Porn Hub is the 10th most visited website in the world, and #3 in bandwidth use, behind Google and Netflix. It’s had an explosion in traffic since Covid 19 put us all under lockdown with too much time in front of our screens. Teens are watching too, but YOU (the parent) have no idea how much: “Research demonstrates that parents are, for the most part, unaware of their children’s porn usage, with half of parents unaware their teens had seen pornography and teens having seen up to 10 times more pornography than their parents believe. Parents especially underestimated their teen’s exposure to extreme content, such as violent porn, which is just as easy to access as traditional pornography content” (quote from this article). For some time, a woman named Laila Mickelwait has tried to get the world to pay attention to the dangerous and illegal activity on the site, including starting an online petition to shut it down that now has over 2 million signatures. Finally, the New York Times was spurred to investigate, and found that the worst imaginable kinds of exploitation were to be found on Pornhub. This led to Canadian company, MindGeek, the owner of the site, taking down 13 million videos, leaving 3 million. In addition, Visa, Mastercard and Discover Card will no longer process payments for purchases on the site. A lawsuit by 40 victims was filed in December, and now a Canadian government Ethics Committee is (this week) hearing testimony from victims, including a girl who was as a 7th grader persuaded by a boy she had a crush on to send a naked picture, which ended up on Pornhub. Her saga has been covered by Dr. Oz, in a must-watch video (must-watch WITH your teen, that is, to warn them about the consequences of sexting). Her story shows how a single moment of weakness can lead to years of emotional torture and public exploitation through sites like Pornhub that allow posting of content without consent, and are infested with illegal pictures and videos such as those showing the actual rape and assault of both adults and children.
When I tell people I have been talking to teens about sex, dating and relationships for two decades, many adults say “they sure need that!” They recognize the problems of teen pregnancy, STDs and dating abuse. Second, they wonder why I’d think it’s effective to encourage teens to draw a line and not become sexually active. They state about teens, as a know fact, that “everybody’s doing it” and assume that the best we can do is provide condoms…and abortions and medicine for their recurring herpes sores when condoms fail.
I get a real kick out of telling adults and teens that “Well, actually, it’s not true that everybody’s doing it.” In fact, we have solid data going back to the early 1990s showing dramatic and steady decreases in teen sexual activity over the last 30 years. Every other year, as the newest Youth Behavior Risk Survey (YRBS) comes out, I have to revise my teaching to reflect the latest data. A couple of years ago, it was “almost 60%” of high school students have never had sex,” then “over 60%,” and now “almost 62%” have never had sex. Some other measures of teen sexual behavior are also going the same direction. In 1991 over 10% of 13-year-olds had had sex, and now it’s less than a third of that…3% as the above-linked YRBS chart shows. The truth is, adults who are fatalistic about teens experiencing sexual activity should believe more in the ability of teens to make healthy choices.
There are a lot of reasons why avoiding sexual activity is beneficial physically, socially, emotionally and mentally. Many have been covered in this blog. One I haven’t mentioned, that has a lot of solid data behind it, is how the timing of childbearing significantly impacts the course of not only an individual’s life, but family life and indeed society. What am I talking about? It’s called “The Success Sequence.” One of the researchers into future success and family formation explains in 60 seconds what it is: LINK
Quite simply the success sequence is this: Get at least a high school degree, find full-time work, and marry before having any children…in that order. The US Department of Human Services has posted some of the research on the Success Sequence, showing for instance, that “95 percent of Millennials who married first are not poor, compared to 72 percent who had children first.” Additionally, “71 percent who married before having children made it into the middle or higher end of the income distribution by the time they are age 28-34. By comparison, only 41 percent of Millennials from lower-income families who had children first made it into the middle or higher end of the distribution when they reached ages 28-34.” As one African American leader noted…marrying before having kids is the “great equalizer” economically.
So let’s connect the dots. During the same 30 years that the percent of teens having sex has decreased, teen pregnancy (and births and abortions) have also decreased dramatically. If we can encourage teens to keep going the direction they are already going…we can impact their future, and all of society, for the better. Isn’t that what we want for our kids? One Illinois organization is currently distributing to teachers and community leaders (through a government grant) an online course for teens based on the idea of sexual abstinence as a healthy choice. More can be found at successsequence.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”