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.

Have you talked to your children about e-cigarettes?

Just recently I was at a party at a friend’s house when one of the guests pulled out an e-cigarette and started “vaping” while chatting with other guests in the kitchen. I have become so accustomed to living in a smoke-free environment that I was thrown off by this guest’s nonchalant behavior as he puffed away indoors. It was my first real encounter with e-cigs, which produce a nicotine-laced vapor rather than traditional smoke.

If you are not familiar with e-cigs, this article gives some helpful background information. Some of the important points include the fact that the health consequences of e-cigs are largely unknown. While some of the tar and other substances associated with tobacco are not produced by e-cigs, there do seem to be links between the nicotine itself and some cancers.

Another recent article reveals trends more concerning for parents: because e-cigs are classified differently than tobacco products, many of the regulations that exist for tobacco products do not apply to e-cigs, including regulations about advertising. This means that many teens who would not see advertisements for cigarettes are nevertheless exposed to advertising for e-cigs. It is very possible that your teen knows more about the new trend than you do!

If you haven’t already, initiate a conversation with your children about e-cigarettes. Find out what they already know and if any of their friends have tried vaping (using e-cigs). Ask if your child thinks e-cigarettes are as harmful as regular cigarettes and inform your children of their risks. Do you know where e-cigs are sold in your community? Have you seen advertisements for them? Stay informed and make sure your children know that you are aware of the trend. Communicate your expectations to your children about how you want them to handle e-cigs.

By Andrea Nelson Google

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!


Questions Teens Have About Sex

Perusing the internet for ideas for this blog, I could’t help but notice how MUCH interest teens have in sex.  Not like it’s a surprise or anything…but they certainly are curious!  So, parents, who’s going to fill them in?  Their peers are certainly giving advice, much of which you wouldn’t agree with.  TV shows aimed at teens tell them what’s “supposed” to be normal…often not messages you’d like your teen to absorb.  Or they may look online, and that would open up a whole world of mostly bad ideas.  SO…how about YOU giving them some answers?  You could wait forever for your teen to approach you.  So be proactive.  As always, look for opportunities, and be prepared by thinking through how you want to address questions you teen might have about sex and dating.  Here are some questions teens have, according to National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:

  • How do I know if I’m in love?
  • Will sex bring me closer to my girlfriend/boyfriend?
  • How will I know when I’m ready to have sex?
  • Should I wait until marriage?
  • Will having sex make me popular?
  • Will it make me more grown-up and open up more adult activities to me?
  • How do I tell my boyfriend that I don’t want to have sex without losing him or hurting his feelings?
  • How do I manage pressure from my girlfriend to have sex?

It wouldn’t be too hard to think of a LOT more questions teens have, but this is a good start.  Remember, expressing a strong expectation that your teen will wait to have sex, makes it more likely that he or she will!  But helping teens think through the reasons WHY waiting is healthier is the best way to make your advice hit home.

Helping Teens When They Fail

I just drove two teens to their third ACT test.  They are on a quest to eek out a few more points in hopes of getting into the best schools.  I remember taking the test just once, and not worrying much about it.  Today’s teens seem to fear failure more than previous generations.  And who can blame them?  Failure, in the teen world, can be associated with being a “loser” or being “stupid.”  John Eliastam writes in that two trends make it especially hard for teens to deal with failure (which, after all, is inevitable).  First, “Teenagers are especially prone to the instant gratification mentality and this can tempt them to give up if success doesn’t come quickly and easily. ” Second, parents can add unbearably high expectations.  Says Eliastam, “From preschool, children are pushed to achieve, with competitive parents standing on the sidelines keeping score. This makes failure an almost impossible burden for a child to bear.”  His article gives many suggestions under 5 categories for how a parent can be a “life coach” who helps his or her teen learn how to handle failure, learn from it, and persevere:

  • Getting Perspective
  • Developing Persistence
  • Learning Patience
  • Redefining Success
  • Avoiding the Comparison Trap

I’m Free to Do What I WANT! You can’t stop me.

It’s true.  If a teen wants to do something foolish or dangerous, we can’t physically tie them down.  But we don’t have to participate.  Teens need to believe that you take lying and dishonesty, and breaking moral boundaries (whatever those are in your family), VERY seriously.  One father I know would not allow his 15-year-old daughter to stay overnight with her boyfriend, have sex openly, and still be a fully included part of the family.  He, with the support of his wife, and with great sorrow, said she had a choice.  He couldn’t stop her from going to live with her boyfriend as she threatened (why his mother unaccountably allowed this is a mystery to me).  But if she did, she couldn’t come home when she felt like it and enjoy all the benefits of full harmony, support, and participation in family life.  He wouldn’t support or condone her choice.  Because he loved her.  
This young lady was free to foolishly rebel, but not free to enjoy the day-to-day closeness of her loving family.  It was the approaching holidays and missing her family that woke her up to the consequences of her “free” choice.   She came home, broke it off with her boyfriend, and made a complete change in her life.  Four years down the road, the family has complete trust in this once wayward, rebellious daughter.
This “tough love” approach won’t always bring results like this, but the alternative to putting down our foot can be chaos in the home, damage to other siblings, and a child who learns that boundaries can be crossed at will.  For more on the tough love option, read the article (CLICK HERE) “What Tough Love Is, and What It Isn’t.”

I Can’t Trust My Child Anymore

I never thought I’d find myself quoting Lady Gaga, but I like this (edited for decency) saying:  “Trust is like a mirror:  You can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that reflection.”  I know what she means.  Once our child loses our trust, it’s VERY hard to get it back.  In a real way, the person I thought my son or daughter was, is no more.  My image of my happy family has perhaps even been shattered.  The betrayal (even when forgiveness has been asked and given) can color our every upcoming interaction with our child.  Do I really know her?  Is he telling the truth…today?  Or lying again?  I’ve even wondered (maybe you’ve been there too)…will this cloud ever lift?

Our children will let us down.  They will deeply disappoint us. They are our greatest joy, and the cause of our greatest pain.  But their future is not written yet.  They need us to believe they can change…and to give them the hope that they can and will be restored in their relationship with us.  But they have a job to do too…and it’s to work hard at regaining our trust.  I found a great article that answers a teen’s question “I Lost My Parent’s Trust. How Can I Get it Back?”  If your teen is frustrated because things aren’t “back to normal,” this can help them understand what they need to do…and why it takes time.  Talking over the article could help the healing, and set the family on the path back to trusting them again.

Girls Aren’t the Only Ones Who Feel Pressure to Have Sex

One activity I do in classrooms reveals that teens THINK that guys always want the level of physical intimacy in a relationship to go “all the way.”  But I’ve also had boys reveal their real thoughts privately…and they’re much less cavalier in their attitudes about sex than everyone seems to think.  Indeed, I found a fascinating study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy that talks about what boys think about sex and relationships.  I’ll be sharing findings in future blogs, but for starters, take a look at this advice from the report:  “Girls aren’t the only ones who feel pressure.  Reassure your son that he does not have to have sex. Nearly 8 out of 10 guys say there is way too much pressure on them to have sex—from society, from their friends, and from girls. More than half say they are relieved when a girl doesn’t want to have sex and 45% say they’ve had sex and regretted it afterwards. One in five (21%) say they have been pressured by a girl to go farther sexually than they wanted to. Boys can say ‘no’ too—even if they’ve said ‘yes’ before.”

Pills Don’t Erase Consequences

You may have already heard that the FDA just approved the “morning after” (Plan B) pill for over-the-counter purchase by teens as young as 15.  Those who believe young people can have sex without consequences are applauding this decision.  But those who care about the health and emotional well-being of teens are concerned.  There is a good argument that this is just one more message we send teens that we expect them to be sexually active, and that nothing will happen if they are.

As an educator, teaching teens about how to have healthy relationships (the healthiest choice being abstinence) I have had to keep up-to-date on condoms, pills, abortion, etc. as the “alternative” practices.  Yes, this drug can stop a pregnancy from continuing, but it’s not 100% effective. In fact, ads for the drug admit 1 out of 8 women WILL get pregnant despite taking Plan B.   No pill on the market does anything to protect teens from the epidemic of STDs they face if they are sexually active.  The CDC reports that half of all next STD infections occur among young people.  Indeed, Jeanne Monahan of the Family Research Council commented that “Additionally… a study released in 2010 revealed that adolescent use of Plan B was correlated with an increase in unplanned pregnancies and a high STD rate.”

And of course, no “protection” offered by condoms or pills does anything to protect the human heart.  The powerful bonding chemicals produced through sexual activity affect teens emotionally in lasting ways…something ignored when our culture merely tries to erase the consequences of teen sexual activity by encouraging teens to just pop pills.

The Messy Room

I am visiting a relative right now, and was surprised to see my nephew’s messy room through an open door.  My nephew is an outstanding guy in every way.   And yet…that ROOM!  It brought back memories of my own daughters’ rooms, which looked the same in their adolescent years…in between times when their dad and I went to war with them over their messiness.  So what’s going on with this?    I found an excellent article from Psychology Today, describing the phenomenon first, and giving wise advice next.  Says psychologist Carl Pickhardt “Usually beginning in early adolescence (years 9 – 13) as a function of personal disorganization brought on by more growth change than the young person can easily manage, this state of internal confusion and external disarray quickly attracts parental attention. So to begin with, parents need to understand that early adolescents are honorably disorganized. Their life in childhood has begun to fall apart…. And they don’t know where they grow from here.”

After helping the parent understand how adolescent internal chaos leads to external disorganization, I expected Dr. Pickhardt to advise just closing the door and letting your son or daughter be.  But NO.  He recognizes that the messy room can become an environment that is hard for the teen brain to work in, or (more critically) a battleground for a power struggle.  If so, it may be unwise to relinquish what he calls “a supervisory role” for the parent.  He advises: “Remember,if your child knows you will keep after the small responsibilities, like cleaning up a messy room, he or she also knows this shows you will be keeping after big stuff like obedience to major rules. So cleaning up the messy room is in fact an issue to keep fighting for.”

He even goes on to give specific answers to these objections: “Just close the door and keep out and the mess won’t bother you,” and “This is my room and you can’t come in without my permission.”  Read HERE for suggested responses and more ideas from Dr. Pickhardt.