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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?

Could it happen to my child? Would I know?

I remember vividly two letters I received from students last year recounting the effects of sexual abuse in dating relationships. In one case, a girl was experiencing constant nightmares a full two years after experiencing sexual force in a relationship with her 8th grade boyfriend. The other was depressed and cutting, again years after sexual abuse in a middle school relationship.  But sexual abuse doesn’t just happen in the context of romantic dating relationships. It may happen at the hands of a “trusted” family friend, neighbor, or family member.  We all hate to think it could happen, and parents may be the ones most likely to think “I would know if my child had been abused.” However, if some estimates are true that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been abused in some way sexually before the age of 18, then many more of us have children who have experienced abuse than we think.  Why don’t our children tell us?  According to an article about child sexual abuse, children don’t tell because of…

  • Threats of bodily harpensive-teenm (to the child and/or the child’s family)
  • Fear of being removed from the home
  • Fear of not being believed
  • Shame or guilt

The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress says: “If the abuser is someone the child or the family cares about, the child may worry about getting that person in trouble. In addition, children often believe that the sexual abuse was their own fault and may not disclose for fear of getting in trouble themselves. Very young children may not have the language skills to communicate about the abuse or may not understand that the actions of that perpetrator are abusive, particularly if the sexual abuse is made into a game.”

Do your children know that they can talk to you?  That you will listen? Maybe it’s time to have a conversation.  Start with reading this article, and when you have that conversation, be sure to let your children know YOU can be trusted to listen and understand, and that nothing that might have happened to them is their fault.

In addition, here are some local resources…hotlines you or your child can call.

YWCA West Suburban Center. Glen Ellyn. Hotline: (630) 971-3927

Community Crisis Center. Elgin. Hotline: (847) 697-2380

Northwest CASA. Arlington Heights. Hotline: (888) 802-8890

Mutual Ground, Inc. Aurora. Hotline: (630) 897-8383

 

 

Not your grandma’s sex ed program…

One of the funniest comments I ever got was from a student who said that at first she expected to see some old person with warts show up as the Teen Decision speaker.  Others were similarly relieved…”‘I like how you didn’t just say ‘Sex is bad. Don’t have sex.  Back in my day….’  You talked about how it actually is.”  While we immediately dispel students’ notions about boring tori-libby-teaching_teen-decision_high-school-3or irrelevant sex ed, it’s not so easy to dispel the misconceptions many ADULTS have about the abstinence message.  Today I watched a YouTube video of a 20-something sex educator who has multiple videos mocking abstinence education as “abstinence only,” “pledge cards,”  “purity rings,” and “lies, lies, lies.” The false stereotypes were rampant…and it made my blood boil. So, let’s tackle just one common misconception:  That abstinence education is “shame-based.”  One of the ways to connect with teens, whether as a parent, or a Teen Decision speaker, is for them to know you understand their world, their feelings and the pressures they face.  That includes the desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend and the urge to express their desires physically.  Shame is a poor motivator, and is never part of our classroom presentation, nor should it be how you approach your child. Instead, we’re matter-of-fact about discussing sex. And that makes it less awkward.  There was a study some years ago of teen-parent conversations about sex.  When parents didn’t show nervousness or discomfort (I know, that’s not easy!) but were straightforward and calm when discussing sex, teens were more likely to be OK with having those conversations, less nervous themselves, and more likely to feel parents (YOU) could be approached with questions and concerns. We want to send the message that there’s no shame in having feelings and desires, but managing those desires in a way that leads to good relationships and dating practices is key to a healthier, happier future.

Next time, I’ll tackle another misconception…that the message to wait to have sex is “fear-based.”

Watching This With Your Teen is Better Than Any Lecture

Even if your teen isn’t old enough to drive yet, he or she may be in the car with other teens who drive.  And, shall we admit it, many of us have caught ourselves responding to that “ding” when we are driving as well.  Watching this short (under 4 minutes, not graphic)car crash YouTube video together with your family will have a more powerful impact than any lecture or set of statistics you can give them, although the facts are indeed frightening.  An online article by Teen Vogue relates that “Eleven teenagers die every day as a result of texting and driving…. Almost 330,000 injuries every year are due to accidents caused by texting and driving. 1.6 million crashes are a result of it, as well. And 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were — you guessed it — using their cell phones behind the wheel.”

If you have trouble with the link above, here it is to cut and paste: https://youtu.be/E9swS1Vl6Ok

Musical.ly app Presents Problems

Commonsensemedia.org is my go-to site to check out anything media-related. One of my goals is to keep parents informed about the teen world…and teens are into musical.ly, an app that allows you to “Create beautiful music videos with your favorite songs, and share with friends.”  Musically.ly claims it is “the world’s fastest growing social network around music and lifestyle.”

Thesemusically app logo parents discovered a whole lot more:

“I thought it was just an innocent app where you can lip-synch and make music videos….  I took a look at what she had done, and there were some music videos that had inappropriate language in them…. On top of that, I realized that even without Internet access, anybody in the community could view her videos, and she could view theirs. There is a setting to set it up that only her friends could view her videos, but it still really bothered me.… After I started exploring the app, I realize that at the bottom of the video people could put hashtags. I clicked on a hash tag, which took me to another video with a different suggestive sounding hashtag at the bottom that I clicked on, which then took me to videos that were Adult content.”

If your child searches the hashtags, they WILL find pornographic videos. It took me less than a minute after I installed the app to find it. The hashtag that brought it up was #adult

“My kids had worked together and used our pets, stuffed animals and even we parents got in on making some pretty hilarious music videos. The BIG problem is that a lot of the available music and sound bites contain all the very adult language and innuendo you hear on the radio. So when left to her own devices, I found my 10 year old lip syncing to suggestive lyrics she didn’t even understand. And dancing and gesturing the way a rock diva does- not the way I want her spending her free time. What’s worse is that the rating system becomes addictive (see the reviews by the kids). She and her friends kept pushing the envelope to see how many “likes” they could get. What originally was supposed to be a private account became public for the thrill of getting the approval of strangers. Definitely started off sweet and innocent, then due to these unsavory lyrics, went down a bad path when I wasn’t watching. Family decision was made to delete the app tonight amid lots of tears and even I was sad to see our cute videos go.”

 

Zika Virus…a New STD?

We’ve all heard by now about the damage the Zika virus can cause to babies developing in the womb. Up until a few days ago, we thought there were no mosquitos wmosquito-213805_960_720ith Zika here in the U.S. But in the last week, two possible cases of mosquito transmission in Florida have emerged. What you may not have heard is that Zika is being transmitted sexually from infected men (via semen) to their sexual partners. This causes me great concern, and adds to the number of serious consequences of STDs.

Most parents of today’s teens took health classes in which they learned about 4 known STDs: herpes, HIV, gonorrhea and syphilis.  Now, most health classes teach about 10 to 12 common STDs, all HERE in our area.  And young people from the ages of 15-24 account for HALF of all new STDs diagnosed each year! Teen Decision gives the facts to teens about STDs, and urges teens to avoid the risks by choosing to wait to have sex.  But, it’s up to parents to keep the conversation going.  To learn more about STDs and their consequences, click on this LINK.

Modesty and Sexual Harassment — Prevention vs. Victim Blaming

There is a broken record that plays at our house, where both my young boys grab toys and hit and then blame the other brother for “starting it”: You are responsible for YOU.  I don’t really care who started it. I care about my children learning to keep their hands to themselves and to respect other children’s persons and property, regardless of what happens to them. Parents, I’m sure you understand. This concept is not new.

Why, then, does this concept go out the window when it comes to modesty and sexual harassment; prevention of sexual assault and blaming the victim? When stories like this one show up, there is a great teaching opportunity for parents of both boys and girls. In this instance, I learn about a 15-year-old girl (whose photo, scraped from her Facebook page for the article, reveals a broad, generous smile, among other things) complained to an airline about being groped by a fellow passenger. She could provide insufficient evidence, no actual charges were brought, but the airline evidently responded in a letter: “The flight attendants and passengers also stated that you and your daughter were allowed to move to other seats several times, that Chelsea repeatedly moved in and out of her seat, crawling over the other customer who was attempting to sleep, and that your daughter wore extremely short shorts.”

I can see two equally likely scenarios that could have played out, and likely the truth, which we won’t ever know, is a mixture of the two. I can see a bubbly, well-endowed teenager in revealing clothing unable to sit still on the long flight, moving in and out, bumping against a passenger whose proximity is uncomfortable for her (who finds the proximity of fellow passengers on planes comfortable?) attempting to get a better seat by complaining to the airline. I can also envision a man capturing the opportunity afforded to him by the movements of his young, attractive seat mate, knowing it is difficult if not impossible for women to ever prove sexual harassment occurred. But really, the truth doesn’t matter to me, because I am not sitting in judgment of either individual (for which I am thankful) — what I care about as a parent is what I need to teach my children. You are responsible for YOU. 

If you are sitting next to someone young, vulnerable, attractive, and no one is watching what you are doing: show deference, avoid looking at anything that would normally be covered up, and keep your hands to yourself. If you are young and attractive (or old and attractive, or female) dress and behave in a way that discourages or redirects sexual advances — not in short shorts. (Hmmm, I think that is the sound of the comment box filling with criticism and dissent.)

Hear me out: what I teach you, o daughters of mine, is not what I wish you had to know, but what I know you need to know. Is it fair that black mothers have to teach their black sons how to behave so that police don’t shoot them? No. But they do, because their sons need to know it. In the same way, women today need to know how to deflect negative sexual attention, and we all know that short shorts is not the way to do that. Can we please just acknowledge that modesty is a form of protection and prevention, without being accused of suggesting that an immodest woman is “asking for it”?

If you are reading this blog, you probably have teen-aged children. Whether they are boys or girls, please share a word with them about how to dress in the heat without risking their personal dignity, as well as how to interact with others in a world that does not live up to their high standards of what “should” or “shouldn’t” be okay in the clothing department.

Let this teen inspire you!

Thanks to the Huffington Post for bringing this story to my attention. The above photo was shared on Facebook by Eric Gaines with the following caption:

“I watched as this young kid was walking pass, stopped and walked over to this sleeping homeless man; touched him and began praying over him… This was an amazing sight! I pray this kid becomes a leader amongst his peers, and continues on this path!! Not all Baltimore youth are lost!!” (sic)

What a beautiful act of compassion!

Yet as I move beyond being thankful for this reminder of the good in young people, I reflect on what this photo prompts in me as a mother. As a parent, I have many kinds of desires for my children. Of course, I would love for my son to be the kind of young man who would quietly, humbly care about a stranger. But if I am honest, I would also love it if my son were smart, talented, well-mannered and known for such qualities. The question is, which desire is stronger? You see, I find it hard not to live through my children, and very hard not to puff up my own reputation through their accomplishments. So which do I want more? A child who would stop on his own, alone, to notice and care for another person who may never notice him back; or a child who wins grades, awards, and a great reputation?

Why do I have to choose? Because I expect that the humble goodness this teen demonstrated is snuffed out in families that prioritize recognition; and when grades or talents are prioritized, the pressure to perform leaves little time or energy for selflessness. If I only praise what brings my child (and by extension myself) positive attention from others, it is very unlikely that my child will one day act like the young man in the photo. In addition, my child will do what I do (most likely) — do I model the same kind of compassion as the young man? If this story inspires me to believe that some teens are really doing okay, it should also inspire me to look at myself and my parenting. Am I nurturing selfless compassion in my children by modeling it, noticing it in others, and reminding my child that I care more about how they treat others than how they perform? Or am I just another performance driven parent feeding off the recognition and accomplishments of my children.

And if it were my teen in the photo, would I allow it to remain anonymous? Or would I have to share it with all my friends? What would you do?