Sexting and Middle School Students

Students texting outside schoolWhile previous studies have looked at correlations between high schoolers who sext (send sexually explicit photos or comments via texting) and sexual activity, a new study looks at middle school students and finds the same correlation. Middle school students who sext are more likely to be sexually active themselves. Even though the overall percentage of middle school students who are sexually active remains small compared to older teens, those who have sent or received sexual texts are more likely to be in that category. It should also be noted that the consequences for teens who start having sex in middle school tend to be greater than for those who become sexually active later in life. They tend to have more partners in a lifetime, are more likely to contract an STD, and are more likely to eventually experience a teen pregnancy.

Amplify Youth Development tries to cover sexting in our lessons, reminding teens of the risks — emotional, social and legal. But we are not a substitute for teens hearing it from their parents! Don’t rely on your child being present (and awake!) during the one moment a teacher brings up sexting. Take the initiative to discuss sexting, no matter how awkward the conversation might be.

A note from personal experience: teens are not always aware of just how inappropriate a comment or photo might be in the eyes of other people. You can believe the best in your teen’s intentions, but they may still be susceptible to sending a text that makes you, or the recipient, blush. Explaining why a text like that is inappropriate might be one of the most painfully embarrassing moments you have with your child, but if you don’t explain it, who will? Teens are not going to learn decency from late night television or sitcoms…

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.

Teen driving: Define “under the influence”

Car keys and empty bottlesOnly 5% of teens admit to occasionally driving under the influence of alcohol. But another 9.5% of teens (1 in 10 of the teens who say they never drive under the influence) admit that they do occasionally drive after having had at least one alcoholic beverage. Confused?

These statistics (from a new study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD) remind me of far too many of my experiences with teens. Something that I feel I have made abundantly clear (“Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol!”), and which teens readily agree to (86% of teen drivers agree that driving under the influence is extremely or very distracting), somehow manages to develop a magical grey area that teens use to justify risky behavior.

Take, for example, teens’ scary definition of a designated driver. 47% of teens admit to using a designated driver (yay!) but 21% say a DD is allowed to have “a little” alcohol or other drugs and another 4% define a DD as the “most sober” person in the group (*sigh*).

Such is parenting. It seems that in the area of safe driving, we need to regroup (again) and have a couple heart-to-hearts with our kids. Let’s remind them that people of all ages always feel less impaired than they really are and the safest choice (even for those of legal drinking age) is to have a completely sober driver. And while you’re at it, discuss texting and phone use while driving too. Remind them that reading a text is just as distracting as typing a text, both count as “texting,” and neither is acceptable behind the wheel of a car.

Have any good rules or conversations for teens and driving? Share them in the comments!

Talk About Real Beauty with Your Children

In recent years, Dove has tried to create a niche for itself by promoting real beauty and self-esteem. Granted, it still sells beauty products, and what I am sharing in this post is still an ad, but it provides a helpful reminder, nonetheless. Warning — if you try to avoid images of scantily clad women, this video is not for you.

(Video from link here.)

We are all impacted by advertising, and now part of parenting is helping your children sift through advertising’s messages. It’s a tough job, but it is necessary. Here are some activities and conversations to try with your kids (boys and girls):

– Pick a time to do an “ad purge” of your house. Make a competition to see how many ads or examples of marketing your kids can find throughout the house. (If you want to de-clutter at the same time, throw away or recycle as much as you can.) Examples of what you might find: magazines, catalogs, political mailings, all forms of product packaging, coupons, in-app ads on mobile devices, TV, radio, the backs of books, and the list goes on.

– Collect several examples of health and beauty products in your house. Read the packaging, front and back, with your kids. How does it sound? Do you believe it? Is it scientific sounding or fanciful? For younger kids, ask them to write packaging for a beauty product that they invent and talk about it. For older teens, ask them how they select which products they will use.

– Pick a day to go without make-up as a family. I’ve known whole schools to make a no-make-up day, encouraging teachers and students alike to show their bare face to world. Talk about whether make-up is easy or difficult to give up.

What other ideas can you think of for encouraging your kids to see real beauty?

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.

Is Oral Sex Really the New Good Night Kiss?

I recently read a book titled, “Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss.”  I recommend it only for those who aren’t squeamish.  Teens, often teens from “good” homes, are trading sexual favors for money, or a designer bag, or even the “promise” of a relationship. Parents often have no clue (isn’t that often the case?).  The casualness with which teens are engaging in oral sex reveals they have no clue either!  They embrace the idea that oral sex isn’t really sex, and that somehow it doesn’t count because you can’t get pregnant.  And yet, research shows that oral isn’t merely a substitute for intercourse, since teens often loose their virginity close to the time they engage in oral sex, according to a report by the Center for Disease Control.

Here at Amplify, we don’t let teens get away with thinking that oral sex is no big deal.  The truth is, it has social and emotional consequences, just like intercourse.  And then there are the STDs you can get.  We’ve written here before about the STDs students are getting from oral sex. Let’s be sure, when we talk about sex with our teens, that we are including cautionary words about ALL forms of sexual activity, not just intercourse.

Heroin Use Increases Among Youth

I’ve been reading  articles in the past month about increased heroin use among youth in the Chicago suburbs.  It’s enough of a concern that I wanted to pass on information about several meetings for citizens, parents, and youth.  Below is an email, exactly as I received it from my town:

Shining Light, NFP finds the latest news about an increase in heroin use in DuPage County, especially among young people, very disturbing. So much so that the West Chicago not-for-profit organization whose mission is to empower women and families through education and outreach, has partnered with Corpus Christi Church in Carol Stream to host an informational meeting on the subject.  The meeting will be held on Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. at Corpus Christi Church, 1415 W. Lies Road, Carol Stream, Illinois. It hopes to bring people together to learn from various service providers including Alexian Brothers, Cadence Health, DG Counseling, Bartlett and Carol Stream Police Departments, Bartlett Countryside Funeral Home, DuPage County Coroner’s Office and more. Each speaker will present on the different experiences they have encountered with heroin in our communities. Attendees are encouraged to ask questions, even anonymously, and take-home resources will be provided. This meeting is open to anyone, and Shining Light, NFP encourages both youth (6th grade and up) and parents to attend.

A second meeting for Spanish speakers will be held on Sunday, January 19, 2014 at St. Mary’s Church, 147 Garden Street, West Chicago, Illinois. For more information about Shining Light, NFP or either of these informational opportunities,

Study Drug Use More Common Than We Think

Are you SURE your child has never used study drugs?  Ever?  If your answer is 100% sure, then you are pretty much like other parents.  Only 1% of those parents whose child has not been prescribed medication for ADHD believe their child has ever used a prescription amphetamine or other stimulant to get an “edge” while studying or taking tests.

The truth is that quite a bit more teens actually have used these so-called “study drugs.”  According to, a University of Michigan national poll showed that “10 percent of high school sophomores and 12 percent of high school seniors say they have used an amphetamine or other stimulant medication not prescribed by their doctor.”   But, the article says, “only 27 percent of parents polled said they have talked to their teens about using study drugs. Black parents were more likely to have discussed this issue with their teens (41 percent), compared with white (27 percent) or Hispanic (17 percent) parents.”  Knowing that these are powerful drugs that can be harmful to anyone, parents should be warning teens (and college students) not to share their ADHD drugs with others, or buy them from those who have these prescription drugs. 

Teens Who are a Suicide Risk, Even with Treatment

A PBS interview discussing teens who are depressed and at risk for attempting suicide revealed that, according to a large, recent study, “More than half of the young people who planned, thought of, or attempted to kill themselves had received at least some treatment.”  This is troublesome, when you consider that suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents.  The study discussed in the interview showed that even though symptoms of depression may improve under treatment, “even if we see these teenagers becoming better in terms of their symptoms of depression reducing, we need to continue to check in with them about whether they’re having thoughts, plans, or ideas around suicide.”  Part of the interview discusses what caring adults may be able to do, acknowledging that “teachers and parents, are often very uncomfortable with this idea of speaking with them about it….And there’s a myth in society that if you bring up the topic of suicide with teenagers, that they’re more likely to act on those impulses, when in fact we know the opposite is true, that parents, peers and teachers, when they bring up this notion with teenagers, it shows care and concern and it actually helps decrease some suicidal ideation [formation of suicidal thoughts and ideas].”

STD-related Cancers Increase

A USA Today article reporting on a new study of HPV cases included some alarming facts about this sexually transmitted disease.  HPV (human papilomavirus) is the most common STD in the world, and it can cause not just genital warts, but cancer.  While cases of cervical cancer have decreased (due to better screening), cancers of the head, neck,throat, tongue and tonsils have increased significantly.  In addition, according to the article, “More than 10% of men and 3.6% of women have a current oral HPV infection, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.”  HPV-related cancers can take decades to show up and, according to the article, “there are no early detection methods for cancers of the throat, tonsils and base of the tongue.”  When there are symptoms, “for many oral cancer patients — who tend to be in their 50s or early 60s — their first symptom is a swollen lymph node.”