How a Bad Apple can change a School

Rotten Apple

Most of the stats that we include on our site, in our blogs, or in our classroom instruction refer to the general population of the US. While they are generally accurate, and I can confidently say they reflect many if not most situations, there are always exceptions. We teach at over 35 schools whose health classes vary in size from 5 (yes, 5) to 90. In almost a decade of experience, I have seen a school’s cultural attitudes about sex shift in both positive and negative ways. My experience has taught me a lot about the power of one Bad Apple.

In any given school climate, regardless of how hard teachers, parents, and administrators have worked to instill good values in their students, you occasionally run across a cluster of kids making poor decisions at a disproportionately greater rate. This can happen in both public and private schools, though ironically I find the power of a Bad Apple is more potent in the private schools, simply because they are smaller. It might look like this: at a middle school that almost always has “good” kids, where hardly anyone has actually had sex, suddenly a class comes along that misbehaves more in 6th grade, rebels more when they get to 7th grade, and by 8th grade, the principal is dealing with cases of oral chlamydia.

I don’t have time or space to dissect the sociology behind the phenomenon, but I do want to discuss what parents should consider and how they can help inoculate their child against it. First, I should say that there isn’t always just one “Bad Apple.” I use the term to refer to how an attitude or idea can slowly seep into a population and turn an otherwise positive culture into an unhealthy one. It might start with one person, but one could rarely actually pinpoint that person. So be slow to point fingers.

Parents do need to recognize, however, that the power of a bad apple makes it impossible to completely shield their child from negative influences. For example, I had a friend whose parents sent her to a Christian school, hoping for the environment to shield her from the worst of popular culture. In hindsight, however, she had a harder time making good choices than a similar friend at a public school. In the small, private school, a few bad apples had introduce and normalized oral sex among the students. My friend had been taught to follow the Christian culture of her school, so when oral sex was normalized among her supposedly Christian peers, she felt like it was okay to go along with it. In contrast, my friend at the public school had been taught not to go along with the crowd and to expect to stand out (she was also from a strong Christian family), so when her friends started engaging in oral sex, she figured it was another thing to avoid rather than follow.

The difference between the two is that my friend in the private school had not been taught to recognize and steer clear of the influence of a bad apple. When parents ignore the possibility that an otherwise positive, healthy culture can suddenly become hijacked by a bad apple, they can fail to teach their child to make good decisions despite an unhealthy culture.

What can you do? Talk to your teenager about how the poor decisions of others can influence their thinking, normalizing unhealthy behavior. Here is an example of a small high school of about 300 that suddenly faced 20 cases of Chlamydia. My guess is that a bad apple influenced the school’s cultural attitudes about sex, resulting in high rates of risky behavior. Would your teen know what to do if 20 of their friends were making unhealthy decisions? How would they respond?

The Antithesis of Fifty Shades of Grey

There is a movie coming out Valentine’s weekend that I am actually excited to see. It is NOT Fifty Shades of Grey.

Old Fashioned looks like the kind of love story that is worth seeing and sharing, unlike the other Valentine’s weekend release.

One is unashamedly lustful and dark, the other unabashedly not. Call me old fashioned, but I find it much more fulfilling to spend my time and money on reminders of the good in life.

Are the Duggars Crazy or Brilliant?

Ben Seewald, Jessa Duggar, Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, Jill Duggar and Derick Dillard
Discovery / Jim Bob Duggar, from

At a workshop for parents of middle schoolers last week, I got a question about the Duggar family’s rules on dating. The Duggars, I was told, don’t allow kissing or even hand-holding in their daughters’ relationships. (I went home and looked up the story, which you can read here.)

The parent asked, “Is that extreme, or do you really think there is a method to what they’re doing?”

Certainly, compared to the vast majority of today’s dating couples, the rules sound extreme. But to be fair to the Duggars, I thought I would share a little bit about the science that might make their methods make sense.

Physical touch is a powerful component in any relationship. Studies of infants who grow up with little or no physical affection have shown us that touch is even more complex and powerful than we could have imagined, affecting everything from the ability to heal cuts and bruises to the development of social and emotional skills. Touch has the power to evoke sexual arousal, to increase feelings of trust and attachment, and to solidify more positive memories with a person. All of these things should cause us to think carefully about who we touch, how and when.

Dr. John Van Epp, author of How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, developed a helpful diagram for understanding how to build a healthy relationship. His main idea (which we teach in all of our classes) is to get to know someone first, before you start to trust them. Trust someone before you rely on them. Test that person’s reliability before you commit to them. And make sure your level of physical intimacy is lower than your level of commitment. In the Duggar family, saving a first kiss for marriage means the level of physical touch will be much lower than their level of commitment, until the end of the marriage vows. Does that make them crazy, or brilliant?

As parents, we would do well to help our children understand the power of physical touch. Talk with your child before he or she starts dating about setting physical boundaries and why those boundaries matter. For example, how long should a couple wait to hold hands? Is it appropriate to lay in bed together watching a movie on the second date? What about on the tenth date? Should a couple ever kiss on a first date?

What are your guidelines for dating and physical intimacy?

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.

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.

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.

Wallowing in Cultural Sewage

“Sewage.” That was the word that came to mind after I spent the morning reading about and watching clips of the MTV Music Video awards, which was rated PG-14 but should have been R.  It was American culture at it’s worst, from Lady Gaga exposing her nude rear end, to Miley Cyrus’ lewd “twerking” (a word I had to look up) that even caused Will Smith and his children’s mouths to gape open.  Oh, there was one word MTV bleeped out, “Molly,” referring to a form of ecstasy.  But Miley’s simulated sexual act (I wouldn’t call that “dancing”) with the foam finger prop and up against Robin Thicke was beyond lewd and SHOULD have been censored. The New York Times described Cyrus as “molesting” Thicke.  Comedian Kevin Hart joked, “Miley better get a … pregnancy test after all of that grinding.”

With two tunes currently in ITunes’ Top 5, “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop,” Miley is a powerful pop idol, selling a powerful message to YOUR teens.  These lines from Miley’s hit song, “We Can’t Stop” display the values being sold to our kids at every turn, and are worth discussing: 

It’s our party we can do what we want
It’s our party we can say what we want
It’s our party we can love who we want
We can kiss who we want
We can sing what we want

Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere
Hands in the air like we don’t care
‘Cause we came to have so much fun now
Bet somebody here might get some now

Another one to discuss (sung that night by Robin Thicke while Miley licked his chest and rubbed his crotch, etc.) is “Blurred Lines” which many say seems to give the message that when a woman says “No,” a guy can think (in it’s catchy repeated line) “I know you want it.”

By the way, I blocked MTV in my home.  Yes, there is a place for censorship…when it involves my money, my kids, my values and my home.

PG Rated Nudity?

I was one of those strict parents that blocked MTV on our home’s cable  rather than have my girls inundated with what I considered too much raunchy and course behavior.   Those weren’t our family values.  I also used to think if I just didn’t have R movies on that was a good rule of thumb, but quickly realized I had to read the reviews even  for PG-13 movies.  At least we can trust a PG rating, right?  Now, the Parents Television Council reveals that TV shows with pixilated and blurred nudity (which doesn’t leave much to the imagination) are increasingly being rated as acceptable for children, with 70% of these shows being TV-PG rated.  Says PTC President Tim Winter, “Our findings are also alarming because if this kind of nudity continues to increase – as we believe it will – and the FCC’s proposal to essentially stop enforcing the broadcast indecency law goes into effect, then it’s certain that the networks will continue to push the limits of decency even further.”  

Teens Who Don’t Have Sex Say It’s Because…

“Among those teens who haven’t had sex, the primary reason they give for…well…not doing it is that having sex at this point in their lives is against their religion or morals, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”  This quote comes from a Washington Times op ed by Sarah Brown from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in which she discusses the difference that faith may have on the sexual choices of teens today.  She continues, “Research makes clear that religion, faith, and a strong moral sense play vital roles in protecting teens from too-early sexual activity and teen pregnancy. In particular, being connected to a religious community has been linked with a decreased risk for teen pregnancy. Moreover, a survey we released this week suggests that the majority of Americans want more from religious groups rather than less. Some 52 percent of adults and 57 percent of teens think religious leaders and groups should be doing more to help prevent teen pregnancy.”

This leads me to a suggestion.  If any of you, among my readers, belong to a faith community, Amplify Development offers our program to you and you teens. We also do parent workshops.  Although the vast majority of our speaking engagements are in a secular forum–public schools–our message has broad appeal to teens in various settings.  From our website “We work with both public and private institutions, ensuring that we teach our curricula in a manner consistent with the values of each of our partner organizations. Our program is based on current research about sexual health, bonding, and relationship formation. We are careful to teach in a sensitive manner that allows for multiple points of view while communicating the core message that abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the safest and healthiest choice.”  If you want to bring our program to your youth group or community group, give Andrea Nelson a call at 630-493-1523.