Love is Blind…on Netfix anyway

When we talk to teens in the classroom, we bring up the idea that sometimes “Love is Blind.” The strategies we teach help them enter into a dating relationship only when they are ready, and with their eyes wide open. We teach the importance of really knowing someone before trusting, relying, and committing…so you don’t end up dating a jerk. So I was curious when I read about the Netflix show that came out in February: Love is Blind. The idea behind the show is, yes, to make money (a la The Bachelor, or other reality type dating shows). But putting that aside, it’s based on the idea that getting to know someone by talking without seeing them can help them base the relationship on more than looks, physical attraction, or sexual chemistry. Sounds good…but let’s examine this a little more. For ten days, in a speed dating format, the men and women date each other in different “pods” where they can talk, but not see each other. Then, there are some proposals (after not even 10 hours of interaction), and engaged couples meet face to face for the first time. Finally, couples travel to Playa Del Carmen to know their partners and meet the other couples participating in the experiment. On the wedding day (38 days after first talking from the pods), each person decides at the altar if it’s yes or no.

The biggest drawback of this format is the idea that talking alone is enough to get to know if you want to commit to someone. And the second is that it can happen in a little over a month. In the Bachelor or Bachelorette, another problem is that the physical is front-loaded before getting to know someone, even romantic and/or sexual physical contact with multiple people before making a final choice. No wonder so many on that show were “confused” by feeling in love with more than one person at the same time.

Both shows’ formats don’t allow for what we teach teens is needed to really know someone: Time, Talking, Together (in person). Our website has an article for teens, that explains how important it is to have all three, at the same time, without sexual touch involved, over a period of months to even begin to get to really know someone.

When dating comes to a stop…and it’s just FINE!

I imagine that a fair amount of teens feel like they’re missing out on “normal” high school life…especially the dating part.  Catching that cutie’s eye in class, flirting in the hallway, sharing phone #s, texting, and then…dating itself. To a teen, dating can feel like proof that you’ve “arrived” socially. If you were to quiz middle schoolers about their expectations about high school, dating is way up there in hopes and dreams for those 4 years.

Maybe you want your teen to experience normal dating, because…well, it IS a sign of normal development for our kids to date, right?

New research from the University of Georgia, published online in The Journal of School Health, examined the assumption that dating is “normal and essential for a teen’s individual development and well-being.” Lead researcher Brooke Douglas notes that “The majority of teens have had some type of romantic experience by 15 to 17 years of age” suggesting to some researchers that dating during teenage years is a normative behavior. “That is, adolescents who have a romantic relationship are therefore considered ‘on time’ in their psychological development.” So, wondered Brooke, would non-daters have some deficit in social development? Are they the stereotypical social misfits?

Not at all! It turned out that “Non-dating students had similar or better interpersonal skills than their more frequently dating peers…. [and] teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher for social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.” In addition, those who didn’t date were also less likely to be depressed.

Takeaway? If your child has not entered the dating scene (or is missing it during this shut-down)…reassure him or her that it’s actually perfectly “normal” to enjoy high school without dating…and they’ll probably be happier for it! There are plenty of other fantastic friendships and experiences awaiting them in middle and high school.

Conflict with Teens in Covid Lockdown

We want our kids to be safe…but they think we’re the enemy when we limit their time with friends. They can become hostile when we don’t give them the freedom they want…and it can feel like THEY are the enemy of peace in our homes. But what if we  recognize that we’re all facing a common enemy…a virus that has upended all of our lives. An article in the Chicago Tribune recently posited this very thing…and pointed out that the situation we find ourselves in can actually be an opportunity to recognize and avoid common unhealthy types of conflict: “Being a bulldozer — just running people over. Being a doormat — just letting yourself be run over. And being a doormat with spikes, which is basically passive-aggressive behavior: Using guilt as a weapon or playing the part of a victim or involving third parties even though it’s really a two-party disagreement.”

Several ideas on working through conflict are given in the article. A tried-and-true strategy is to show empathy by listening carefully enough to someone else’s viewpoint that you can repeat it back. “Parents and kids should try adopting and repeating each other’s opposing positions” suggests Lisa Damour, clinical psychologist, and best-selling author quoted by the Tribune.

Sometimes just giving each other much needed space can do wonders.

The article mentions that families can “neutralize” the need to have some alone time by agreeing that no one should feel rejected if someone in the house just needs a break from all this togetherness. A break can be as simple as YOYO (you’re on your own) for dinner several nights a week. One teen suggested an in-house sabbatical…a day apart in the same house. Maybe you can come up with something for your home that takes down the level of stress by giving you a breather…and a chance to appreciate each other when spending time together again.

The Other Virus That We Should Be Worried About

Very few people realize that the #1 most common STI (sexually transmitted infection) is HPV (human papillomavirus). According to the American Cancer Society it’s responsible for the ~13,800 new cases of invasive cervical cancer, and the ~4,290 women who will die from cervical cancer just this year in the US. And it is preventable, because virtually all cervical cancer is attributable to this sexually transmittable virus.

If teens would heed the warning to be abstinent from all forms of sexual activity they would remove themselves from any chance of getting HPV-related cancers. If WE (the older generations) had been abstinent, we wouldn’t be the most-diagnosed age group! It takes years for the cancers to develop if they are not detected. If you’re a woman reading this and your partner has ever had sex with anyone but you (either cheated or had s*x with even one person before you), or you had s*x with anyone but your current partner even one time (as a teen or since), you can significantly increase your chance of detecting HPV-caused cancer before it’s too late by getting a PAP smear. That’s right…that test we are told to get every year is designed to detect cancerous or precancerous cells from an HPV infection.

What is our health system doing to stop this deadly cancer? Too many people rely on a message to “use condoms.” BUT…HPV is not reliably preventable via condoms because it is spread skin-to-skin (and condoms don’t cover all skin that is touching during intimate contact). Check out the exact words from the CDC: “Genital ulcer diseases and HPV infections can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered.”  What about the vaccine we’re told our children should get by age 12? Many of your children have probably had one of the vaccines that prevent 2 of the roughly dozen cancer-causing strains of HPV. (Other strains can produce genital or oral warts). Those two strains are responsible for 70% of the cancers…leaving 30% they’re still vulnerable to. By the way, you may have wondered about the message you send to a teen by getting this vaccine. I mention in the classroom that this is the #1 STD out there, and that if they’ve been vaccinated it’s not because their parents think they plan to have s*x, but because doctors routinely recommend it.  Also, there is such a thing as dating or stranger s*xual assault by someone likely to have HPV.

My concern is for also for us…as many of us will be diagnosed with one of the cancers years after our exposure to HPV. the CDC says the median age at diagnosis for HPV-related cancers is as follows:

  • 49 years for HPV-associated cervical cancer.
  • 68 for HPV-associated vaginal cancer.
  • 66 for HPV-associated vulvar cancer.
  • 69 for HPV-associated penile cancer.
  • 62 among women and 59 among men for HPV-associated anal cancer.
  • 63 among women and 61 among men for HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancers.

Unless you and your partner had no s*xual contact with anyone before marriage or lifelong commitment, and unless you’ve both been faithful, YOU should be concerned, and get those PAP smears as recommended. An HPV test can be purchased for women, but there is no approved test for men. A friend of mind, after decades of marriage found out her spouse had cheated. The first thing I said to her was “You need to be tested for HPV.” Sure enough, she has it and will have to keep vigilant about getting her yearly PAP. Oh…and it’s not just cervical cancer we have to be worried out. As I tell teens…mouths love this skin-to-skin spread STI. The CDC estimates 70% of oropharyngeal cancers are attributable to HPV, and that about 10% of men in the U.S. and 3.6% of women have oral HPV.

Why doesn’t my kid listen to me?

It seemed like such a good talk! Our kid comes to us to talk through a problem. Finally…we have a chance to connect and impart  our wisdom and practical knowledge. And they ignore every bit of what we said. Sigh. Could it be that what we thought they were looking for…a solution…isn’t what they really wanted?

An insightful article in the New York Times points out that teens sometimes use their parents as more of a sounding board: “More often than not, offering our teenagers an ear, empathy and encouragement gives them what they came for.” Psychologist and author Lisa Damour helps us understand how to listen, and not offer help or a solution unless it’s really wanted, making this recommendation: “Start by asking if your teenager wants help solving the problem. If you get a yes, divide the issue into categories: what can be changed and what cannot. For the first type, focus on the needs your teenager identifies and work together to brainstorm solutions. For the second type, help them come to terms with the things they cannot control.” For those of us who like a “hands on” demo, the article includes an example of what this would look like.

Teens Sex Trafficked at an Early Age

Almost a decade ago, I attended a seminar on human trafficking, and was astounded to find out that it happens here…in America…to vulnerable teens. It could happen to your neighbor’s child, or your child’s schoolmate or friend. The Daily Herald, in an article about a newly opened home for those rescued from sex trafficking, said: “The average age of entry into the life of trafficking is 12-14 years of age, and recruitment of these young girls and boys often happens through social media and online grooming tactics.”

Geoff Rogers, co-founder of the United States Institute Against Human Trafficking (USIAHT) said in an interview that the U.S. is the biggest consumer of sex in the world, and that “We’re also driving the demand with our own people, with our own kids.” Rogers noted that “there are tremendous numbers of kids, a multitude of kids that are being sold as sex slaves today in America…50 percent to 60 percent of them coming out of the foster care industry.” The State Department in 2017 reported that children who are at special risk include those in foster care, homeless youth, undocumented immigrant children and those with substance abuse problems. This article includes real stories of trafficked youth (it’s from a faith-based site, but is still informative for all audiences). The article talks about how we can be alert to situations that might be going on in front of our eyes, and also includes information on a film on human trafficking that will be in limited release in theaters January 23.

Recreational marijuana is coming to your local strip mall

As the head of Teen Decision, and an adult who cares about teens, I was part of a group of citizens that helped convince my aldermen to vote to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana dispensaries in my town. But even if they’re not coming to my town, or yours, they WILL be in the suburb next door as of January 1. We need to be vigilant as parents to send a clear message that marijuana use hurts the teen brain, even if our state government has deemed it safe for adults. Teens have gotten their hands on marijuana even while illegal in Illinois to be sure, but permissive attitudes among those in the marijuana industry contributes to a rise in selling marijuana to minors (studies from Washington State and Oregon).  A Colorado study found that about half of youth in outpatient substance-abuse treatment reported using diverted “legal” marijuana.

Besides negative affects on the teen brain, according to a CDC fact sheet, “studies show that sexual risk behaviors increase in adolescents who use alcohol, and are highest among students who use marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs (such as sedatives, opioids, and stimulants), and other illicit drugs. Adolescents who reported no substance use are the least likely to engage in sexual risk-taking.” Oh, and the CDC fact sheet says one risk factor might be YOU:  “Favorable parental attitudes towards the problem behavior and/orparental involvement in the problem behavior.” Yet another reason to make it clear that you expect your child to make wise choices, and say NO to drugs, and maybe set the example by opting out yourself (at least for now) for the sake of your teen.

Having a loving mom can protect teens from later dating abuse

A recent University of Buffalo study discovered that even when there is conflict in the home, a mother’s warmth and acceptance can act as a “buffer” and reduce the chance of teens ending up in abusive dating relationships. Said lead investigator Jennifer Livingston, “Children form internal working models about themselves and others based on the quality of their relationship with their parents,” Livingston explains. “If the primary caretaker is abusive or inconsistent, children learn to view themselves as unlovable and others as hostile and untrustworthy. But positive parenting behaviors characterized by acceptance and warmth help children form positive internal working models of themselves as lovable and worthy of respect.” As we parent, even though we certainly must be firm and at times even mete out consequences…it’s important we do it from a place of love, and express this in our actions and words: “I have to take away the car keys for the next two weeks because of your ticket for texting while driving, but I want you to know that I love you and I know you feel bad about it because you’re a great kid, and you usually make good choices.”

Parents Concerned About TikTok and Other Top Apps

Just when we think we’ve learned the latest teen trends, our kids and their peers reinvent themselves yet again online. If you don’t know what a VSCO girl is (but you’ve been asked to buy a $40 Hydro Flask® for your teen), you’re hopelessly behind, for instance. I happen to have a teen in my home that educates me about the latest teen trends, but it’s never enough to keep up. So I’ve connected HERE to a site that has short descriptions of popular apps, including which apps are appropriate and safe, which you should be concerned about, and which the site warns against.

The app overtaking others in popularity right now is Tic Tok (formerly musical.ly). Tic Tok is mostly used by teens to post short-form videos of themselves lip synching, singing, dancing, and doing comedy. Concerns have to do with privacy, inappropriate content, and potential predator contact. Kidsnclicks shows with screen shots how to set your child’s Tik Tok to “private” which is probably the most important thing you can do to protect them on the app. Now, our government is even looking into national security issues with Tik Tok (it is Chinese-owned). As always, we suggest you educate yourself, and be aware as a parent.

Teens’ YouTube Screen Time is Through the Roof

“Kids spend more time with media and technology than they do with their parents, time in school, or any other thing. They are literally living in a 24/7 media and technology world,” says James Steyer, founder and CEO of Commonsense Media about a 2019 survey of (non-homework) teen screen use. The number 1 activity is watching videos, with YouTube being their first choice, and actual TV watching dropping dramatically in even just the last 4 years. This means that families are not watching together, you can’t walk into the room and see what TV show your kids are watching, and therefore you probably have no clue WHAT they’re watching.

Wouldn’t you LIKE to know what your child is filling their eyes and mind with all those hours every day? Commonsense Media has a great place to start getting educated with their Parents’ Ultimate Guide to YouTube .

If you discover that some things they’re accessing (or that they could access) are troublesome, you may want to check out this parental control guide to setting restrictions using YouTube settings.