A year ago when we were a month into Covid-19 shutdown, I wrote about the most common STD, HPV, as the “other virus” we should be talking about. This January, the CDC reported that the most recent data shows that 1 in 5 Americans has a sexually transmitted infection. Of newly acquired STIs (26 million), nearly one in two occur in people 15 to 24 years old.
One in 10 people in the U.S. now has had Covid-19. That’s, of course, still big news. But how is it that I didn’t get the CDC report on STIs to my news apps, which I read every night? Isn’t this continuing epidemic of STDs also big news?
One thing that is good, is that now teens have seen how infections can spread from to person. I’ve mentioned in my Zoom teaching this year that it’s not like one person came from overseas and infected the entire U.S. single-handedly. Likewise, it’s not just one promiscuous person in a high school spreading STDs to everyone else. Instead they are spread from relationship to relationship when those relationships have been sexual. It’s important to help teens understand that being sexually active puts them at risk of exposure not just to the person they have sexual contact with, but ALL their partner’s past partners (and their past partners, etc.) as well. Consider using the example of the Covid-19 epidemic to help your teen understand the spread of STDs, and ask your teen what they think is the most foolproof way of avoiding STDs, some of which can cause lifelong pain or even death. Hint: The CDC says abstinence from all forms of sexual activity is THE ONLY sure way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and STDs.
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.
Just when we think we’ve learned the latest teen trends, our kids and their peers reinvent themselves yet again online. If you don’t know what a VSCO girl is (but you’ve been asked to buy a $40 Hydro Flask® for your teen), you’re hopelessly behind, for instance. I happen to have a teen in my home that educates me about the latest teen trends, but it’s never enough to keep up. So I’ve connected HERE to a site that has short descriptions of popular apps, including which apps are appropriate and safe, which you should be concerned about, and which the site warns against.
The app overtaking others in popularity right now is Tic Tok (formerly musical.ly). Tic Tok is mostly used by teens to post short-form videos of themselves lip synching, singing, dancing, and doing comedy. Concerns have to do with privacy, inappropriate content, and potential predator contact. Kidsnclicks shows with screen shots how to set your child’s Tik Tok to “private” which is probably the most important thing you can do to protect them on the app. Now, our government is even looking into national security issues with Tik Tok (it is Chinese-owned). As always, we suggest you educate yourself, and be aware as a parent.
I recently came across the OK, Inc. YouTube channel, with dozens of videos on topics teens say they want addressed…things such as date rape, bullying, sexting, abusive relationships, substance abuse, etc. These videos use high school students as actors and portray realistic scenarios. I watched several that have been viewed by millions, and can recommend them as excellent tools for parents and teachers.
These short story videos help teens recognize risky situations, make good choices, deal with consequences, and see a way forward even after making a poor choice. Every video has an example of friends who help their friends along the way. Parents, don’t we want to see our child learn now how to have good relationships, choose well when faced with negative pressures, and to BE a good, supportive friend to others who are caught in bad decisions, or bad relationships? Sometimes, all the good advice we know we could give is better received coming from peers. These videos provide a creative way to open conversations with our children about the pressures and problems they face in everyday life, without coming across as too “preachy.” I urge you to watch and discuss as many of these videos with your teens as possible.
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:
- Will you get tired of seeing that same thing 365 days a year for the next 70 or so years of life?
- 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.
- Over decades, your skin will stretch, change, wrinkle some day. The tattoo will change too, and not for the better.
- Might you go into a profession where tattoos will be thought unprofessional?
- 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.
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!
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 sexual 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.
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, who 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.”
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.”
These 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.”