In a period of four years, emergency room visits tied to energy drinks doubled, with teens and young adults accounting for more than half of the visits, CBS reported this month. According to the article, one drink might contain the caffeine equivalent of 5 cups of coffee, so it’s no wonder that emergency room physicians are seeing “a clear uptick in the number of patients suffering from irregular heartbeats, anxiety and heart attacks who said they had recently downed an energy drink.” Two senators are calling for the FDA to study the issue, after reports of energy drinks leading to “insomnia, nervousness, headache, fast heartbeat and seizures….” The top three energy drink brands (in case you aren’t aware of what your child could be consuming) are Red Bull, Monster, and Rock Star.
When we release our teens at some point as newly independent drivers, do we just hope for the best? Do we figure that we made it all right, and they will too? I can still recall the day that one of my daughter’s high school friends was killed in a car accident. In some real ways, my daughter’s life was divided into “before” and “after.” And yet…does she know what driving behaviors are risky? I know I’ve talked about texting recently, as well as speeding. As parents, we have the ability to “nag” to the point we get tuned out. But we still have our kids’ ears as long as they are driving a car we paid for, so let’s look them in the eye, and say it again:
No putting on makeup
No driving under the influence of ANYTHING…
And, according to a study done by AAA, that “anything” means even the influence of the presence of other teens. The study showed that fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers showed these increased risks when teens had other teens in the car.
- The prevalence of speeding increased from 30 percent to 44 percent and 48 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.
- The prevalence of late-night driving (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.) increased from 17 percent to 22 percent and 28 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.
- The prevalence of alcohol use increased from 13 percent to 17 percent and 18 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.
Students tend to think they’re good at doing multiple things at the same time. Truth be told, some of us adults are also deluded into thinking we are great at multitasking as well! But a study from the National Academy of Sciences showed that multitaskers understand less of what they’re doing, and the next day they aren’t able to remember what they learned while multitasking. The article by Commonsense Media discussing this research helps parents determine if their children are being negatively affected by multitasking, and provides tips for managing multitasking among kids of all ages. Commonsense Media’s article suggests that parents:
- Encourage your kids to read more. Reading helps strengthen the brain’s ability to focus. The more people read, the better they become at reflection and analysis.
- Start good habits early. Establish boundaries when your kids are young. No TV, Facebook, YouTube, IM, texting or other digital distractions during homework.
- Model what you preach. This means no checking your phone while asking your kids how their days were.
- Keep distractions to a minimum. Try to help your kids do one thing at a time. Granted, this is easier with younger kids. Consider putting the TV and computer in separate rooms. For older kids, make sure social networks and chatting happen after homework is completed — or at timed intervals.
- Pay attention and connect the dots. If you see your kids’ grades slipping, make the connection between listening to a favorite band and doing algebra homework. If your children begin handing in work late or if they are staying up too late to complete homework, consider turning off the Internet, the cell phone, and the TV, and see if the situation reverses itself. The grades will tell if multitasking is taking its toll.
A 2012 McAfee study showed that 70% of teens admit to hiding their online behavior from parents, compared to just 45% two years earlier. Meanwhile, almost 3/4 of parents (dare I say naive parents) say they trust their children not to access inappropriate content. With the consequences including emotional harm and dangerous and even illegal activities, it’s time we put the necessary effort into becoming tech savvy. So let’s allow the teens to tell us how they’re hiding what they’re doing (from McAfee.com):
- Clearing the browser history (53%)
- Close/minimize browser when parent walked in (46%)
- Hide or delete IMs or videos (34%)
- Lie or omit details about online activities (23%)
- Use a computer your parents don’t check (23%)
- Use an internet-enabled mobile device (21%)
- Use privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%)
- Use private browsing modes (20%)
- Create private email address unknown to parents (15%)
- Create duplicate/fake social network profiles (9%)
Surely not HERE? That’s what suburban Chicago parents think when they hear the word “heroin.” But according to Jack Riley, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, there has been an alarming spread of teen use of heroin in our area. An article in the Chicago Tribune in July reported Riley’s observation that “heroin has become cheaper and more potent in the last four or five years,” stating that a hit can cost as little as $10.
An earlier Tribune article last March on the surburban heroin problem included the shocking news that “Among Naperville teens, there was a 78 percent increase in felony drug arrests in 2011 over the previous year and a 450 percent increase in heroin arrests during that time.” But it’s not just Naperville facing this problem, it’s all DuPage towns along I88, sadly termed “Heroin Highway” because it serves as a route for the drugs which come from Chicago’s west side.
Naperville parent Amy Miller, who lost her daughter to heroin last Winter, advised parents (see Article HERE): “If you are suspecting they are using drugs, do everything in your means, don’t be embarrassed like we were,” she said. “Don’t try to handle your problems by yourself. Do everything you can, contact everyone you can.” The article has information on how to recognize the signs of heroin use, and also recommends, “Parents should snoop around and go into their kid’s rooms, check their phones, check their car, if possible get their Facebook password, said Pam Witt, a district 204 social worker.”
With Chicago the “heroin capital of the world” according to authorities, parents need to be ever vigilant about keeping an eye on what their teens are doing, and with whom they hang out. Their lives may depend on it.
This very serious topic came to the fore on two recent occasions. First, a pastor friend of mine included in his blog these statistics:
- The average child molester will molest fifty girls before being caught and convicted.
- A child molester that seeks out boys will molest 150 boys before being caught and convicted and he will commit at least 280 sexual crimes in his lifetime.
- The standard pedophile will commit 117 sexual crimes in their lifetime.
- Most sexual abuse happens between the ages of 7 and 13.
- There are over 491,720 registered sex offenders in the United States.
- 80,000 to 100,000 of the above offenders are missing.
- Molesters known by the family or victim are the most common abusers. The Acquaintance Molester accounts for 70-90% of reported cases.
Sadly, that last statistic points to a real problem: family or acquaintance abuse. One day, a young lady came up to one of our educators after class, and asked what to do if her father was making her have sex with him. This is not the first time that our visit to a classroom has led a teen to reveal that a trusted family friend or relative was sexually abusing a child. As sometimes happens, this teen had told another family member, but the response was insufficient, and she did not feel protected from the perpetrator.
Sometimes, the news is so shocking that a young lady (or young man) might even be met with suspicion and disbelief. This should never be. Let you sons and daughters know that they may hear about, or know someone who is facing molestation, and the information should NOT stay hidden, but that a trusted adult should be told. More than that, if a teen is not believed, he or she should find another adult who WILL believe them. We owe it to our children to be that trusted person who will fiercely protect their right to a safe environment. And our teens need to hear from us that we are willing to be that person in their life, and even in the lives of their friends.
I call still recall my disbelief when a dad at a parent presentation told me he had not yet met his 13-year-old son’s girlfriend of 3 months. I urged him to get to know this young lady pronto (and wanted to tell him that I thought dating in middle school at all was a bad idea). It seems that I could have also added, “and get to know her social network as well.”
A recent study showed that the friends of a teen’s significant other are more influential with regard to alcohol use that the teen’s own friends or boyfriend/girlfriend. My mind flashed back to the point at which I began to get drunk at parties in high school. It was when I was with my new boyfriend and his friends. When that boyfriend exited the picture (replaced by one who was not a drinker), my drunken episodes ceased. Similarly, when another date used pot, I did as well. Parents, it’s not enough to know your teen’s date; you need to know about their friend-group as well. Asking questions (“So have you made new friends now that you’re dating Alexa? Tell me about them….”) is a good start.
An April 5 press release (quoted below) from the National Abstinence Education Association tells us that there is encouraging news for those who believe that abstinence is a viable choice for teens.
A report released today from the CDC indicates that teen birth rates have decreased by 37 percent in the past two decades. This heartening statistic begs a closer look at the trends that have aided this decrease. Most noticeably, this encouraging statistic has been the result of a surprising trend among teens that, according to another recent CDC data report, they are choosing not to have sex. 2006-2008 survey results from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that 68% of boys and 67% of girls (ages 15-17) have not have sexual intercourse and that overall sexual contact trends are also moving in the right direction. 53% of boys and 58% of girls report never having had oral, anal, or vaginal sex with anyone.
“While these statistics certainly do not mean that teen sexual activity is not an issue of concern, they do compel us to examine what is working and what is causing teens to reject the ‘everybody’s doing it” myth promulgated in the media,” stated Valerie Huber, Executive Director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). Huber continued, “While some argue that teens simply need access to more birth control and devices, perhaps a closer look would show us that they need more support for the good decisions they are making to abstain. Current public policy has failed to recognize and support the positive behavioral trends among teens by failing to provide resources for comprehensive risk avoidance sex education.”
The report further indicates that contraceptive use is lowest and teen birth rates are highest among Hispanic and Black teen populations. For decades sex education for these populations has been primarily a contraceptive-centered approach. “Perhaps it is time to start believing that all teens can be empowered with the skills to resist early sexual activity. Let’s capitalize on what is working and increase the positive direction of teen sexual health”, said Huber.
Part of the story I tell teens in the classroom is that I experienced dating violence in my relationship with my “first love.” Luckily, I recognized that physical aggression was a deal-breaker, and I broke the relationship off.
According to one study, about 12 percent of teens reported being hurt by a teen they were dating, and 9 percent say they were forced to have sex. The thing that stood out most to me in the article, is that more than half of parents have not talked to their teens about this issue. I am actually encouraged that almost half have, of course, but think it’s a good idea to urge ALL parents to include this topic in their conversational “to do” list. Besides talking to our kids, another bit of advice is to “encourage teens to double date to help prevent violence from occurring,” and “know a date’s plans for the evening and the expected return time.”
Our Amplify educators often ask students what exactly they think we’re talking about when we talk about sex. Often, there is debate. You see, teens typically don’t think that oral sex “counts.” A 2007 survey of college students indicated that while 98% consider vaginal intercourse to be sex, only 20% believe the same about oral-genital contact. In 1991, about twice as many people believed oral sex was indeed “having sex.” Of course, our generation remembers President Clinton’s 1998 “I did not have sex with that woman” testimony, so it’s not just teens who have trouble with this concept!
So, is this just semantics? The study concluded that students’ perceptions “may leave them unmindful of its potential health risks.” It suggested that “Sex education programs, which generally focus on penile-vaginal contact, could help STD prevention efforts by explaining the risks associated with oral-genital stimulation….” Since oral sex can spread a majority of the most common STDs (HPV, herpes, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV to name a few), Amplify makes sure that young people understand these very real risks. Knowing these facts, you, as a parent, can emphasize that abstinence is the healthiest choice if they want to avoid ALL kinds of risky sexual behaviors…oral sex included.
Can’t imagine bringing up oral sex with your teen? If they are older than 13, they probably already know about it. How about something like this? “Gosh, I just read this disturbing article about something risky that teens are doing, and they have no idea what they’re getting into. You know how we’ve talked about sex before…well I hope you understand that even the ‘base’ that comes before ‘home’ put teens at risk for STDs.” Chances are they’ll know what you’re talking about, without the actually having to say “Oral Sex.” You could be slightly bolder and simply say: “I know you wouldn’t do this, but I hope your friends know that mouths spread STDs too….” Of course, if you are the fearless type, you can just jump right in and say it, and when they look squeamish you can say…”What?!….It’s important, so let’s just get over the fact that I said it, OK?”