Girls and Sexual Identity- The Pleasure Factor

th-1As the mom of a thirteen year old girl I’ve thought a lot about how to talk to her about sex. When I hear that  many girls have their first sexual experiences while drunk and with a person they don’t have a significant emotional attachment to I worry. That’s hardly the experience I want for my daughter. I want my daughter to feel empowered, confident and respectful of her sexuality. My hope is that through open conversation I can equip my daughter with the tools to make the right choices so that she doesn’t feel the need to use her sexuality as a weapon to achieve a distorted sense of the amazing girl she truly is.

Below is a link to an important interview that I recently listened to with Peggy Orenstein, author of “Girls & Sex, Navigating the Complicated New Landscape.”


“Unslut”-Sexual Bullying in Schools

Unknown-1The other day on NPR I listened to an interview with a woman who uses the fictitious name Emily Linden and wrote a wrote a book called “Unslut”. The book is a memoir based on Emily’s diary entries when she was between 6th and 8th grades and it chronicles the sexual bullying and peer pressure she faced growing up. If parents, tweens, teens and educators don’t read the book they should at the very least explore the subject matter and its prevalence with our kids in schools today.

Emily began puberty earlier than most of her peers. She had her period when she was 10 and developed breasts soon after. She says that both boys and girls were fascinated with the physical transformation of her body and she was viewed by many peers who had not yet begun to mature as a sexual anomaly. Emily’s curiosity about herself and the opposite sex heightened too as she continued to progress through puberty. She flirted, developed relationships with the opposite sex and experimented by going to “3rd base”.

It did not take long for Emily to find herself caught up in a vicious cycle of sexual bullying because of her perceived actions and the stigma that was associated with her early sexual development. She quickly found herself being labeled a “tease” and a “slut” by her peers, and for many years she lived with the reputation and the pain that ensued.

Emily explains that at the time she too engaged in the sexual bullying that was so destructive to her. She says that there was a culture of sexual bullying in school that seemed like a norm, that no one was immune from it and many would partake in. There was such a need to identify with a group, in Emily’s case the popular kids, that it made her lose site of who she really was and the values that truly defined her.

This culture exists to this very day and the power of social media, where damaging words or images can be spread in a blink of an eye, makes it even more destructive and dangerous.  What can we do as parents? We have to try to break this collective negative culture where it’s cool to put people down, spread rumors, and define a person or a group by one identifiable word.  The jocks, the nerds, the popular kids, the fast kids, the loners, the druggies. When we peg people by one identifiable word we become immune to the fact that people have many positive attributes that deserve to be explored. What about talking to our kids about developing new relationships and breaking down barriers between groups in an attempt to rid themselves of negative perceptions? In the interview Emily states that the people that you’re hanging your identity on really don’t matter and in her case did not remain her friends as she worked on defining her values.

We also need to help to teach our kids about positive and respectful ideas of female and male empowerment.  Girls, it does not come in the form of an Instagram picture of yourselves with pouty lips and cleavage showing and boys, you are not empowering yourselves by posting images of yourselves engaged in the latest make out sessions. But when kids seem to be trying to race to the sexual maturity finish line with the Kardashians and the lascivious fictional characters from Gossip Girls in tow, what should we expect?

The reality is that in the middle school years our kids are coming into a new stage of development and exploration that should be expected by parents and doesn’t have to be negative. It’s up to us to empower our kids by helping them to develop a strong value system and the integrity that keeps it in place as they navigate through the sometimes perilous but often rewarding years of puberty.


**Update to Planting the Seeds for Greener Schools

Justin“What is the input and output of the greenhouse?” “What role do you play in this food production chain?” These were some of the questions asked by Buffalo public and charter school  students last night as we gathered in Tapestry’s greenhouse for a discussion with Justin Royer,  the school’s Americorp volunteer.

Justin has a degree in sustainable agriculture and has been an incredible resource for the school. He and the students have acted as producers by planting seeds, harvesters by picking plants and vegetables when they are ripe,  distributors when they walk the foods to the cafeteria for the school chef to use in recipes, and consumers when they eat the fruits of their labor.  Although there are raised beds on the school grounds,  a lot of the growing happens in the  greenhouse which is considered a “cold frame”. This type of greenhouse, with clear panels that admit sunlight throughout the year,  is often used in cold weather climates to prolong the growing season.

InteriorGreenhouseLast night we discussed the challenges that the school has faced in the development of a greenhouse and teaching garden and there were many. Lack of resources to get all of the necessary equipment such as fans, lighting, trays and plants was an initial hurdle. The solution? Searching for grant money and developing relationships with community organizations that are involved in gardening and agriculture sustainability. In Buffalo we are lucky to have two such organizations: Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP),, and Grass Roots Gardens of Buffalo, These organizations have helped Buffalo public and charter schools with gardens, grant money and farm to school initiatives.

Additional challenges included weather, the unexpected warm temperatures of Buffalo’s 70 degree winter, difficulty finding helpers to take care of the plants during holidays the summer months, and difficulty fitting new curriculum surrounding food sustainability into already packed school days.

Interiorgreenhouse2Although there are hurdles in establishing a sustainable agricultural environment in a school community, the benefits are far greater. When students come together to understand the cycle, plant seeds, watch things grow, harvest and consume, they learn valuable lessons about working together for a common outcome that has an impact on them,  the community and the environment. When you add to this the incredible stewardship of a volunteer like Justin, you have that much more of a chance for success!


Planting the Seeds for Greener Schools

Greenhouse.jpgWe laid the groundwork for an amazing playground for the kids of Tapestry Charter School and the surrounding community a few years ago. It was a ton of work but one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been involved with. From the moment it was built you could always expect a  regularly cacophony of shrieks and laughter as the kids navigated and explored their incredible “play and learn” space, the first they had ever had in the Tapestry community.

GLS.jpgWhen I planned the playground I also envisioned a green learning structure, a free standing outdoor classroom for the students to use to learn about weather, sustainability, science, even art with paintable surfaces and an outdoor stage floor for performances. Then I took it even further and won a grant to be used for a greenhouse. What did we end up with? A green learning structure that was underutilized, a green roof that was planted and regularly died and a greenhouse that took time, energy, additional money and commitment to get off the ground. Nothing happened over night, but, after things fell into place, perseverance, a word that is such a strong part of Tapestry’s message, fell into place.

One parent could not make this project work. You have to build a network and that has happened at Tapestry through a strong Americorp volunteer base. This year we’ve had a volunteer who is particularly committed to wellness initiatives and sustainability and that is a big part of the reason this wonderful outdoor learning space has been further developed.

There will always be reasons for not pushing a new learning experience forward but in these days of Common Core and tired and stressed out students and teachers, shouldn’t we take a moment or two to reexamine current learning and  curriculum development structures and think of ways to invigorate and engage students on a new level? Tapestry is doing that and it’s something to pay attention to.

Colorado high school sexting scandal highlights hidden apps – WWMT – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic

I just heard a discussion on NPR about this sexting scandal in Colorado. In the world of technology we live in we have to be aware and be more open than ever with our discussions with our kids. I read a study recently that said sexting is the precursor to actual sex and it becomes really prevalent around the age of 13. If you know kids this age and have not yet seen the beginnings of suggestive photos on Instagram or all too revealing tweets on Twitter get ready. It’s coming. Exploration with sexuality? Bullying? I’m sure every situation is different but as parents we’ve got to open up the channels of communication. It might seem harmless enough to send a suggestive picture to a first time boyfriend, but that image lives on forever in cyberspace and anyone can get their hands on it. Let’s also remember Snapchat where the image disappears almost instantly but the damage from sexting could reverberate for years.

CANYON CITY, Colorado (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – A sexting scandal at a Colorado high school has parents on high alert.

Source: Colorado high school sexting scandal highlights hidden apps – WWMT – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic

Working the Cafeteria Line

For the past month I’ve been going into my daughter’s school cafeteria every Thursday to pass out samples of the Farm to School recipe of the week. This comes a 45K planning grant that our district was awarded  from Cornell Cooperative Extension to  begin to introduce kids to concepts of sustainability, farming, and whole, healthy, locally sourced foods. September has been kale and we’ve had cold kale salads with black beans, brown rice, tomatoes and corn, warm “beans and greens” with white beans, tomatoes and seasonings, and kale chips. Each week there are a handful that refuse to try the offerings but the overwhelming majority have loved the recipes and many come back for seconds and even thirds. On more than one occasion I’ve been told “It’s about time” and “Thank you for giving us something that looks good that we want to eat.”

Yesterday I got to work behind the line as I served a warm kale dish and it enabled me to gain a new perspective into the challenges the cafeteria workers face on a daily basis.

Time Constraints

This is a big one. My daughter’s school actually has a long lunch period, 40 minutes, but many schools have only 20. Even in the 40 minute lunch period you have throngs of hungry students lining up all at once and the cafeteria worker has a few seconds to take their order, plate it and move on to the next. To increase the challenge our cafeteria offers a surprising number of options; deli sandwiches, the hot meal, a salad bar, or the vegetarian “fun lunch”. It is the cafeteria workers job to run back and forth and get the kids the items they want.


When the number one job is to get all students fed quickly,  presentation is going to be a challenge. When you add to that the quality and type of food being offered, often canned or prepackaged processed foods, you have an even greater challenge. The meatloaf and and watery vegetables that I saw in the line yesterday looked like something you might expect to see in a wedding banquet room in a Motel 6, and that’s what the cafeteria staff have to work with. They also use cheap, flimsy cardboard trays that leaked or completely disintegrated under the weight of the food yesterday.

What Required

During the course of our four lunch periods I heard the cafeteria staff in weary voices remind the kids numerous times  to take a fruit or vegetable. It’s not because they are overly concerned about the proper nutrition each kid is getting, it’s because the Federal Govt requires students to take all the elements of a healthy lunch to get monetary reimbursement for  participation in the lunch program. It doesn’t matter if the student throws the food  in the garbage, in fact, they had a garbage can positioned very conveniently at the exit of the lunch line for what appeared to be this exact purpose.

What isn’t Required

Proper pay and health benefits. The cafeteria worker that I worked along side yesterday had been at the school for 9 years. Her job has always been part time (so the district doesn’t have to pay benefits), and her low hourly salary doesn’t allow her to make ends meet. She works two jobs back to back, both in the district and both low pay and without benefits so that she can pay the bills. It was amazing to me that she had stayed in her positions as long as she had.

Dream for the Future

With the introduction of programs such as Farm to School we are making small strides in the right direction towards bringing farm fresh, local foods into our cafeterias. It’s a great start but as I observed yesterday, so much more needs to be done. The job of the cafeteria worker needs to be full time with benefits. They should also receive culinary training and food education so they feel they have the tools for success and a stake in the process of feeding thousands of kids on a daily basis.

Anyone whose ever complained about a school lunch or had a child who has complained about a school lunch should advocate for these changes and work in whatever capacity they see fit towards a redesign of our food system that we all know is long overdue.

Parent Engagement: A Two-Way Street

imagesI’ve been on a hiatus from writing my blog lately,  a self-imposed exile from doing something that I really enjoy doing, writing and sharing information about health and wellness as it pertains to kids. The reason being? A malady that I came down with a couple of months ago. It left me tired to the bone, anxious, deflated, hopeless, and uncertain of the future. The clinical name for this malady is PVBO or Parent Volunteer Burn Out and I’ve had a pretty bad case of it. It’s only been over the past week or two that I’ve been able to peel myself off the couch and stop my endless re-reading  of”Waiting for Godot”. Parent Engagement is a difficult challenge that School Districts across the nation face. I hear the rumblings in our District on a regular basis. We’ve even got a District appointed Director of Community Engagement whose plate is full when it comes to reaching out to families in our communities. Families whose challenges of everyday life present a greater problem than worrying about the next PTA meeting, whether or not homework is done, or if a child is even on the bus in the morning. Many feel hopeless in their own situations so why would they think their efforts could improve the outcomes in our schools? On the other side of the spectrum you have the actively engaged parents who are ready to do anything to improve schools and they can be counted on for involvement on a number of different levels, joining committees, working on various initiatives, helping to raise money, advocating at Board meetings, etc. You name it and they do it because they believe in getting things done and that change is possible in their lifetimes or better yet in the time that their children are attending public schools.  There are probably a handful of these parents in any given community and they’re probably the last group that you would think would benefit from the acknowledgement that parent engagement is a two way street. Unfortunately it’s a costly mistake when dealing with volunteers and it has a precarious ability to drive a parent to that all-consuming malady, PVBO. I don’t have a one-stop solution to solving the issues that Districts face when dealing with parent engagement but I could try to offer a bit of support and advice. When dealing with our underprivileged and underserved families we need to do a better job of taking services to the affected neighborhoods, breaking down socioeconomic stigmas and language barriers, and learn to communicate effectively to get families the supports they need. As I mentioned earlier in this post, our District has appointed people who are doing just that but the needs are far greater than what a few can fulfill. With the PVBO’s we need to recognize that many are taking time away from paid work or other responsibilities and we need to consistently recognize their efforts. A simple return of a call or an email of acknowledgement would probably suffice for a lot of these parents. When hours of work have been done on  forward thinking initiatives that would benefit the whole school community we should respectfully and openly address why things are not moving forward. It is a poor reflection on any District to have a volunteer, a parent, a person on the “outside” muttering how it’s business as usual, nothing ever gets done and we seem to be stuck in a Beckett world just waiting for Godot.

Sex Ed for Kindergartners? The Dutch Model

Take a look at the following article about the Dutch and their approach to teaching sexuality in schools and in their communities in general. No surprise that their rates of teen pregnancy and STD’s are some of the lowest in the world. They present frank subject matter in a proper context from a young age and bring parents into the mix to inform and help in the sexual education of their children. What an incredible model to adopt.

Addressing Mental Health in our Schools

images-4A friend just brought this article to my attention. It is a really important read about new approaches to identifying and helping students with mental health issues by offering in school support. It also takes a look at influencing factors in students’ lives and what we as parents and educators can do to tackle these issues with a holistic approach to mental well-being.

Pushing Our Kids to be Just Like Us

As a parent of an almost teen I have a lot to learn and a lot of mistakes that I’m sure I’ll make. In fact, I’ve already started to find myself caught up in a sea of confusion, tears, fragility, moodiness, and anxiety that we are both going to have to learn to navigate through.

Introvert vs Extrovert

What compounds this even more is that my daughter is an introvert and I am very much an extrovert. I’m more reactionary and have an outward approach to my surrounding environment.  I get to the point quickly, have vast amounts of energy, like to try lots of new things, and like being surrounded by large groups of people. A person like me can easily fatigue an introvert. My daughter on the other hand is more pensive, a quiet observer of the world.  She is sensitive and her focus comes from within. She is thoughtful and makes logical decisions about the friends and activities that best suit her personality. She is one of the truest friends you could ever find and because of this she is happy with just a few friends otherwise her energy would be depleted. As I’m sure you can imagine the dichotomy between these two personality types can result in a mountain of frustration between us as she anticipates the wrath of the mom overlord and I anticipate a fragile broken winged butterfly dropping to the ground in a heap of defeat.

Getting it Wrong

Over the years I have tried to get my daughter to be an extrovert. When she was little I joined playgroups and worked at getting her to have a full social circle. In grade school and told her not to be shy and that she should raise her hand in class so the teacher would think she was an active participant. In middle school I recommended that she join clubs and team sports. When my introverted husband interjected and said the orchestra that she played violin in was a good team sport I rolled my eyes in exasperation. In junior high I found myself suggesting to her that she might want to explore hanging out with the extroverted girls who are socially advanced and already into boys because she might expand her circle of friends and have more fun. Did I really say that?   I had clearly forgotten that I once was an introvert who cowered by my parents at the playground, never wanted to be called on in class and was considered socially naive by the more experienced girls when I entered into High School.


I know I shouldn’t completely blame myself for pushing the qualities of an extrovert on my daughter. The reality is that our society sets it up in a way  that we appear to give more value to these characteristics. From our early years of school through to our later years of life we are taught how important it is to be popular, a team player and a leader to become a successful, well-rounded person. We learn that if we embody these characteristics we will have a greater impact on the world. Take a look at the characteristics of an extrovert:

  • Are social – they need other people
  • Demonstrate high energy and noise
  • Communicate with excitement and enthusiasm with almost anyone in the vicinity
  • Draw energy from people; love parties
  • Are lonely and restless when not with people
  • Establish multiple fluid relationships
  • Engage in lots of activities and have many interest areas
  • Have many best friends and talk to them for long periods of time
  • Are interested in external events not internal ones
  • Prefer face-to-face verbal communication rather than written communication
  • Share personal information easily
  • Respond quickly

Conversely the characteristics of the introvert listed below are often misconstrued  as having negative connotations such as shy, socially awkward and an inability to easily adapt.

  • Are happy to be alone – they can be lonely in a crowd
  • Become drained around large groups of people; dislike attending parties
  • Need time alone to recharge
  • Are territorial- desire private space and time
  • Prefer to work on own rather than do group work
  • Act cautiously in meeting people
  • Are reserved, quiet and deliberate
  • Do not enjoy being the center of attention
  • Do not share private thoughts with just anyone
  • Form a few deep attachments
  • Think carefully before speaking (practice in my head before I speak)
  • See reflection as very important
  • Concentrate well and deeply
  • Become absorbed in thoughts and ideas
  • Limit their interests but explore deeply
  • Communicate best one-on-one
  • Get agitated and irritated without enough time alone or undisturbed
  • Select activities carefully and thoughtfully

Admittedly I’ve distorted these characteristics in the past as they pertain to my daughter and it’s taken me the better part of twelve years to realize it. The reality is that she’s a well-adjusted, active and intelligent person that reacts to her environment differently than I do. Studies show that introverts brains are actually  wired differently than extroverts. They have more gray matter in the frontal lobe of the brain that is linked to abstract thought than extroverts and they also produce less dopamine because they don’t need as much stimulation.

What I’ve realized is that there’s no one size fits all when it comes to personality traits, and it’s a disservice to an individual with unique qualities and characteristics to try to mold them into something they are not. The risk that we run if we take this approach is alienation, withdrawal and a loss of open communication, and that is one thing that I don’t want to loose as I navigate these sometimes choppy waters with my soon to be teen.

(Characteristics from: Hirsh & Kummerow, 1989; Keirsey & Bates, 1984; Lawrence, 1985; Myers & Myers, 1980.)