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.”
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.
Do you remember the “cinnamon challenge” a couple of years back? I wrote a blog about it, and also asked teens about it in the classroom. Back then, teens were trying to swallow cinnamon powder without water, leading to choking, which teens thought was oh so funny, and in some cases hospitalization from inhaling the powder into their lungs. Well, that one has faded, and now YouTube and Facebook video postings of the “fire challenge” have grabbed the attention of young people. In this challenge, a teen pours rubbing alcohol on his skin, and sets himself (usually, it’s a “him”) on fire. Other versions involve spraying one’s body with an aerosol can or dousing with nail polish remover before striking a match.
I know…WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?!! Well, apparently, according to one blistered and burned student, “I don’t know; I wasn’t thinking really.” That 15-year-old said that the videos didn’t show the end result. Just four days ago, another 15-year-old boy was severely burned doing the stunt, and was airlifted to a hospital.
As one article said: “It’s impossible to guess what ‘the kids’ will dream up next — as long as they have cameras and underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes, there’s really no saying.” The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for weighing consequences, planning, distinguishing right from wrong, and determining socially appropriate behavior. It doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20s. As I say in my parent workshops, it’s YOUR job to be their pre-frontal cortex for a few more years. So review that article (linked above) entitled, “A comprehensive guide to YouTube’s dumbest and most dangerous teen trends.” Then talk to your teen today about using his or her head before letting peer pressure get the upper hand.
Most of the stats that we include on our site, in our blogs, or in our classroom instruction refer to the general population of the US. While they are generally accurate, and I can confidently say they reflect many if not most situations, there are always exceptions. We teach at over 35 schools whose health classes vary in size from 5 (yes, 5) to 90. In almost a decade of experience, I have seen a school’s cultural attitudes about sex shift in both positive and negative ways. My experience has taught me a lot about the power of one Bad Apple.
In any given school climate, regardless of how hard teachers, parents, and administrators have worked to instill good values in their students, you occasionally run across a cluster of kids making poor decisions at a disproportionately greater rate. This can happen in both public and private schools, though ironically I find the power of a Bad Apple is more potent in the private schools, simply because they are smaller. It might look like this: at a middle school that almost always has “good” kids, where hardly anyone has actually had sex, suddenly a class comes along that misbehaves more in 6th grade, rebels more when they get to 7th grade, and by 8th grade, the principal is dealing with cases of oral chlamydia.
I don’t have time or space to dissect the sociology behind the phenomenon, but I do want to discuss what parents should consider and how they can help inoculate their child against it. First, I should say that there isn’t always just one “Bad Apple.” I use the term to refer to how an attitude or idea can slowly seep into a population and turn an otherwise positive culture into an unhealthy one. It might start with one person, but one could rarely actually pinpoint that person. So be slow to point fingers.
Parents do need to recognize, however, that the power of a bad apple makes it impossible to completely shield their child from negative influences. For example, I had a friend whose parents sent her to a Christian school, hoping for the environment to shield her from the worst of popular culture. In hindsight, however, she had a harder time making good choices than a similar friend at a public school. In the small, private school, a few bad apples had introduce and normalized oral sex among the students. My friend had been taught to follow the Christian culture of her school, so when oral sex was normalized among her supposedly Christian peers, she felt like it was okay to go along with it. In contrast, my friend at the public school had been taught not to go along with the crowd and to expect to stand out (she was also from a strong Christian family), so when her friends started engaging in oral sex, she figured it was another thing to avoid rather than follow.
The difference between the two is that my friend in the private school had not been taught to recognize and steer clear of the influence of a bad apple. When parents ignore the possibility that an otherwise positive, healthy culture can suddenly become hijacked by a bad apple, they can fail to teach their child to make good decisions despite an unhealthy culture.
What can you do? Talk to your teenager about how the poor decisions of others can influence their thinking, normalizing unhealthy behavior. Here is an example of a small high school of about 300 that suddenly faced 20 cases of Chlamydia. My guess is that a bad apple influenced the school’s cultural attitudes about sex, resulting in high rates of risky behavior. Would your teen know what to do if 20 of their friends were making unhealthy decisions? How would they respond?