Who Has Your Back? And Standing Up For Yourself

As children grow up, each year brings new opportunities for independence, more freedom, more responsibilities and unfortunately potentially more risks. Our job is to help them make good decisions as they become more independent. Of course, we want to protect them from all harm. First, we can not possibly do that but we can help guide them in their decision making skills. This blog will address two specific skills.

The first skill relates to the company you keep, the buddy system, having an ally. Beginning in preschool, kids are taught “not to go-it alone”. We line them up in pairs, we make sure they go to the bathroom with a friend, etc. A colleague and mother of three expresses this skill in a way that I hope will resonate with you as “what a great concept”!

Oftentimes, when I am confronted with the all too frequent questions by my tweeners: Can I go?…. usually it is about a camp, a trip with a friend, or another excursion. If I feel they will be navigating unknown waters (like a first-camp experience…) I will ask… “Who Has Your Back”?

What that means, by my sense and theirs, is… Who will watch out for you? What friend will stick up for you above all else? If you are bullied or made fun of, which friend will step up to take your side?

If the list is limited, we will oftentimes dissect the names, and then consider the excursion, and then make the decision. Oftentimes, they end up making their own decision on whether to attend/not attend on their own.

Fast forward about 7 or 8 years: And the situation becomes one with higher stakes… like getting in a car with a driver that has been drinking; or saying no to drugs/alcohol… what friend will stick up for you when you say… “No thanks?” Then, who “really”… has your back?

The second skill is “finding your words” to stand up for yourself! Many times kids can’t stand up for themselves because they “don’t know what to say”. In my puberty DVD series, A Time To Talk, I define sexual harassment and sexual assault (and tell the children this includes bullying), and then tell them what to do if it happens to them. The first is to tell the person to Stop and the second is to tell an adult. If the first adult doesn’t help, keep telling adults until someone makes it stop.

If parents are pro-active and help their children “find their words” ahead of time – before something happens – in the unfortunate event that something does happen, the child will know what to say if they have practiced saying those words with someone they trust. These two tips will help arm kids with coping skills for difficult situations.

Sexting & Cell Phones – What’s Going On?

O.K. What’s the deal with cell phones….a blessing or a curse? Obviously, both!

We said the same thing about T.V….portable phones…computers…cell phones the size of a brick…the internet…and now cell phones that incorporate it all – cameras, texting, and internet!! One thing is certain…they aren’t going away any time soon and when they do, something smaller and more “hip” will replace them.

So what is “Sexting” and why is it so bad? Opinions range from it’s not a problem to arrests, felony charges, convictions and listings of tweens and young adults as sex offenders. Regardless, of where you fall on that scale, the fact is that if you have an adolescent child with a cell phone there are potentially serious legal consequences for “misuse”. Worse than that, there is the potential for these consequences to follow your child for life!

What are your options?

OPTION 1: Give your child a cell phone with all the bells and whistles, tell him/her your
rules and expect them to use the phone responsibly!

Naïve! Would you give your child a loaded gun to carry around and just
expect that he or she would behave responsibility?

OPTION 2: Absolutely, no way will my child have a cell phone. Period, end of the
paragraph!

OPTION 3: Give your child a cell phone but do not activate camera, texting, or internet
capabilities.

OPTION 4: Regardless of what kind of cell phone your child has, limit where it goes.

Options 2, 3, and 4 certainly limit access to a cell phone, but even if your child doesn’t have one, it does not limit their use of someone else’s or participating in group activities on cell phones with friends.

OPTION 5: Check cell phone usage daily.

It certainly isn’t a bad idea to check cell phone usage, but it is useless in
controlling misuse. By the time you find out it happened, it’s too late…it’s in cyberspace and once in cyberspace, always in cyberspace. There’s no rewind button or “do over” in cyberspace.

OPTION 6: Long before you give (or don’t give) your child a cell phone, talk about sensitive issues and that includes “sexting”. You can’t talk about “sexting” if you don’t talk about sex so educate yourself so you can educate your children! Start early….age appropriately…even young children can learn to respect their bodies.

Every time there’s a “sexting” incident reported….talk about it with your adolescents. Talk about respecting your body and the bodies of others BEFORE it becomes a problem. Don’t assume because you have told your child the information, they will never participate. Most kids who have been involved in “sexting”, and even arrested, verbalize they knew “it was a dumb idea..” The underdeveloped prefrontal cortex of the brain of an adolescent makes logical thinking impossible and long-term consequences don’t even appear on their radar screens.

MY ADVICE: Use OPTION 6 coupled with either Option 2, 3 or 4. Option 1 is just plain naive. Option 5 is not prevention but intervention. If you find your adolescent has misused the cell phone, take it away. No ifs, ands, or buts. It’s already too late for a second chance! Then pray whatever they did doesn’t follow them for life!

The biggest problem for parents and educators is that we don’t have uniform laws to follow related to this topic. There are as many opinions as there are incidents. Your child could have some authority figure call it “normal sexual experimentation or just a harmless prank” to some power-seeking authority who wants to make your child an example to others and convicts them of a felony to be labeled a sex offender for life.
Both of those consequences are harmful to the children involved.

KidsLinked – An Incredible Concept

When people do things for the right reasons, great things happen, and something great has happened for parents in Ohio.  Laura Miller of KidsLinked.com and her army of dedicated parents have created a website for the sole purpose of helping parents become better parents.  In doing that they also hope to eek out some sustenance along the way, but the motivating factor is not money, it’s making the community a better place for kids by helping their parents find the appropriate resources they need. What a refreshing idea, especially is these economic times when we are hearing about greed driving our world…and look where that got us!

HED has become an affiliate with KidsLinked and I will be doing some guest blogging on their site, so be sure to follow my posts.  HED and KidsLinked forged this affiliation because our organizations are both passionately dedicated to helping young people become better human beings by giving parents the tools they need to assist their children on that journey.

“Realism” and Adolescent Sex

When Bristol Palin said “Abstinence is just not realistic”, as a sexuality educator, I couldn’t help but wish I had been interviewing her for I would have asked her to explain what that comment really meant to her, how she reached that conclusion and why she chose to share it on national TV. Here’s what I think we might have heard:

When parents and schools/educators/government choose to tell kids only about abstinence, kids know they are lying. Adolescents (and even young children) as well as adults are bombarded by sexual messages daily and to tell them their only option is abstinence is not only ludicrous but also not true. The most negative result of doing that is that it cuts off honest communication with the most important people in their lives…the people who should be able to give them enough honest accurate information to guide them toward a healthy choice as they decide for themselves what sexual behaviors they will engage in. Make no mistake, adolescents clearly know there are a lot of choices out there and sorting through them is not always easy…they need and want guidance and understanding.

What do you suppose would happen to all potential teen parents if the paradigm shifted – what if parents and educators had the courage and were able to tell children, (age-appropriately, of course, and after they were reproductively mature and their bodies clearly capable of making a child or transmitting a disease) something that went like this:

“Intimate sexual behaviors CAN and SHOULD be a positive, beautiful part of a person’s life and my job is to make sure you have enough information and a safe environment to discuss how you can have a healthy, wonderful, WOW, sex life for your whole life. Unless you are going to join a strict religious order, you probably are going to have sex at some time in your life. I want to make sure you have enough information when you make that choice that there will be no regrets, no negative consequences, and only outcomes that will allow you to feel good about both the choice and the consequences…so let’s get started”.

 After that introduction, I would begin the session by listening rather than lecturing. After finding out what the kids in front of me are thinking. I ask them to “get in their own head” and envision what they want their life to look like in five years. Next I ask them what could jeopardize the future they envision. Their answers vary but almost always include behaviors and consequences related sex and drugs. We talk about each one of the things they listed, honestly as comprehensively as time will allow. During the discussion, I tell them that I don’t assume any of them are having sex or using drugs and I certainly don’t assume all of them are. Maybe none of them are and maybe all of them are, but probably neither statement is true. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that each of you thinks about how you will make that decision and that you think about it every day for the rest of your life because your body is now physically ready. That fact does not mean you are emotionally, socially, or intellectually ready and as human beings you do have the ability to control those behaviors and make wise or healthy choices or unhealthy choices. Unless someone forces you into a behavior against your will, you are in control of the decisions you make related to these issues.

Rather than providing adolescents with abstinence-only education, wouldn’t it be wiser to guide them toward that decision by helping them reach the decision to delay the onset of sexual intercourse because when they realize all the options many do come to the conclusion that the best option for them is to look at their sexual and substance behaviors as health issues an always do their best to protect their health. For many of our teens, that does mean delaying, for some it means making well-thought out decisions before they engage in sex, and unfortunately, for others, they have been taught that if they think about it and plan for sex, they are bad. Therefore, they walk though life hoping there will be no negative consequences and if and when there are they can always say, I didn’t think it would happen to me…I didn’t plan it! 

I’ll bet if Bristol Palin had been asked two years ago to envision her life in five years, it would not have included being the mother of a three-year old.

I would also bet that if she had made a list of things that would jeopardize how she did envision her life, it would have included pregnancy on that list. If I am correct, what happened? Why did Bristol become a mother? The answer is very clear – she engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse.  

How many ways could that have been prevented? The option parents and educators would choose as 100% effective would be not having sex now. But we don’t choose – the kids do. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to give Bristol more options, especially when she had a very close relationship with a handsome young man she was crazy about? Wouldn’t it have been smarter to say, “You know the best and smartest option at this time is to delay sexual intercourse; however, if you choose an option that could have a consequence that would change your life as you envision it now, here are some ways you could reduce, not eliminate, that risk. I know that you will make a well- thought out decision because I have given you all the tools to do that.” 

Perhaps the outcome would have been different, perhaps it wouldn’t have, but I don’t think Bristol would be making a statement that said the education she was given wasn’t realistic!

AFTER 18 YEARS, A NEVER-BEFORE ASKED QUESTION!

Yesterday as I was presenting A Time To Talk to a class of fifth grade boys, I had a young man ask a never-before asked question.  It was a good reminder that kids think very concretely about what they see and process information in interesting ways.

During the portion of the DVD presentation in A Time To Talk where I am discussing how the sperm swim up the vagina, through the cervix, uterus, and into the fallopian tubes, the children are viewing a diagram of these female reproductive organs. Black arrows indicate how the sperm move up these organs to get to the ovum or egg in the fallopian tubes.

When the time for questions arrived, a young ten-year old boy raised his hand and said,

“Ms. Halter, you know when the black arrows were showing us how the sperm got into those…”, he paused looking for the right word which he couldn’t find at that moment so he stood up and put his arms out (curving them downward and inward) and began wiggling his fingers.

“The fallopian tubes,” I interjected. “That’s the name!” he said enthusiastically and continued. “Well, you know when the sperm are going through the uterus and they turn right or left. If they turn right, will the baby be a boy and left a girl or is it the other way around…turning left gets a boy and turning right gets the parents a girl.”

With a smile on my face, I praised him for remembering or trying to remember the correct terms, for paying such close attention and really trying to learn how this whole process works.  I went on to explain that the fallopian tube where the egg is fertilized did not determine the sex, but the chromosome (Y or X) which is contained in the sperm did determine the sex, so it is the genetic material inside the sperm that is the determining factor. He thrust his fist into the air and said, “Yea! Even though the sperm are smaller, they are in charge!” Maybe that male notion of superiority does truly come with the testosterone.

Insurance Company Recognizes Adolescent Brain Development In Advertising Campaign

A recent ad by Allstate stated that “EVEN BRIGHT, MATURE TEENAGERS SOMETIMES DO THINGS THAT ARE ‘STUPID’.”  The ad goes on to say, “that when it happens, it really isn’t their fault because their brain is still developing.”

The good news about that is that adolescent brain development does explain the risk-taking behaviors of adolescents as validated by recent reseach.  The bad news is that it does help parents cope with the many issues their children are facing and provide them with the skills they need to help teens manage their lives any better.

How does this impact educators and parents?  In may ways…let’s hear from you on this?

The Information Gap Between Parents And Kids About Sex

For the past 18 years I have been providing puberty education in schools, talking to and working with kids and parents about the journey of puberty. As I have collected data while talking with thousands of parents, teachers and kids, my work and findings have paralleled existing research which shows there is an “information gap” between what parents and kids think on this subject.

Consider findings in a recent 2008 study of more than 1,000 tweens (kids between the ages of 11 and 14) commissioned by Liz Claiborne Inc. and love is respect.org. -

• Nearly half said they’d had a boy- or girlfriend
• One in four said that oral sex or going “all the way” is part of a tween romance
• The parents view? Only 7 percent of parents surveyed in this study think their own child has gone any further than “making out.”

Clearly, there is an “Information Gap”!!  And yet, my work and recent launch of a new company Healthyedudynamics.com and a soon to be released book, 101 Questions Kids Askand the answers they need to know! reveals that parents are really apprehensive about “the Talk” and most will not face the importance of educating themselves so they can educate their children on these critical topics. What will it take to narrow this gap? That’s a question for all health educators to ponder!

The Right Information At The Right Time

A recent article by David Crary –onenewsnow.com - on Monday, January 26, 2009 discussed the future of abstinence-only funding under the Obama and the fact that it is in limbo.

The article sites statements from both individuals in favor of Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Abstinence-Only education.

Comprehensive sexuality educators believe that comprehensive includes a message of abstinence as part of “the right information at the right time.” However, one of the things that has always puzzled me about the view of supporters of abstinence-only education is that never before have I heard or seen written anything by the right wing conservative movement acknowledging that comprehensive sexuality education contains strong support for abstinence.

Abstinence and the benefits of it are a crucial part of any sexuality education program just as accurate factual information about every aspect of dealing with sexuality should be as well. Abstinence-only suggests there is ONLY one choice and that clearly is not the case. We know that all human beings have many choices;  in fact, the media bombards us daily, adults and adolescents alike, with the many available sexual choices out there.

The role of education is to present accurate facts (increase knowledge), help access attitudes (why would this be a good choice or a bad choice), and teach skills which will increase the likelihood that when individuals engage in behaviors that could affect their sexual health, they will do so in the best way possible for them to maintain healthy bodies and healthy futures.

In the light of new and more recent findings of the negative results of the 1.5 billion dollars of federal funding spent on ineffective abstinence-only programs, we hear in Crary’s article an interesting comment from Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, suggesting that one option would be for Congress “to allow true choice” by approving funding for both comprehensive and abstinence-focused programs.

Funding for Comprehensive Sexuality Education would automatically include a focus on abstinence as well as contraception….that’s what the word comprehensive means.

She went on to say that “Now is not the time to remove even one of the tools that can help teens.”  Where was this attitude when this same organization was lobbying for only one ineffective approach? Could it be that providing the same level of funding, 1.5 billion dollars over the next eight years, including $176 million this year, to comprehensive sexuality education makes perfect sense?…..to everyone? My guess is that it does to anyone who truly has the best interests of our youth in their heart!

Obama’s Administration Brings HOPE For Adolescent Health Education Changes

January 20, 2009 was a significant day not only in the United States but all over the world. The inauguration of President Obama represents hope and change for many people for many reasons.

As I sat in a seminar in Foster City, California, learning more about Google AdWords, I was touched by the conversations I heard from a diverse group of participants who all came with the common goal of learning information to try to made their companies more profitable….a difficult job in these economic times. We came with many differences and many commonalities. Those commonalities included the words we’ve heard so often in the past few months – hope and the optimism for the change.

For me, as for most Americans and many people all over the world, there is certainly hope for the big picture – a reversal of the economic downturn, end to wars and conflicts, better health care for all, cleaner air, and prudent environmental policies just to mention a few. But on a very personal level I have hope for a reversal of the policies and initiatives of the last eight years by the former administration related to adolescent health education. As a health educator in the field of adolescent sexuality, I cringe as I think of the billions of dollars that have been spent on abstinence-only programs, especially in the face of the many studies beginning as early as 2001 which showed that those programs have been and are still ineffective.

While there have been many studies since 2001 that show abstinence-only based education is ineffective in preventing teens from engaging in sexual behaviors, a new study by Janet Rosenbaum of John Hopkins University is significantly different because Rosenbaum used 128 different factors to ensure her samples had similar attitudes about sexual behavior prior to participating in the study. (To see the full study as reported in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.)

To sum up the article, Rosenbaum’s study showed teens who pledged virginity:

1. DO NOT have less sex than non-pledgers and
2. DO NOT wait longer to have sex.

More interestingly, the study showed that teens who pledged virginity are significantly less likely
1. To Use the Pill or condoms when they do have sex and
2. They are more likely to have negative expectations and/or feel guilty about sex.
3. They think birth control is bad or morally wrong,
4. They have less experience in romantic relationships and
5. Are less likely to masturbate. (Whether parents and educators want to acknowledge this fact, masturbation can be a healthy alternative to sexual behaviors if there are no feelings of shame and guilty.)

The bottom line, abstinence-only education and virginity pledges have no PROTECTIVE EFFECT but do have a significant NEGATIVE EFFECT.

According to a September 2006 report by the Guttmacher Institute, three-quarters of a million teens between 15 and 19 become pregnant each year. In the United States, one of every ten births involves a teen mother. Even though 15-24 account for only one quarter of the sexually active people in this country, the CDC estimates that of the 19 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that occur each year, almost half of them are among young people ages 15-24.

But the issue is much greater than just unplanned pregnancies and disease rates; it’s about respect and rights. Can you imagine the number of our youth who have been negatively affected by these mandated programs which teach sexuality from a platform of fear and shame. In addition to many youth being negatively affected by existing programs, many more are victims of lack of accurate information and sexuality positive messages, as well as lack of knowledge of access to services because comprehensive programs have not been funded for the past eight years.

I believe parents and educators should be sending a message that sexuality is a wonderful, beautiful part of humanity and each of us has the right to accurate age-appropriate information which helps ensure our healthy sexual futures by respecting our own bodies and the bodies of others.

I second the words of Chelsea Ricker of RH Reality in her January 17, 2009 article:

“So what’s my hope for the New Year? That we start thinking of sexuality education from a comprehensive, life-long, sex positive perspective, Sexuality education should be rights based: it should be taught not because it reduces teen pregnancy or STI rates, but because all people, especially young people have a right to accurate, complete and unbiased information about their bodies, their health, and their sexuality. You teach kids about their sexuality for the same reason you teach them history, math, and logic – they deserve the tools to help them function in the world around them. It’s education and they have a right to that education. HOPEfully, the new Congress will recognize that right, quit funding programs that violate teens rights, and start looking at comprehensive sexuality education as one of the many necessary steps toward a just and healthy world.”

Welcome To My HED Blog

I’m a 65-year-old mother of four and grandmother to several. I teach health and puberty education for a living so I am VERY tied into the youth culture. I know slang for just about any body part. But I’m not very savvy about blogging.

But here I am with a blog!

It all started when I began thinking about my own legacy. My job is to go into schools, prisons, boys and girls clubs and talk with kids about sex and health education. I tell them how their body works. I hear about what they are into. I answer questions and clear up misconceptions.

But I’m no spring chicken.

“Who will do this when you leave? You’ve got all this knowledge stored inside you,” one colleague said. “Get busy and do something about it.”

So, I recently had a DVD made of my health-education program called A Time To Talk. I built a website, www.healthyedudynamics.com. I’m working on a companion book, 101 Questions That Kids Really Ask. But what I’ve realized recently is that a lot of parents and caregivers need something non-static. They need a dialogue. They need a little back and forth and a lot of moral support.

So somebody suggested I start a blog. Here it is.

My goal with the blog is twofold. I hope to provide visitors with a smattering of information, stats and data about kids today: what they’re into, what they know, what they don’t know, who they’re learning things from, what they’re really doing with those cell phones, etc. I also want this to be a referral source for parents, caregivers and educators. I want you to learn about this information so YOU CAN TEACH YOUR CHILDREN. You need to educate yourself first, so you can then educate your children.

I have a vision for children to respect their bodies and the bodies of others, beginning in early childhood and continuing throughout their life. I want every child to feel good about him or herself. Changes that occur in the adolescent body during puberty are NORMAL. I want parents to be the “go to” person in children’s lives about health topics and uncomfortable “sex talks”. I want parents to reinforce the messages consistently and with accurate information.

So, please join me on my blogging journey and visit often! This concludes my first post! PHEW!