren’t ready to talk, and that you’ll let them know when you are ready.

Get Support

While it’s important to get support from your friends and family, you might find that you need to speak with someone who’s removed from the situation, like a mental health professional or minister or other spiritual leader.

If your grief has become overwhelming and you’d like to talk to someone, you can always call a crisis helpline. They will listen to you and offer support. Never feel afraid to reach out.

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Some of the information is adapted from the book After Suicide, Help For The Bereaved by Sheila Clark. Published in 1995 by Hill of Content Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Melbourne 3000.

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Dieting, Weight Loss, and Finding Peace in Your Body


Dieting & Weight Loss

A closer look at the misconceptions of weight and health, finding out your body’s natural weight, and learning to find peace with the body you already have

From diet tips in magazines to snack food commercials that emphasize calorie counts and weight loss above all else, the pressure to be thin and the resulting “fat phobia” can be hard to avoid. We often pick up messages from the media about how we should look and the measures we need to take to get there. This message says to us that we aren’t good enough as we are, a message that can be detrimental to our self-esteem. The contradictory information around dieting, weight loss and body image can make it difficult to know what is healthy and how we can eat well, live in and celebrate our bodies as they are.

Body weight and health

Despite what popular culture tells us, body weight alone is not an indicator of health. This means that someone can be at a higher weight and be healthy, or at a lower weight and be unhealthy. To say that everyone who appears overweight is unhealthy or that anyone who looks thin is healthy is an inaccurate generalization. To accurately assess health, we have to take into account a person’s natural set point weight range (see more below), height, muscle mass, bone structure, body fat, genetics, activity level, eating patterns, and relationship to food.

There is also strong evidence of childhood trauma or traumatic experiences being associated with obesity and the development of binge eating disorder. It’s important to remember that body weight is not only associated with physical health, but also with mental health. If you think your body weight may be connected to trauma in your past and it’s something you’d like to heal from, it’s important to talk to a trusted mental health professional.

Natural set point weight range vs Body Mass Index (BMI)

Set point weight theory says that our weight, like our height, settles at a natural range due to our inherited biology and genetics. Once settled, this is the weight range that our body will continue to work to maintain, despite our efforts to alter it. Therefore, the vast majority of people who lose weight on diets will regain that weight. Although our body will gravitate towards its set point, movement within a range is normal due to fluctuations in activity level, seasonal changes in eating patterns, or illness. Because of the variance among set points, standardized weight charts can be misleading and unhelpful.

On the other hand, Body Mass Index or BMI (sometimes also referred to as Ideal Body Weight) is the ratio of your weight (in kilograms) to your height (in meters) squared and is defined as a measure of body fat based on weight and height. Because BMI does not take into account muscle mass, bone structure, genetics, biology, metabolism, or activity level, BMI can portray an inaccurate, unhelpful picture of your physical health.

So how do I know what a healthy weight is for me?

Throughout your growing years, your body is still building bone and muscle, so your weight increases steadily. If your body is still growing, you may not have reached your natural range yet. However, if you have yourself weighed at the doctors, they can tell you where your height and weight averages for your age range. This may give you some insight, but remember, you’re growing. Your body can experience a lot of fluctuations in a short amount of time.

For the rest of you, one way to think about a healthy weight for yourself is to ask what weight range your body has naturally settled in for long periods of time. Pay special attention to times when…

  • Maintaining this weight was natural (e.g., you did not have to under or overeat to achieve it)

  • You were eating well (in good health, not preoccupied with thoughts of food)

  • You had the physical and mental energy to do the things you wanted

The weight your body settled at during these times is likely your healthy weight range.

I want to lose weight, is there a healthy way to do so?

That depends.

If you’re eating a variety of foods according to your body cues, exercising for fun and health, and maintaining your current weight, your body is probably at a healthy weight for you. In this case, it is unlikely that there’s a healthy way to lose weight because your body is already at a healthy weight.

Trying to lose weight at this point is likely to disrupt your internal body cues, slow your metabolism, increase likelihood of binging, decrease body image, increase obsessive thoughts about food, lower self-esteem, and/or increase risk of developing an eating disorder.

Instead, you might benefit from focusing on the feelings driving the desire to lose weight and improving your body image through self-acceptance and compassion. You can also change things up while still maintaining healthy habits by trying new recipes or attempting a new sport.

Perhaps instead of losing weight, you actually mean you’d like to become more fit. Muscle mass itself is heavier than fat, so if you start working out and building muscle mass, you may see an increase in weight with a decrease in body fat. That’s another reason not to become obsessed with the number on your scale. It is just the relationship your body has to the gravitational pull of this earth. If you decide you’d like to become more active, try following some fitness plans online or meeting with a personal trainer at a gym for more information. Moving your body and working towards a specific goal with it (so long as it’s coming from a healthy place) can increase your self-confidence and strengthen the relationship you have with yourself.

If you believe your body is at a higher (or lower) weight than might be natural for you, you might want to change your eating or activity patterns. This type of weight change might occur due to inactivity, over or undereating, illness, or disconnection from your internal body cues. In this case, try not to focus on weight loss (or gain), but rather on restoring health.

You may want to try:

  • Practicing intuitive eating

  • Avoid dieting through set foods and restrictive eating

  • Being mindful while experimenting with small, simple changes will be helpful in this process

Check out our Eating Well & Feeling Healthy article for more information.

Can your set point ever change?

Although our natural set point weight range tends to be rather steady, certain conditions can shift it over time. Chronic dieting, aging, overeating, or not getting enough activity can all increase your set point. Having a poor diet or overly restricting your caloric intake can cause a person’s metabolism to slow, resulting in lower calorie requirements to maintain the same weight. For people who have experienced increases in their natural set point, restoring their set point may be possible through increasing awareness (mindfulness) of internal body signals (e.g., hunger, fullness), the experience of eating, and through becoming more active if not already so.

Recovering from an eating disorder and wanting to lose weight

If you’ve recovered from an eating disorder, developing a healthy relationship to food, eating and your body was hopefully a part of your journey. If you’re engaged in eating well, listening to and respecting your body, then chances are your body is at a healthy weight and the urge to lose weight is an important emotional signal to pay attention to and understand.

For example, we are often taught that when we feel uncomfortable in our body, we should do something to change our body. Sometimes we transfer emotions to our body and try to resolve them through the way we eat or treat our bodies. These are important issues, but they are not resolved through weight loss.

If, on the other hand, you are not engaged in eating well and are having difficulty listening to your hunger and fullness cues, it might be tempting to turn to a diet or weight loss to structure your experience and “get things back on track”. The issue with this, however, is that diets ultimately alienate us from our bodies, overriding our body cues and making it difficult for us to eat intuitively and mindfully.

Rather than focusing on a diet or weight loss, if you’re struggling, try shifting your focus to restoring connection to and trust in your body, restoring health, and if needed, seeking out support from others—including, if necessary, a therapist, nutritionist, or doctor.

Steps for seeking support around weight loss

If you’re curious about losing or gaining weight or have questions around your natural set point, it’s a good idea to consult a health care professional. Your local doctor, nutritionist or dietitian should be able to help you with this information. With support, you can focus on mapping out  healthy, sustainable ways of eating that don’t just measure success through weight loss.

If you are working on changing your eating patterns, it may be helpful to check out community health centers or a nutritionist for information about what products or programs they offer. Before spending money, become fully informed about the weight loss program and check out the safety and credibility of the program or product you’re considering. If you have a complaint about a program or product, address your complaint directly to the company involved, so they are aware of the problem and have an opportunity to fix it.

Finally, if you ever find yourself becoming obsessed by the desire to lose weight or maintain a certain weight, it’s important to seek help. There are often underlying emotional issues behind this drive and support can help you address both the emotional and physical components.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Effective Communication


Getting the message across

A closer look at different communication styles and how to start effectively communication today

The way you communicate has a big impact on your ability to get along with people and getting the things that you want. Good communication skills can help you avoid conflict and to solve problems. Open and honest communication is also important for making friends and having healthy relationships.

Styles of communication

Communication can be expressed in many ways and with different results.  Communication can be aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive or assertive. Poor communication often creates tension and bad feelings within relationships.

Aggressive communication is expressed in a forceful and hostile manner, and usually involves alienating messages such as “you-statements”. You-statements blame the other person, accuse them of being wrong or at fault, and can also be labeling (like calling them a name).

A person’s tone of voice and facial expressions can also project unfriendliness. Aggressive communication can send the message “your needs don’t matter,” or “I win, and you lose.” By sending this message, you quickly cut off lines for open communication. When someone speaks to you this way, how does it make you feel? Do you think this is a productive way at reaching your goals?

Passive communication involves putting your needs last. When you communicate passively, you don’t express your thoughts or feelings or ask for what you want. When you use passive communication, it feels like others are walking all over you because you don’t assert your own needs. As a result, you might bottle things up and might feel resentful. Passive communication can send the message ”my needs don’t matter,” or “you win, and I lose.” When this message is received by others, those with bad intentions could see this as a way to keep you under their control or to repeatedly take advantage of you. Have you seen this in others before, or perhaps yourself? What kind of message do you think this communication style brings?

Passive-aggressive communication is when you don’t clearly state your needs or feelings, instead using indirectly aggressive communication, such as making snide remarks, being stubborn, or sulking and withdrawing from the conversation. This style of communication looks passive on the outside, but beneath the surface, this person is acting out their aggression in a subtle or indirect way.

Those with this communication style may often feel powerless and resentful, denying there’s a problem and using sarcasm to deal with others. Essentially, this person is communicating, “I’ll seem cooperative, but I’m not going to be” or “I feel powerless to tell you how I really feel, so I’ll frustrate you instead”. What does it feel like when people aren’t upfront about their feelings with you? Can you imagine it being easy or hard to connect with someone that communicated like this?

Assertive communication involves clearly expressing what you think, how you feel and what you want, without demanding that you must have things your way. The basic underlying assumption is ”we both matter, so let’s try to work this out”. It’s seeing everyone involved in the conversation as a part of the group effort in making things work as smoothly as possible.

Assertive communication increases your likelihood of getting what you want, avoiding conflict and maintaining good relationships. Everyone can win in these situations.

When you are assertive you can:

  • Express your own thoughts, feelings and needs

  • Make reasonable requests of other people, while accepting his or her right to say ”no”

  • Stand up for your own rights

  • Say “no” to requests from others when you want to, without feeling guilty

Take this example…

Tom is feeling angry. He’s supposed to get his driver’s license next week, and for the past month his dad has been promising to take him out driving, but it never seemed to happen. Tom feels frustrated because he needs the practice before he goes for the test.

On Thursday, Tom came home from school and asked his dad if they could go for a drive. His dad said he couldn’t because he had some work to do.

Finally at his breaking point, Tom exploded. “You don’t give a damn about me. You are such a liar! You never do what you say you’re going to do,” he yelled.

In return his dad got all fired up and called Tom a spoiled brat who doesn’t think about anyone but himself. Both Tom and his dad were angry at each other after this argument.

This is a good example of how poor communication can lead to conflict and hurt feelings. Let’s have a closer look at some of the errors that led to this angry outburst.

Error 1: Making assumptions

Tom expected his dad to know what he was thinking and feeling, without clearly telling him. Until the time of the argument, his dad had no idea how important it was to Tom to get the extra driving practice. He thought that Tom felt confident about the test and assumed he just wanted to go for a drive for fun, which they could do anytime.

Tom, on the other hand, had assumed that his father knew how important it was for him to get some more practice even though he never told him, and therefore interpreted his dad’s attitude as not caring.

Assumptions occur in most relationships and people get upset because of these misunderstandings. Often we expect people to know what we are thinking—we believe that they should be able to understand where we are coming from, even though we haven’t expressed it clearly. No one is a mind reader, so it’s important to give people a clear picture of where you’re coming from and how you two can work together to make things easier.

An important aspect of good communication is to tell others what we’re thinking and what we want or need, and also to not assume that they already know.

In Tom’s case, the situation could have turned out better if he had communicated more clearly in the first place, by saying something like “Dad, I’ve got my driver’s license test on Tuesday, and I’m feeling nervous about it. Do you have some time this week to take me out on a few drives? What days would work for you?”

By clearly communicating that going for a drive is very important to him, Tom gives his dad a better understanding of where he’s coming from and how he is feeling. By scheduling a specific time, it strengthens the commitment and makes it easier for both of them to plan ahead.

Error 2: Avoiding communication

Tom didn’t say anything until he was very angry. Each time his dad cancelled the planned drive, Tom said nothing. Over time, Tom stewed about it more and more, and finally he exploded. This type of situation is like a pot boiling on the stove—if you don’t let off a little steam as time passes, eventually the pressure builds up and it boils over. Whenever we’re feeling upset, it’s better to talk about it as soon as possible, rather than letting things build up. If we say nothing, we won’t get what we want and our frustration grows.

Communication problems often arise because we don’t say how we feel, what we think or what we want. People often avoid communicating because they are embarrassed or concerned about upsetting the other person. Sometimes we just assume that others should know what we think. The problem is that when you don’t say what you need to say, it increases the likelihood of feeling angry, resentful and frustrated. This may lead to tension or angry outbursts.

Error 3: Labeling

Tom and his dad also used labels to criticize each other. Labels such as “liar” or “spoiled brat” can be offensive. When we label another person, it can feel like we are attacking them, and that person’s first reaction is usually to attack back.

Attacks lead to heated arguments and conflict. Labels are an example of alienating messages (see Error 4 below), because they criticize the person rather than the behavior. It is OK to criticize someone’s behavior (for example,“I think what you did was unfair”), but labeling the whole person (”You are unfair”) is unreasonable and creates bad feelings between people.

Error 4: Alienating messages

When we use criticism, put-downs or aggressive communication, no one wins, and everyone feels bad in the end. Alienating messages make the other person feel threatened or under attack, and usually this person will respond by attacking back. This type of communication very often leads to angry confrontations or a “cold war,” where we stop speaking to the other person, or use minimal communication.

Some examples of alienating messages include:

  • You-statements. We blame the other person and accuse him or her of being wrong or at fault. In Tom’s case, the you-statement was: “You don’t give a damn about me!”

  • Sarcasm. Sarcastic statements are negative or hurtful phrases that you don’t really mean, and are used to put another person down in a more passive-aggressive way. An example of a sarcastic statements include “Well, we can’t all be perfect like you.”

  • Negative comparisons. Negative comparisons are statements that you use when you compare a person to someone else, and in the process, you put them down for not be ‘as good’ as the other person. For example, “Why can’t you get A’s like your sister?” is a negative comparison.

  • Threats. These statements can include giving another person an ultimatum, for example, “If you don’t do what I want, then I’m going to…”

The communication problems between Tom and his father are very common ones. Perhaps you can think of some examples in your own experience, where you or someone you know has used poor communication, such as assumptions, avoidance, or alienating messages. It’s always useful to be aware of your communication so that you can avoid making these types of errors.

Getting your message across isn’t always easy. Good communication skills can help you avoid conflict and solve problems.

Whole messages

One of the most effective ways of communicating is to use whole messages. This is especially useful when you need to bring up an issue that’s difficult to talk about or makes you feel uncomfortable. A whole message involves expressing how you think and feel, while at the same time stating what you want.

Whole messages consist of four parts:

1. Observations

Describe what happened. Try to be factual and accurate, while not making assumptions.

For example, “When Mike came over the other day, you didn’t stop and talk to him.”

2. Thoughts

State your beliefs, opinions or interpretation of what happened in your observation.

For example, “I thought it seemed rude, like you don’t like him.”

3. Feelings

Say how you feel about the situation.

For example, “When you did that, it made me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.”

4. Wants

Talk about what you would like to happen in the situation.

For example, “The next time he comes over, I’d like it if you could say “hi” and to make an effort to talk to him. Could you do that for me, please?”

Learning to communicate effectively takes a bit of practice. Can you think of a situation that you’ve experienced where you needed to communicate with someone about a concern? Perhaps you even have an issue that you need to resolve at the moment. Think about it. Then take these steps:

1. Describe the situation, and who you need to communicate with.

2. Write the whole message, including observations, thoughts, feelings and wants.

TIP: If you find it difficult to say it directly to the person, write down your whole message on paper first. This can help you to clarify what you want to say and how you can say it. Just remember that even if you stumble upon your words, don’t stop mid-way. Don’t be afraid to talk things out. Let your voice be heard.

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for



Feeling lonely

A closer look at loneliness and how to develop connections with others

I feel lonely

It’s not unusual to feel lonely every now and then. However, if you’re feeling this way for an extended period of time, it can lead you to feel socially isolated. You might feel isolated from people your age, or society as a whole, for a number of reasons. You might be new to a school, city, or town. You might be geographically isolated in a rural area that is far from other people that are your age. You might be ethnically, racially, culturally or religiously different from the people around you, or you might just feel like you don’t have similar values or experiences as the people in your day-to-day life. You may also feel socially awkward, like you’re not sure what to say or do or quite how to fit in with a group you would like to connect with.

Feeling connected to a group of people is important for your health and well-being. People are naturally social beings, and those who have a strong support group are more likely to be happy and physically healthy. Social isolation can also be connected to depression and social anxiety.

How do I feel less lonely?

Depending on your circumstances, it might be hard to connect with people. For example, if you live in an isolated location, far from a large metropolitan area, your social resources might be limited. At the same time, though, big cities can feel just as lonely.

Here are a few ideas to help you connect with others, no matter where you are:

  • Join online forums and groups. Many people today find like-minded friends to connect with through the internet. The internet can bring you into touch with people all over the world, and gives you a chance through chat rooms to practice conversational skills. There are numerous online groups, pages, blogs, apps, servers, and other social media platforms that can offer connection and solidarity through mutual interest. Just remember to practice internet safety. The internet is widely anonymous and people can pretend to be whoever they want. Never give out your information or address to a stranger online.

  • Talk to a family member, teacher or youth leader. Even though you feel lonely, remember that you don’t have to go at it alone. The first step in ending your loneliness is simply talking to someone from your family, a teacher, a school or campus counselor, or your spiritual mentor/leader. Tell them how you’re feeling. Chances are they’ll be happy to help you and can give you some ideas for how to meet people and feel more connected.

  • Start small. You don’t need to find a best friend or go out with people every night of the week. Start small by finding something in common with your peers—it could be something as simple as a T.V. show, your favorite band or even the homework you had last night.

  • Challenge your negative thinking. You might feel like no one will ever understand you. But chances are that you are your own worst critic. Try to look at each situation objectively to avoid being too hard on yourself. For more tips on how to do this, check out the Challenging Negative Self-Talk article.

  • Get outside. Sometimes, even if you’re not talking or interacting with anyone, just being around other people can make you feel good. Try going to a park, a coffee shop or a library to do some people watching!

  • Join a club or a team. The best way to meet people that have the same interests as you is to join a club or a team. You can join groups through your school, local community center or faith center. Some groups you could join might be a dance group, tabletop tournaments, starting a band, joining 4H, or trying out a club your school offers. Volunteering for a cause can also be enriching for your mental health, as well as help you develop connections to others with similar values and passions.

  • Seek help. If you need immediate help and you aren’t sure where to turn, try calling Lines for Life’s Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Youthline at 1-877-968-8491. Both helplines will keep your information private and have trained volunteers who can talk to you about how you’re feeling 24/7.

Developing social confidence

If you are feeling socially awkward, there are things you can do to develop more social confidence. Social skills can be learned. Things like how to start a conversation or how to join-in on a conversation, and how to listen well to others are all things you can learn to do. You can also learn about nonverbal skills like eye contact, head nodding, and smiling, as well as when and when not to use these. While some people learn these things easily through their interactions with others, others find these skills take more deliberate rehearsal and practice. If this sounds like you, you may find it helpful to speak with a counselor or other mental health professional who can help you identify skills to develop and even help you practice those skills step-by-step before trying them out in new social situations. Often times, the more practice you have and the more you do it, the easier it will become.


Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for

Non-Traditional Medicine & Treatment


Natural Remedies

A brief look at alternatives to “Western” medicine

What are non-traditional medicine and treatments?

There is a lot of debate about what should be included in non-traditional medicine and treatments. There are even many different names for this kind of medicine and treatment to go by—alternative medicine, homeopathic medicine, or you might hear the name complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is often the formal term used for it. These medicines and treatments can range from herbal supplements to chiropractic care, eating chicken soup for a cold, acupuncture or yoga. Basically, CAM covers everything that doesn’t fit into Western (also called “conventional”) medicine.

CAM is used and may be helpful for many ailments—both physical and mental—such as stress, colds, headaches, and even diseases like cancer.

Are non-traditional medicines or treatments an option for me?

Commonly, these non-traditional medicines or treatments can be used on their own or combined with Western or conventional medicines. However, the use of some non-traditional medicines is very controversial. Some medical doctors do not believe in their use and may discourage it. Others will only use or suggest them if it is proven to actually help people through research studies. The problem is that there aren’t many studies to check out whether non-traditional medicines or treatments work.

The best way to make an informed decision is to talk to your doctor about the type of treatment you are considering. You can also consult with an alternative medicine practitioner. You should never try non-traditional medicine or treatment without consultation. You should also tell your doctor about medications you are currently taking to make sure that the CAM treatment you might be considering wouldn’t have a dangerous reaction with your current medication.

You can also call the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse (1-888-644-6226). They provide publications and searches of the scientific literature on CAM, including topics such as “Selecting a CAM Practitioner” or “Are You Considering Using CAM?”, but they do not offer medical advice, treatment recommendations or referrals.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgement: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for