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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. 

Have you counted your pain pills lately?

After alcohol and marijuana, teen opioid use is the next most common substance abuse problem. The good news is that opioid use among teens has come down in the past few years, due to adult prescriptions going down. As two long-term studies showed: “…family members’ opioids are a major source for youth who use them, and opioidrugsd prescriptions have been decreasing since around 2011, reducing youth access to the drugs….”

The opioid epidemic is far from over, but knowing that the temptation is right in our medicine cabinet can help us, as parents, keep our pills hidden or locked up…or at least monitored.  Be vigilant parents!  Your child’s health is at stake.

Be THAT parent…

Teen computerControlling and/or monitoring your teen’s internet use is not an intrusion into your child’s privacy.

Wait…yes it is!  But it’s NECESSARY.  As parents, we’d throw ourselves in front of a speeding car to push our precious child out of the path of harm. In the same way, it’s our job, even duty, to both warn and protect our children from the darker things they can be exposed to on their phones, tablets and laptops. Even if it’s just making sure that gaming doesn’t chew up too much family or homework time, we have an interest in keeping track of what our teens are doing on the internet. There’s no one-size-fits-all software solution. But pcmag.org does have an up-to-date resource page with alternatives for monitoring and/or controlling internet use by your child.

Dads, daughters, and risk.

Their is plenty of research on the link between girls growing up without dads, and heightened incidence of risky sexual behaviors. But what about the KIND of fathering a girl gets, and the “doses” of father time? It turns out that encouraging dads to take an active role in parenting their daughters is KEY to whether or not they engage in risky sexual behaviors. A study looked at sisters who had different amounts of time, and different quality time, with dads…for instance, because of divorce or separation. An older daughter might have had more “dad” time than a younger one growing up, and it showed in different outcomes.

According to the article, “ItTeenager and dad‘s not enough for a dad to just be in the home,” said Danielle J. DelPriore, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Utah’s department of psychology and lead author of the study. “The quality of a father’s relationship with his daughter has implications for both the overall monitoring she receives from her parents as well as her likelihood of affiliating with more promiscuous or more prosocial friends.”

Anyone knows how exhausting it can be to parent teens, and keep tabs on their safety…and two parents are better than one if you can both play a part.  The article points out: “Parental monitoring refers to parents’ supervision over their children’s lives, including their communication and knowledge about what a child is doing, who she is hanging out with, and how she spends her time and money. Research has shown that low parental monitoring is associated with increased drug and alcohol use, delinquency and other behavior problems.”  If you are a dad, know how important your presence and input are!  If you are a mom, encourage your daughter’s relationship with her Dad (we’re not talking about abusive dads of course), whether you are an intact family or not. It can really help her take the path to a better future.

What About Marijuana? (Part 1)

medical marijuanaIllinois has not yet joined other states (most recently, Nevada) in making recreational marijuana legal. but recreational use was decriminalized in 2016 so that those caught with smaller amounts will only face a fine of $100 to $200. In April, senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) introduced bills in the Illinois legislature to legalize recreational weed.  We already have 41 uses for which medical marijuana is legal in Illinois. According to chicagomag.com, “the limited implementation of medical marijuana, Steans thinks, has warmed people up to the possibility of legalizing recreational cannabis.”  I’m thinking it’s also warming our kids up to the idea that marijuana, if it has all these great medical benefits (41 approved uses in Illinois now), must be not only safe, but HEALTHY.

So what about medical marijuana?  There are two ingredients in marijuana that are relevant here:  THC (the one that give you the “high”) and CBD. There is some medical research that shows that marijuana is “probably” effective in treating a few medical conditions, such as spasticity experienced by those with multiple sclerosis (click HERE if you want to see the medical journal article).  But with more and more other conditions (such as PTSD and terminal illness) being added in various states, including Illinois, I can’t help but think that these other treatments just ‘work’ because it feels pretty good to get high compared to physical or emotional pain. Regarding a Florida group’s claim that “medical-grade marijuana alone, will not get that patient ‘high’….,” Politifact (a fact-check site) rated that claim “mostly false.” The person making the claim was basically saying that because the POINT was not to get high, they were not getting high but treating a condition.  THC is THE key in medical marijuana treatment in most cases.  The Politifact article interviewed David Casarett, author of Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana,” who said that low-THC strains or CBD-only oils don’t produce the same “buzz” as smoking a joint. But higher-THC (as is present in much of medical-grade marijuana), Casarett was quoted to say, “will most certainly get you high…. Just calling something ‘medical grade’ won’t prevent you from getting high. It’s like alcohol. Laboratory grade ethanol will get you just as drunk as home-brewed moonshine with the same alcohol content.”

I’ll write next about recreational marijuana, and the scientific data on the side-effects of marijuana use, especially among young people.

Helping Kids Spot Fake News

Are you like me?  Have you been sent/forwarded something that caused your “skeptical” alarms to go off?  I graduated with a degree in Journalism, and I just can’t help myself from being a skeptic when faced with some wild and (truly) unbelievable story that is spreading like wildfire.  If adults can be fooled, how about kids, whLies Trutho often don’t have a clue where to go for “real” news.  Growing up in an age of newspapers, where journalistic integrity was at least held up as the standard (whether always followed or not), older generations are more used to researching, asking questions, and challenging a source when something seems “off.” But our kids are getting most of their news from their feeds, and who knows what they are hearing and believing?  In fact, Common Sense Media in an online report (with great infographics) found that “less than half of kids agree that they know how to tell fake news stories from real ones.”

One encouraging item in the above-linked report is that kids tend to trust news from family more than any other source.  If you want to help your teen become a THINKING consumer of news media, there are some things you can do.  Commonsensemedia.org has some great resources and ideas.  I usually go there for analysis of TV shows, and movies from a parent’s perspective (you’ll find out in detail why a movie is PG-13, or R-rated for instance).  But they also have a lot of insightful articles about how we as parents can help our kids use media wisely and well.  Two articles there that will give you some ideas on how to talk to your kids are:  “How to Spot Fake News,” and “Teaching Kids Media Smarts During Breaking News.”

Talking to Teens about Love

When our Teen Decision program comes to a school, teens often are often either nervous, or skeptical about our “sex ed” program.  I once had someone write me that they’d expected the presenter (me) to be an “old lady with warts” but was pleasantly surprised to find our program fun, informative, and relevant to teens’ real lives.  While we do discuss the benefits of abstinence (and the risks of sexual activity), we spend FAR more time talking about relationships, knowing that teaching them how to recognize and have healthy relationships is far more effective in helping teens make good choices about sex than scaring them about teen pregnancy and STDs…although there is a place for healthy fear about these very possible consequences!  And you know what?  That’s what teens really want to talk about as well…relationships…love! Now that it’s summer, love (or infatuation more likely) may even be blooming for the teen in your love foreverhome!  I found this article about talking to teens about love, and I thought it could help you to talk with the teen in your life about what love is, and how to learn how to BE a healthy person in a healthy relationship.  I particularly liked one point the author made, that we can help any young person recognize that a good dating partner is someone who has demonstrated the qualities of a good friend:

What about a younger child who isn’t necessarily old enough for a romantic relationship? Is there a way you could ease into the topic?

The basics, like how to choose a friend. The same skills that kids would use to choose a friend — whether it’s generosity or kindness or loyalty or empathy — those are the same traits they’re going to be looking for later in a relationship. So parents can help guide kids, and they can lead that discussion at home.

I do a lot of work in the younger grades with friendship skills: reciprocity, reflective listening, turn-taking, sharing. All of these very basic skills that you need to teach young kids so that later on, they not only have the skills to maintain a healthy relationship, they’ll know how to identify a healthy relationship, too.

Help Your Teen Get Out of a Bad Situation

x-planI read this great post by a dad who counsels a group of young people in recovery from drug addiction. He asked these kids recently: “How many of you have found yourself in situations where things started happening that you weren’t comfortable with, but you stuck around, mainly because you felt like you didn’t have a way out?” They all raised their hands!

Moms and dads, we need to BE our kids’ way out! This dad has a great idea…a deal he has made with his own kids that they can text “x” and it immediately gets a response from home…a phone call to his teen where a “script” is followed, like this:

“Hello?”

“Danny, something’s come up and I have to come get you right now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there.  Be ready to leave in five minutes.  I’m on my way.”

Your child knows they can count on you to get them out of a situation that they know isn’t good, but their excuse in front of their peers is “I have to go…I don’t know what’s up, but my Mom just called and she’s coming to get me.” They save face, and they learn how to recognize and withdraw from a bad situation. Here’s the hard part for us as parents: No questions asked, and no recriminations. They get to tell you as much or as little as they want. That’s hard, admittedly, but read HERE why the X-Plan involves keeping that promise to your teen.

Fifty Shades of Unhealthy

Ball and chainWith the arrival in theaters this month of Fifty Shades Darker, it’s time to get a sensible look at the messages of this book and movie series. With regard to teens, there’s nothing gray about this…it’s pretty black and white. Dr. Miriam Grossman wrote about the messages in this movie HERE, but I want to concentrate on a particularly persistent myth that I see not just in this movie series, but in the psyches of too many girls (and grown women). Dr. Grossman states the myth this way:  “Christian’s emotional problems are cured by Anastasia’s love.”  Haven’t we all seen the “bad boy” syndrome? I’ve been asked by decent, honorable, respectful guys: “Why do the girls seem to go for the bad boys?”  I have two theories.  One is that they are so deeply bonded to the guy (usually because they’ve gone pretty far sexually), that they ignore/excuse/tolerate what they would normally recognize as abominable behavior and an unhealthy relationship. It’s not glamorous, loving or healthy to accept abuse (emotional and/or physical), humiliation, manipulation, control or force.  My second theory is that there is a powerful fantasy in thinking that MY love, MY attractiveness (a bit of narcissism?) can cure a seriously sick and unhealthy person.  How many times have you (or your teen) talked yourself blue in the face trying to help someone see that their partner is a jerk, only to watch the train hurtle toward the inevitable crash.  As Grossman points out: “Only in a movie. In the real world, Christian wouldn’t change to any significant degree.” And further, “In the real world, this story would end badly, with Christian in jail,  and Ana in a shelter – or morgue. Or maybe Christian would continue beating Ana, and she’d stay and suffer. Either way, their lives would most definitely not be a fairy tale.”  Please discuss these ideas with your sons and daughters, so they are reminded that unhealthy people make for unhealthy relationships, and your child deserves to be treated with caring, respect, empathy, and consideration. Toxic relationships are not handcuffs that are part of sex play like in the Fifty Shades story, they are chains and bonds that can drag a person under for years, even decades.

“Love” might just be a chemical high

Much of the gossip in the hallways of the middle and high schools Teen Decision serves is about who is dating whom, and which couple just broke up (usually with a lot of drama).  It’s “sweet” and “romantic” in the beginning, sure. But…give it a few weeks or months, some significant pain and heartache, and one or both decides it wasn’t love after all.  One teacher who has Teen Decision come speak to her students said: “Most kids are shocked when they find out that their high school sweetheart probably won’t be their forever.” broken heart

So what WAS it then?  Those feelings were so REAL!

As we help our children process the intense feelings that are sure to come with romantic attraction and attachment, it would serve them well if we also helped them understand the “chemistry” of love.

I was sent this fantastic video by a representative of the DuPage County Health Department who has seen the Teen Decision program.  It talks about the “chemistry” of love, and the need to avoid making any premature decisions that commit more of you, your time or your resources, when in that initial (and transitory) state we might more accurately call infatuation. While targeted to young adults, it would make an interesting conversation to watch this with your teen, especially in regard to how physical touch and quick commitment can lead to not just heartache, but lasting consequences…like teen pregnancy and STDs. A few questions to ask after watching the video together might be:

  • This video talks about young adults.  What do TEENS do that commit themselves to each other in a way that is hard to get out of later?
  • How do teens say they “know” they are in love? Are those things a proof that love is real?
  • Do you know someone who is or was in an unhealthy relationship, and didn’t even recognize it?  Why did they stay in the relationship so long?
  • If only 2-3% of married people started as high school sweethearts, most couples who thought they were in love, were not.  What do you think real love looks like, long term?