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.

Today’s Choice = Tomorrow’s Consequences

What might motivate teens to wait to have sex? A report by Ascend (a sexual risk avoidance advocacy and research organization) reveals some reasons…and we think some of them would be GREAT conversation starters for you, the adult in your teen’s life. Here are a few key points from the article:

“Teens overall (51%) and especially females (57%) say they would wait longer for sex if it meant a greater chance of having a better relationship or marriage in the future.  Avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases (50%) is an even greater disincentive for sex than was avoiding pregnancy (44%).  Increasing one’s chances to avoid or escape poverty (41%) or to attend college (42%) were important factors that teens say would cause them to wait longer for sex.”

Teen Decision is on the forefront of giving teens (and parents!) a VISION for the future by talking about the impact of choices they are making now:

  • STDs: Sexually active teens face more risks than any generation EVER (and higher risks for STDs than pregnancy)…with serious consequences for their future, such as infertility, illness, even death.
  • PREGNANCY: Teens discuss in our classroom how pregnancy could impact their lives right now, and their future. One fact they hear from us is that less than 2% of teen moms complete a college degree by the age of 30.
  • FUTURE: We help teens think ahead about how being sexually active can impact their goals in life, such as finishing high school, going to college, getting married, having a family, and owning a home.

Stay tuned for future posts…where we discuss how to help teens wait by giving them reasons to believe that waiting can mean a better future.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Repost: Sending Mixed Messages to Our Kids

I hope everyone had a great long-weekend with their families! In honor of the holiday, we are reposting a favorite article from several years ago, which still has incredible relevance today. Enjoy!

We were recently in a DuPage County high school, conducting a behavioral survey with seniors. Of the students we surveyed, 53% were currently sexually active. When asked if they knew how their parents felt about their choices, 55% said they did not know, or were confused, about their parents’ expectations.

Just after learning those statistics, I came across an excellent article. While it does not talk directly about sex, (and although I did not agree with everything the author said) it does have some important points to make in regards to the mixed messages we as parents sometimes send to our teenage girls.

It’s titled, “Under Pressure: Are Teen Girls Facing Too Much?” You can read it here.

boredomThe author states that 25% of our teenage girls are suffering from some sort of serious psychological or physical clinical issues: suicide attempts, depression, violence, self mutilation, etc. His explanation for the staggering statistic – which he believes is on the rise – is that our young girls today are being presented with mixed messages, or what he calls a “Triple Bind (p.2)” Teenage girls today are hearing three conflicting expectations, and are struggling to meet all of them: 1. Excel at being a girl. 2. Excel at some guy stuff too. 3. Fit into culture’s current definition of success in regards to education, life goals, and beauty.

Be a girl, but don’t be just a girl. Their task is impossible. They know this, and although they desire to please society – their parents and teachers – they live under the threat of failure every day. It’s that tension that is leading them into dangerous behaviors.

In my opinion this argument is supported by the statistics above. Think about the messages we send our teenagers regarding abstinence. When I read parent comments after a school or parent program, over 50% of the time I read something like this: “I would love for my teen to choose abstinence, but I live in the real world. So I want her to be smart and use protection.” (Actual parent comment.)

Parents, do you see the connection? “Wait. But use protection.” We think we’re being helpful giving two expectations, but we’re not. We’re confusing our kids. It’s akin to saying, “Okay, honey. You have your driver’s license. I expect you not to drink in high school, but you will. So here, have a beer, and let’s go get behind the wheel and teach you how to drive well while under the influence.”

That may seem a ridiculous example to some, but look again at those percentages. Teenagers in our own county are unsure where their parents stand on the issue of premarital sex and abstinence. Girls who are already feeling myriad pressures to behave correctly  must add this cloudy expectation to the pot. “Wait. But use a condom.”

Organizations like CASA and The Heritage Foundation have done studies that show that negative behaviors come in clumps – students that use alcohol, smoke, or hang with teens who do are more likely to become sexually active. (And vice versa.) And those sexually active teens are also more likely to report depression, suicidal attempts, or other dangerous behaviors.

Parents, we need to choose one set of expectations. And then we need to encourage our daughters to believe they can reach them. Perhaps then that 25% will start to decrease.