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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. 

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.