“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.

http://www.unslutproject.com

 

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.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/spring-fever/

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.

http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/05/22/how-schools-can-help-nurture-students-mental-health/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150523

Focusing on the Positive in the Classroom? Who’d a Thunk.

imagesI read something really great in the paper today. A charter school in Western NY has received a $575,000 grant from the US Department of Education to change the way they approach student behavior in the classroom. The school is going to be using a model called “Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support”. Instead of focusing on negative, punitive methods,  a common theme in classrooms nation wide, they will  adopt methods of positivity, praise, and reward to improve student teacher relationships, and the classroom environment in general. In preparation the school has been training faculty and staff on rewards-based solutions for positive behavior.  The idea is that if  kids are praised for a job well done they will feel greater self worth and be more committed to contributing positively in the classroom. This approach is based on the fact that student behavior is influenced by many factors and that we need to look at the individual student as we work towards a very necessary shift towards the model of “Whole Child, Whole School, Whole Community”. A foundation of wellness. Doesn’t it just make sense?

http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/applied-technologies-charter-school-gets-575000-federal-grant-20150505

Giving Students A Voice

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I hear a lot about what’s wrong with our public education system in NYS from teachers, board members, and people in our state and local government. It’s usually delivered as a messy tangle of invective, finger pointing and name calling and it gets us nowhere. I’m always amazed by how infrequently I hear the voices of the students, many of whom are dealing with peer pressure, lack of resources, no parental support and teachers who have given up on them. If we would all stop and listen to the kids I think we’d find a very clear message of what their challenges are and how they affect school performance.

Below is a link to something our District is doing to give the kids a voice. Take a minute to listen then propose it to your District.

http://news.wbfo.org/post/focus-education-student-voices-part-i

I’m Sick of Smelling Like Peppermint

shutterstock_230559166I thought it was a good idea when I purchased my organic peppermint deodorant over the holidays. It was 11 bucks but well worth the purchase price to protect myself against the harmful aluminum in regular deodorants that can contribute to Alzheimer’s.  Now I’m done smelling like a Christmas tree and so is my daughter. Not to say that she’s abandoning hygiene. She’s  embracing it to an extreme! But this wasn’t so only a few short years ago. When my daughter was in the 7-10 age bracket she had a very different relationship with water. Hand washing, showers, teeth brushing, and general cleansing simply did not agree with her. It was like the commingling of nuts and raisins or peas and carrots. Some people feel that they just shouldn’t be mixed. So I had the arduous task of trying to instill an understanding of the importance of proper hygiene in my child. During those years that I fought my battle I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if this was part of a health curriculum that was being taught on a regular basis to kids in school? Doesn’t it seem like it should be a basic right for our kids to receive this fundamental information? Sadly as a society we think differently. If your school district has a mandated health curriculum that is offered on a regular basis from grades K-12 you are lucky. I guess our district feels that that education should happen at home. But what about the kids who don’t have that level of parent engagement? In our district those kids are in the majority. That’s right. MAJORITY. An adopted health curriculum that follows a student from K-12 is a necessity. It should not be viewed as an option.

Last year for several days I worked with a group of dedicated teachers and administrators to adopt a health curriculum. I’ll be honest, the work was tedious and difficult but the end result was that we selected on a company that could provide our district with the necessary materials. That was half the battle. Next is getting our school board to agree with us that these materials are necessary to properly educate our kids and move us towards adopting the foundation of whole child, whole school, whole community. I for one will be at that meeting imploring the board to find the money to support this very important initiative.

Not My Kid ! The YRBS. Your Resource. No Bullshit.

shutterstock_89867182 I’m guessing, but I’m not certain, that my daughters will have sex at some point in their lives, but two years ago I didn’t believe that. My oldest daughter was in 5th grade when the YRBS or Youth Risk Behavior Survey came out. It’s a national survey that is given out every two years to assess risk behaviors on a number of different “sensitive” topics. It runs the gamut from questions about dental health and nutrition to sexual health, drug use and suicidal tendencies. As a parent you have the option to opt out and the grumblings began immediately when I started asking parents about what they were going to do. I heard a lot of “not my kid” and “great that the schools have taken it upon themselves to introduce our kids to risky behaviors they know nothing about.” One parent even called the District and said the tooth fairy still came to their house not the crack fairy. Many of us had difficulty imagining our ten year olds engaging in drug use, struggling with depression, or having sex. But were we right to opt out? The results of the survey that year showed that many kids were engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners. In our school district we have over 200 pregnancies each year. Last year we had 2 6th grade girls give birth. The survey also showed that many of our students have high rates of suicidal tendencies and depression and many are experimenting with prescription drugs. I don’t know if my child is one of them because I opted out. Not my kid. But do I really know this? Because of this survey I sat down with my daughter and discussed the sensitive subject matter of the YRBS survey. I told her I had made a mistake in not allowing her to participate but I was happy that it had opened up a dialogue between her and I and that we could talk openly in a safe home environment. And guess what I found? My 10 year old knew a heck of a lot more than I could have ever imagined. She might not have been participating in the behaviors but she certainly knew about them. YRBS has been an important tool for me as a parent because it has forced me to wake up and be aware of the issues and behaviors our kids are faced with. 10 is not too young. There is a reason this survey is administered to kids starting in 5th grade and the results prove it. With the data that we’ve collected in our district we were able to provide dental health care to more than 1500 students who were missing school because of dental health issues. We were also able to bring more guidance counselors into a school that had a high rate of depression and suicidal tendencies. You can read more about it in the article below. Finally, based on the number of students district wide who responded that they are having unprotected sex on a regular basis, we were able surmise that a “condoms in the classroom” program was a necessity. Not as a means of promoting sexual activity rather as a protection and an opportunity to educate. In our district YRBS is going to be offered again in October of 2015. This is exciting news in that we will then have collected “trend data” over the course of a 5 year period. We will be able to see if our efforts are paying off and if we are doing better at giving students the resources they clearly need to inform and educate about risk behaviors. I know that at least one seat that had been empty two years ago will now be filled and I hope other parents nation wide will follow. http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/buffalo-public-schools/students-with-problems-show-need-for-in-school-mental-health-services-20141109