Your Teen Wants a Tattoo…

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:

  1. Will you get tired of seeing that same thing 365 days a year for the next 70 or so years of life?
  2. 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.
  3. Over decades, your skin will stretch, change, wrinkle some day. The tattoo will change too, and not for the better.
  4. Might you go into a profession where tattoos will be thought unprofessional?
  5. 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.

What did you say? I’m phubbing you?

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!

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.”

 

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.

I Don’t Know; I Wasn’t Thinking…

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.

Too Fat to Fit In?

I recently learned of a brand of clothing that achieves exclusivity not through price, but through size. Brandy Melville offers almost all of its clothing in either size “small” or “one-size-fits-most” (as long as “most people” are small). The brand is one of the hottest lines of clothing for teens, according to research firm Piper Jaffray.

It is not new for teens to try to build their identity and gain acceptance and a sense of belonging through their clothing choices. It is simply the brands and the looks that change. But while previous generations of teens were barred from the most exclusive looks by price (or were forced to spend far more than they could afford on designer labels or celebrity endorsed merchandise), Brandy Melville is relatively inexpensive. Instead, the brand has set the price of entry into its club at being very, very skinny. Now, instead of a teen blowing all her savings on a purse she really can’t afford, she is pressured to go to unhealthy measures in order to fit the same size pants as everyone else.

The immature part of my brain remembers being poor and skinny as a teen and thinks “Where was this when I was 16?!” But the mature part, the wiser woman in me, has learned that in life, the target for superficial popularity is always moving. Basing one’s identity on a look or a brand will never really satisfy the human need for security and belonging. But how do parents teach that to their children?

It was one thing for parents to refuse to purchase expensive clothing when the family couldn’t afford it. At least teens could blame their parents for being too poor or frugal. My fear is that teen girls will blame themselves for not fitting into Brandy Melville — and that their disappointment or anger will turn towards their bodies (even more so than it already does for young adults). Parents, especially those of girls who are too normal-sized to fit into the skinny brand, must help their children understand the dark side of marketing and branding. Companies like Brandy Melville prey on insecurities — they need us as consumers to feel inadequate without their product. But clothing is not our identity, and it can never create acceptance. Clothing is at its most basic level a tool to keep us protected from the environment. Yes, it can be used for self-expression, but if you are dissatisfied without the clothing, you will be dissatisfied with it.

Are your teens victims of marketing who strive to purchase only the “cool” brands? Consider:

  • Banning Brandy Melville on principle, even for your children who could fit into the clothing. Refuse to buy into the unhealthy standard that all girls should be shaped a particular way.
  • Check your own attitude about clothing and identity. Do you model an attitude that clothing does not define an individual?
  • Challenge your teen to develop his or her own style. For example, challenge them to only buy clothing from resale shops for the next 6 months.
  • Purge magazines from your home. Magazines are often glorified catalogues that feed the desire for particular looks and brands.
  • Encourage your teen to develop a more global awareness of what life is like for others who cannot afford to be obsessed with their looks. The popular Hunger Games movies and books are easy conversation starters: ask questions about the parallels between the image-obsessed residents of the Capitol and our culture’s obsession with brands like Brandy Melville.

Have more ideas? Share them in the comments section!

Hookah Bars and Teens

Close up of hookah with young male in background
Evening of the Hookah by Jordan Gillespie is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Although Hookah is an ancient form of smoking, I didn’t hear of it until college, when several friends preferred it to traditional cigarettes. In recent years, popularity of the water pipe has taken off, perhaps because it is seen as a healthier alternative to cigarettes (which is not necessarily true). A recent study found that 18% of high school seniors had tried hookah in the previous year. That number is much higher than previous estimates of 4-5%.

Background

A hookah is a water pipe, typically used for smoking tobacco products. Often, the tobacco will be flavored. The hookah’s origins can be traced to ancient Persian and Indian cultures, but in the US, its popularity has grown the most among college students. According to the report mentioned above, the typical teenage hookah user was a white male with well-educated parents. (That certainly describes the majority of the people I knew in college who smoked it!)

Users also tend to have a steady source of income, whether that is a weekly allowance or from a part time job. This is likely because a hookah is typically smoked in a bar or lounge, where regular use could become expensive. Using a hookah is traditionally a communal activity. Even when it is not shared in a lounge, it is often smoked with others, with the hose of the pipe passed from person to person.

Local Use

How popular is it locally? A quick search for hookah bars near Amplify’s office found 7 within a fairly easy drive in the Western Suburbs. The various liberal arts colleges in DuPage County likely offer plenty of target clientele for the hookah bars, which consequently become easily accessible for local high school students. Should parents be aware of what hookah is and where their child might access it? Absolutely! DuPage County offers all the right demographics for a growing hookah trend.

Concerns

Why concern yourself with this trend? For many, using a hookah might not seem like a big deal. It’s very nature tends to limit its use to occasional, communal settings rather than the constant pull of cigarettes. Nevertheless, since the vast majority of hookah use involves tobacco, the same health and addictive risks apply to hookah as to other forms of tobacco. For teens, those risks are greater. Teens’ brains and bodies are still forming and are more prone to addiction.

Another concern comes from the clustering of risk behaviors — teens who smoke a hookah are more likely to smoke other forms of tobacco, drink alcohol, or try other drugs. And then there is the concept of a “gateway” vice. Hookah tends to be most appealing to those kids who have higher incomes and more highly educated parents, and those who themselves are pursuing higher education. In other words, hookah is a vice for the “good kids” to feel okay about trying. So talk to your teen about the health and addiction risks of smoking, even smoking a hookah pipe. Let them know your thoughts.

Sifting through the dangerous trends

We’ve shared articles in the past about some of the crazy stunts teens will try (dusting, OTC medication, cinnamon). Here’s another, but with a twist — this time the “trend” probably isn’t that common or dangerous. What Maanvi Singh adds in this article, however, is a reminder to parents of how to sift through all the new and supposedly viral trends to learn what really may pose a threat to children. And in case you were wondering about the music video mentioned in the article, here it is:

 

Teens Who Walk and Talk On Cell Phones Risk Injury

It’s not surprising that a  study reported on by USA Today shows that “cell-attached” pedestrians most likely to be injured are young people.  The group at highest risk, 16- to 25-year-olds, experienced injuries ranging from “falling off walkways or bridges to walking in front of moving traffic.”  In the 6-year period studied, the number of injuries almost tripled.  As we prepare our teens to use cell phones wisely while driving, we shouldn’t forget to add in a discussion about distracted walking!  The tweet, text, or Facebook message can wait until your child arrives safely at his or her destination.