Dependence to Independence

One of the most valuable tools I’ve seen in talking to teens about where they are in life now, and where they will end up, is the “Life Hike” from one of the workbooks I mentioned in my last blog. Aspire describes in Chapter 1 on page 8 (LINK), how life is like a series of mountains to climb, with each mountain representing a different age, beginning with 1-15, 15-30 and so on.  Can you imagine having a conversation with your teen about transitioning from “dependence” (on you!) and beginning to gain more independence?  I wish I’d had this tool to help me talk through this stage of life with my daughters! Take a look at the above link, and perhaps draw out on a piece of paper the 6 “mountains,” asking him or her to put a mark on the spot “where you are now.” Then ask, “How much of your life is behind you, and how much is ahead?” and “Which mountain would you say represents the most important period of time for you to be thinking about now, and why?”Where they are now is at the precipice of young adulthood…where they will be increasingly responsible for these decisions. This activity can be done to help a young person realize that all of these critical decisions are still ahead, and while the past is important, it’s past! The decisions he or she will face in these next few years have the power to set the course for the rest of life…including those goals we talked about last week that they might have for themselves!

Where is your teen headed?

Looking ahead

We can see in retrospect that the decisions we made as teens and twenty-somethings set the course for the rest of our lives, but if the teens under your care are like many young people, they are less focused on direction in life than what’s for dinner, who asked who to homecoming, and making the next kill in Fortnight before getting down to homework.

Do you know what your child would say if asked about goals in life?  If you find yourself using the line: “If you don’t get good grades, you won’t get into a good college” it’s time to rethink your strategy.  Do we really thing kids can’t wait to finish high school, just so they can go to college for 4 or more years? No…college is a means to the other goals they have: A good job, a house, travel…and yes, marriage and family. So HOW can we help them put a name to their goals, and use those goals to drive the decisions they make today?

The first step, is to help your child identify the things that are important to them…put a name to it! Take one of the spokes on this life “wheel” (LINK) and talk about it at the dinner table some night…and keep going until you’ve talked about them all.  Then, once important goals are identified and written down, talk through the HOW of achieving those goals. Next, identify the roadblocks they might encounter, or create by their lack of planning or poor decisions.

Teen Decision and other organizations are part of the effort to get teens to consider how relationship choices now can affect teens today AND tomorrow. Over 15,000 Illinois students this year have benefited from a state-funded workbook based program (A&M Partnership) teaching abstinence from a medically accurate, well-reasoned perspective. The very first chapter in each workbook  talks about goal-setting. The entire first chapter of Navigator (LINK) has great resources if you want to take a page or two to help you talk through goals in life with your child. In the next blog posts, I’ll be taking some other tips and ideas from these workbooks to help you help your teen on the path to maturity.

Apple’s Controls Help You Limit Teen’s Phone Use

I don’t have an iPhone, but almost all the teens I know do…as do many parents. Did you know Apple has made it possible for you to do all sorts of things to limit your teen’s use of their phone? And with the IOS 12 update coming in about 10 days, there are some exciting enhancements and new parental control features. According to Apple, these new features “include Activity Reports, App Limits and new Do Not Disturb and Notifications controls designed to help customers reduce interruptions and manage screen time for themselves and their families.” Here are a couple of articles that can guide you, including one where an adult reviewer borrowed a teen to try it out on…with success: Teen learns limits and Features overview

So what can do though your own iPhone (or directly on theirs) to help your teen get some of his/her life back that has been sucked into the vortex of social media? Here are some examples:

  • Do Not Disturb during Bedtime mode dims the display and hides notifications on the lock screen until prompted in the morning.
  • Do Not Disturb during family dinner (that means you too, Mom or Dad)
  • Through Screen Time view daily and weekly activity reports to see where all those hours are going, and where limits need to be set.
  • Set time limits for apps (Snapchat, Instagram, Fortnite Mobile and YouTube are obvious candidates for this).

I hear it’s easy to set up, so once IOS 12 comes out…go to it! If you have an Android phone, there are parental control apps (cost from $30 up per year) HERE.

Your Teen Wants a Tattoo…

I remember when my opinion of tattoos began to shift. I grew up in a generation where we thought only rough characters–like prison inmates, or foul-mouthed sailors–had tattoos. But when my friend (who had teens at the time) got an enormous tattoo expressing her deepest beliefs on her lower back…well, she didn’t fit my stereotype! Things have changed, and tattoos are mainstream…with a Pew Research Center study indicating that 38 percent of young people ages 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo.

Most parents reading this are younger than I am, and some of you have tattoos, but you still want to know how to talk to your kids about tattoos. The good news is that the decision about getting a tattoo has been taken out of your hands in Illinois:

It is a Class A misdemeanor for anyone other than a person licensed to practice medicine in all branches to tattoo or offer to tattoo a person under age 18.  It is also a Class A misdemeanor to allow a person under 18 years of age to remain on the premises where tattoos are being performed or offered without a parent or legal guardian.

So your teen can’t get a tattoo until they turn 18. They can’t even walk into a tattoo shop without you there.

But talking about it is always a good idea…so here are some things to help your teen think through that urge to get a tattoo some day:

  1. Will you get tired of seeing that same thing 365 days a year for the next 70 or so years of life?
  2. Will your values change, since the tattoo you choose will probably reflect something important to you…now?  For instance, if you want to put your sweetheart’s name on your body when you turn 18 senior year…what would it take to remove it when you break up? After all, only 3% of married people started their relationships as high school sweethearts.
  3. Over decades, your skin will stretch, change, wrinkle some day. The tattoo will change too, and not for the better.
  4. Might you go into a profession where tattoos will be thought unprofessional?
  5. Do you know if you are prone to getting keloids (an overgrowth of scar tissue)? If you are, you should probably not get a tattoo.

What did you say? I’m phubbing you?

Words make their way into common use because teens come up with new ways to describe their reality. “Phubbing” is one such word. It means phone snubbing…as in when you are with someone and instead of giving you their attention, they allow their phone to distract them. We all know that feeling of taking a back seat to someone’s phone.

 The word may have come from teens, but the concept…well…you know you who you are if YOU do this! I confess, I have.  The last time I was the “phubbee,” on a date with my husband, I said we needed a no phone rule when we’re on a date. After all, if it’s really an emergency, we’ll get a call, not a text. I’m sure you have had countless times where dear old mom and dad don’t get the time of day when your child’s phone pings the next social media “happening.”

Teen have lost their manners when they phub, and so have we. Maybe, tonight, at the dinner table, you can involve the family in deciding on no phubbing zones. Like the dinner table.  Or the weekly car ride to soccer practice. I host international students every year, and on the way to the airport to send my student back home to her country for the summer, I had THE best conversation I’d ever had with her. It reminded me how valuable car conversation time is! If you’re missing out on conversation time with your teen…try involving them in changing habits. Yours AND theirs!

Today’s Choice = Tomorrow’s Consequences

What might motivate teens to wait to have sex? A report by Ascend (a sexual risk avoidance advocacy and research organization) reveals some reasons…and we think some of them would be GREAT conversation starters for you, the adult in your teen’s life. Here are a few key points from the article:

“Teens overall (51%) and especially females (57%) say they would wait longer for sex if it meant a greater chance of having a better relationship or marriage in the future.  Avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases (50%) is an even greater disincentive for sex than was avoiding pregnancy (44%).  Increasing one’s chances to avoid or escape poverty (41%) or to attend college (42%) were important factors that teens say would cause them to wait longer for sex.”

Teen Decision is on the forefront of giving teens (and parents!) a VISION for the future by talking about the impact of choices they are making now:

  • STDs: Sexually active teens face more risks than any generation EVER (and higher risks for STDs than pregnancy)…with serious consequences for their future, such as infertility, illness, even death.
  • PREGNANCY: Teens discuss in our classroom how pregnancy could impact their lives right now, and their future. One fact they hear from us is that less than 2% of teen moms complete a college degree by the age of 30.
  • FUTURE: We help teens think ahead about how being sexually active can impact their goals in life, such as finishing high school, going to college, getting married, having a family, and owning a home.

Stay tuned for future posts…where we discuss how to help teens wait by giving them reasons to believe that waiting can mean a better future.

Should I be concerned about Fortnite?

Fortnite is the game every teen is talking about. It’s a multi-player shooter survival game (Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One, IOS app, and soon on Android), with free and paid versions.  The obvious violence (it’s about killing with weapons after all) is not graphic–no blood or gore. It is “cartoonish” rather than realistic. No sex, no nudity, although the bodies of the female characters are exaggeratedly curvy. One article explains why it’s so popular with kids: “Well, it’s free, it’s fun and it has a very silly, offbeat sense of humour. While PUGB has a serious, realistic visual style, Fortnite: Battle Royale has very bright, almost cartoon-like graphics as well as loads of ridiculous items and costumes, such as space suits and dinosaur outfits. You can also pull a variety of dance moves during the game, and some of these have taken on a cult appeal in schoolyards around the globe.”

I always urge parents to check out games, videos, etc. on Commonsense Media, and I also found a Good Morning America video discussing the game, its addictive qualities and how to set limits…things most parents are concerned about.

You’ve Heard of Vaping, but What about Juuling?

You may have already received an alert from your child’s school about a new trend. High school and middle school social workers are seeing sharp increases in the use of e-cigs that look like common products that don’t raise the suspicions of parents or teachers.

A report by CBS Chicago (VIDEO ), discussing the trend in area schools, including suburban schools, says: “Some devices look like flash drives and recharge plugged into a laptop. The devices are smaller and easier to hide, and it seems less like smoking real cigarettes. ‘It’s not as smelly, or it’s marketed with fruity flavors or sweet dessert-type flavors,’…. But many of the sweet liquids still contain nicotine. One of the most popular brands now, Juul, says on its website the amount of nicotine in one pod is equal to a pack of cigarettes. A 2016 Surgeon General’s report found nicotine exposure during adolescence can be addicting and can lead to the use of traditional cigarettes and drugs like marijuana.”

Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at that flash drive your son has on his nightstand, or the Sharpie in your daughter’s backpack. And, as always, talk to your kids about the pressures and risks they face.

What About Marijuana? (Part 2)

With all the recent talk in Illinois about making recreational pot legal, what are we as parents to think?

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Teens might well get the impression that if something is legal it must be safe. SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Liberty Mutual Insurance conducted a large study showing that in states where recreational use is legal, about a third of teens think it’s legal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. They also think it’s safer than drinking alcohol and driving. But science disagrees on this an other effects of marijuana. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its page on teen use of marijuana:  “Research shows that marijuana use can have permanent effects on the developing brain when use begins in adolescence, especially with regular or heavy use. Frequent or long-term marijuana use is linked to school dropout and lower educational achievement.”  There’s more on that page and elsewhere…so get educated so that you can educate your teen. It wouldn’t be surprising if Illinois finds that the tax revenues from legalizing marijuana are just too tempting for a state in the fiscal mess we’re in…and worth the risks.

For “Part 1,” on Medical Marijuana, click here.

Talking to Teens about Sexual Harassment

A couple of years ago, a student in an all-girl classroom I was speaking to shared that boys were grabbing their butts during passing periods. A show of hands indicated 29 out of 30 had experienced this! After hearing from them that if they protested “it would get worse,” I spoke to them clearly about what they were allowing, and why they should stand up to it, then put them in groups and tasked them with deciding what to do the next time it happened. One girl wrote me afterwards that the next time it happened, she slapped the guy.  I’m not sure I intended to incent violence, but it WAS assault (let’s be clear!), and she finally treated it as such. She said she was treated with respect after that. Every year since, as I kept hammering home that “your body belongs to YOU,” the numbers came down…and this year only 3 in a class of 30 had been groped! It makes a difference when we talk to our teens and prepare them to stand up to seSilent No Morexual harassment. This is just one of the things Teen Decision does, as we talk to teens about sex, and dating.

According to a Washington Post article, in a national study on sexual harassment, “87 percent of respondents [ages 18-24] reported they had been the victim of at least one form of sexual harassment,” and “72 percent of men and 80 percent of women reported that they never had a conversation with parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others.”  Parents, we have to do better! We’ve all seen the news about politicians and Hollywood celebrities getting away with sexual misbehavior for decades. Now is a great time to take advantage of the public conversation, and expose these boorish (often criminal) behaviors for what they are.  The Post article has GREAT suggestions for how to talk to your teen. Take a moment to read the article, and have that conversation…NOW.

If you like the work Teen Decision does, and how we help boys AND girls advocate for themselves and stand strong for their right to “SAY NO” to sex…consider a donation! If you’re on our blog page now, look for the green “Donate” button. Or go to teendecision.org.  People like you, who love and care about teens, are the ones who keep us going, and we need your help to finish 2017, as we stay on track to serve 8,000 students this school year.