Videos by teens, for teens

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.

Parents Survival Guide to 50 Shades of Grey

Dr. Grossman
Dr. Grossman speaks out about the dangers of unhealthy portrayals of sex in movies like “50 Shades of Grey.”

Miriam Grossman is a psychiatrist, author and speaker who has been speaking out about the dangers of unhealthy portrayals of sex in media. Her books are included on our list of resources for parents. I was recently made aware of a series of blog posts she is producing for parents leading up to the Valentine’s Day release of 50 Shades of Grey. You may want to check them out here!

Parenting in a Material World

Cover for the book Material World
Material World is the work of several photographers to capture the contrasts between families around the globe.

After the last blog, I started thinking about how parenting in America today means parenting amidst an onslaught of materialism. Not only do we fight our own temptations (I have to own a house that looks just so), we have the task of teaching children to become aware of something that they have been swimming in since birth. How do you teach a fish to be aware of water?

I certainly don’t have all the answers. In fact, as a parent myself, I’m often hoping that the things I try will work at least a little bit. But I read, I research, I look for what works for others and I think about what has worked for me. Here are a few of my ways to try to combat the materialism around us:

  • Manage the amount of advertising coming into the house. One option is to reduce junk mail, catalogues, credit card offers, and other ads being mailed to you. The Federal Trade Commission highlights three websites that can help you do just that.
  • Encourage generosity. Make it a point to model generosity, whether that’s donating a bit to the Salvation Army bell-ringers at Christmas, or working with your children to pick a charity and sending them a donation.
  • Educate your family about social causes. Pick one or two books or other resources to use as a family. Some of my favorites are Everyday Justice and Material World: A Global Family Portrait.
  • Reduce overall media consumption. While I love being entertained as much as the next family, it is undeniable that almost all forms of media come with strings attached. Try an experiment with your family to replace some of your entertainment time with a creative or recreational hobby – a sport, craft, board or card game.
  • Teach financial literacy. There are a host of resources online that can be used to educate kids about better ways to use their money. Investopedia has a series for kids, tweens and teens. Here is a link to a nice lesson for kids on the difference between needs and wants. And for adults, I strongly recommend this book that has a little something for everyone. Understanding how to use money as a tool may help a family avoid being driven by the need for more and more stuff.

What works for you? Especially as we approach the holidays, how do you parent in a material world?

I just found out my daughter is pregnant!

This week, we are continuing our series on facing tough parenting challenges. What happens when you find out that your teenage daughter is pregnant?

Positive pregnancy test
Pregnant by Janine is licensed by CC BY 2.0.

Many emotional reactions would be totally normal and very justified: shock, disappointment, anger. Keep in mind, though, that the person who is probably most shocked (and maybe even disappointed and angry) is your daughter. (And if you are thinking that “she knew what she was doing and what the risks were,” that may not be the case. Research on the teen brain gives her at least a small reason to feel shocked.)

Calm down. Count to ten…slowly…before saying anything that you may regret. If she came out and told you directly, and you need to respond, try “Thank you for telling me. That must have been hard for you.” If she told you in writing, or you found out some other way when she is not around, use that breathing room to your advantage. If she told you directly and you have already reacted in a way that you now regret, it is never too late for an apology and to ask for a “do-over.” My guess is that both of you will have a lot to work through in the coming weeks and months, and there will likely be a lot to forgive on both sides.

Facing an unplanned pregnancy, particularly when someone is young and unmarried, is (for most of us at least) terrifying. Your daughter needs you now more than ever. And while everything in you might be aching to point out how irresponsible and stupid her decisions were, she’s been saying that to herself ever since she read that positive pregnancy test. There will be time for reflection later — for the “what have we learned from this” discussion and the “what does this make you want to do differently” discussion. Right now, getting to have those discussions will depend on your response and support during the crisis stage. Try some of these approaches:

  • Ask who else knows. Give her space to share what has happened up to this point of telling you.
  • Ask about the father. Who is he? Does he know? If he does, what was his reaction? Do his parents know? Gather as much information as you can. Try not criminalize the father, as this could cause a deep rift between you and your daughter.
  • Ask what her thoughts about the future are. What are her plans now that she has discovered that she is pregnant? Try not to interject your own thoughts about what she should do.
  • Ask what she needs or wants most right now: information, help with researching her options, a doctor’s appointment.
  • Love her. If parental love is truly unconditional, it should overflow even now, regardless of her actions. Loving her right now is not “rewarding bad behavior.” And by love her, I mean show it. Take her out for ice cream, just to say “You’re still my daughter and I love you.”
  • If (when) you need to vent, pick a safe friend who can keep a confidence and talk over your feelings. Avoid speaking to people who have a close relationship with your daughter unless your daughter is okay with it. While you have every right to need to discuss what you are going through, it is best to avoid overly exposing your daughter.

As you process your new reality, your daughter may find it beneficial to talk to a professional. Avenue Women’s Center is a local organization with experience in non-judgmental counseling for pregnant teens (and they offer services for parents, too). It is also important that your daughter see a doctor. After all, she is a growing child herself! The doctor will give your daughter a full examination and give much needed instruction about nutrition and prenatal care.

Your daughter’s life as well as your own is about to change. In several months, you may hold a grandchild in your arms. While your family may no longer look the way you imagined, start imagining your new family. Where do you want to be in a year, or five? How can you support your daughter in order to get there?

My Daughter’s Friend Had an Abortion

While many of the topics discussed on this blog are more theoretical in nature — focusing on research studies and circumstances we as parents would like to prevent — sometimes we face very personal parenting challenges. Over the next few weeks, we’d like to address some of the tough situations that parents face, or that they may need to help their children face.

As a parent of a teen, it is likely that even if your own child dodges the worst case scenarios, his or her friends won’t all be so lucky. And if they have been lucky and safe so far, statistically, it is only a matter of time before your child will know someone who has gotten pregnant, or had an abortion, or been abused, or tried drugs, or, or, or. So this week, let’s consider what happens if your child’s friend has an abortion, and either the friend feels safe telling you directly or your child comes to you for advice on how to help her friend.

While the moral and political beliefs surrounding abortion vary widely, it is fairly safe to say that no one plans on having an abortion. The young woman who has experienced an abortion has gone through a crisis in her life — a sudden change in plans that for many people elicits surprising emotional responses. It is likely that you or your child, upon hearing about the abortion, may also experience an emotional response that you did not expect, particularly if someone in your family has strong convictions about abortion or has personally experienced an abortion. I would caution you to deal with these emotions separately from helping your child’s friend. Then, when you or your child are in a position to reach out to the young woman who had an abortion, keep the following in mind:

First, it is important to understand what emotions a teenager might be experiencing after having an abortion. Many teens can experience conflicting, confusing, and painful emotions during this time. She may feel relief: relief that the crisis is over and she can move on without any big changes to her lifestyle. Sadly, the relief she feels can be short-lived and can turn into many other emotions such as denial, depression, and anger.

Denial can come in the form of refusing to believe the pregnancy and abortion even happened. This is one way her mind can try to block out the painful experience. After the denial passes, depression or regret can cause her to feel sad and have crying episodes. Many post-abortive teens have found it difficult to be around pregnant women and babies because it acts as a reminder of the baby she aborted.  Alongside depression can surface anger. Anger can occur when she feels upset at herself for going through with the abortion, even if it was her choice all along. Also, she may feel anger towards the baby’s father and others who may have encouraged her to abort, or who didn’t provide her with the support she wanted during the pregnancy. With all of these feelings surfacing, it may be compounded by the fact that she feels very alone. She may feel (justifiably) uneasy talking to others because they may judge her or openly tell others about it.

Restore After AbortionWhat can you (or your child) do to help? You can offer her emotional support so she knows there are people who care about her. Be understanding and tell her you will be there for her while she is working through all the emotions. Tell her it is common to experience these emotions and give her hope it will get better.  Also, it is important to direct her to post-abortion support services. Locally, Avenue Women’s Center offers a program called Restore, which offers a safe, confidential, and nonjudgmental environment for teenagers to talk to professional staff and other post-abortive teenagers about their abortion experiences. This can reassure her she is not alone and help her get to the point of acceptance and healing in her life.


Using Movies to Talk to Teens

OReel of Filmne of my favorite summer activities was (and still is) watching movies. Whether it is catching up on older movies no longer in theaters or splurging on seeing the latest blockbuster (and enjoying the theater’s air conditioning), summers and movies go together like macaroni and cheese. Since we at Amplify are always looking for ways to help you in the daunting task of raising teens, I’d like to share with you a great way to use movies this summer to have meaningful conversations with your children.

Amplify Youth Development has created a free e-course called “Using Movies to Talk to Teens.” If you sign up, you will receive two emails a week for the next five weeks. One email discusses strategies for how to effectively use movies to address difficult topics with your teen. The second email each week discusses a specific film and which topics could be addressed with your child during or after viewing the film together. The movies included are all available to rent or from your local library and cover topics such as bullying, pregnancy, dating and marriage, and internet safety.

You can learn more or sign up here. There is no cost for this e-course! Comment below if you have any questions or to share your experiences with the movies.

Family Meals with Teens

I’ve seen plenty of articles and blogs about family meals, their importance, and how to do them, but almost all of those articles focus on families with younger children. How do you keep up (or start) the tradition with teenagers? Here are some ideas for family dinners with teens. If you have more, please share them in the comments section!

Be Portable

Teens often have plenty of after-school activities. Find ways that you can bring the family along to share a meal and a little quality time on-the-go, such as:

  • Sandwiches, grapes, and carrot sticks shared picnic-style out of the trunk of your car before a game or between activities.
  • A crock-pot of chili brought along and eaten out of mini bags of Fritos — or just a bowl for a healthier option.
  • A full-scale tailgate during an extra-long day (my regional track meet comes to mind…).

Think Past Dinner

Fresh blueberries and granola
If it is too hard to gather the family at dinner time, try breakfast.

Breakfast, lunch, and snacks all provide opportunities to share a meal together. If family dinner isn’t possible due to work schedules, maybe breakfast would work better? Pancakes on the weekends, eggs and toast, making ahead and freezing waffles (no need to buy the ones from the store, though I do enjoy the blueberry ones from Trader Joe’s) — all provide an opportunity to sit down together around a meal. Many high schools now have occasional late-start days that provide an opportunity for an extended breakfast. If you can adjust your work schedule with advanced notice, try scheduling family time for those mornings!

Let the Kids Cook

You’ve made it past the years of utter dependence, so make the kids start pitching in! Teens will feel empowered if they can master one or two recipes as their “specialty.” Give them a night to be in charge and let them make dinner happen. Simple meal ideas that will (hopefully) not burn the house down include:

  • Pita bread/bagel/or English muffin pizzas
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Tacos (assuming you trust them to chop toppings without hurting themselves)
  • Pasta and sauce — and for the advanced chef, adding sausage or meatballs

Invite Friends

Pick a meal that is extra special for your family or your son or daughter, and let your children invite their friends to join in. One of my friends spent a few years in England with her family, so they invited me over to share a traditional English dinner with them. Another friend’s Italian family made a big deal out of Polenta night (or should I say, Polenta all-day-affair) and invited several of us to come over and experience it. As children get older, they are becoming more aware of other cultures and traditions besides their own. This awareness might be your open door for meeting your children’s friends.

Dress it Up

My mom has a thing for fancy dishes, so when she told me to invite my friends over for lunch one day, they arrived to a table decked out with our nicest china. They thought it was “so cool” of my mom to go to that trouble — even the boys! I think that as teens, it felt really good to be treated with that kind of respect and thoughtfulness. Dressing up or using nice things tends to put people on their best behavior and lends significance to even simple meals. Use that to your advantage!


Popular Speaker on Teen Issues Coming to DuPage

In the decade plus that Amplify has been speaking to teens, the sexualization of teens, especially girls, has been escalating at an alarming rate.  So Sexy So Soon author, Jean Kilbourne, has been named by The New York Times Magazine as one of the three most popular speakers on college campuses.  And now, parents have an opportunity to hear her speak in DuPage County next month. She will be at Glenbard West on April 15 for a free presentation (information HERE).  Her topic will be “Deadly Persuasion: The Impact of Media on our Sons and Daughters.”  She is also speaking ($10) at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove at 7 p.m. April 16, where she will be focusing on “How Being So Sexy, So Soon Can Impact our Girls.”  Register for that presentation HERE.

Going to Bed Late Linked to Poorer Outcomes Years Later

It’s a constant battle for some of us to get our kids to go to bed at a decent hour.  What is “decent” is actually not too hard to figure out due to recent research by UC Berkeley.  An article discussing the research reported that “teens who went to bed later than 11:30 p.m. on school nights and 1:30 a.m. in the summer had lower GPAs than teens who got to bed earlier. They were also more susceptible to emotional problems.”  This was not a short term problem, that sleeping in on weekends solves.  The research showed an association with poor educational and emotional outcomes an entire 6 to 8 years later!  What can we do as parents?  One thing my husband and I did was put our router in our bedroom, with a timer on it so that the internet turned off at 11:00.  With cell phones now offering 24/7 access to the internet, it’s important to cut off phone access at night as well.  We are host parents for international students, and the private school they attend requires us to have the students park their phones outside their rooms overnight.  We use a table in the hall outside our bedroom.  Parents…do you have any ideas to share?  We welcome your comments.

Safer Driving With Phone Apps

My girls are now 23 and 25, and I do worry about distracted driving, but they are not under my roof anymore.  Not so for you, dear reader!  There are apps out there that can warn your teen when they are going too fast and that can email you an alert when a maximum speed (which you set) is reached.  With rising deaths and injuries due to texting while on the road, you might consider an app that causes the ability to text to be lost when a preset speed is reached.  I even read about one that many parents might find tempting…you enter in an address (such as girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s house?) and get an alert when your teen is within a 1-mile radius.  If hanging out after school is off limits because no parents will be home, that might be handy if your teen tends to push the limits.  If all this seems a little too intrusive (Who me?  Snoop?), an article about such apps suggests openness with your teen about your intention to use such methods to monitor and protect your teen.