“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/

Keeping it Real With Condoms

images-3I’m finding a lot of good stuff to bring to people’s attention today. I also like to write about condoms which you might have noticed. In the article below there’s a 14 year old’s response to a condom survey. I guess the teacher wasn’t too happy  but I’ll  bet it would speak to a group of her peers.

http://elitedaily.com/news/world/teen-amazing-responses-no-condoms/1022735/?utm_source=comp&utm_medium=tr&utm_campaign=p10k80

Check this one out too. There was an outbreak of chlamydia in a school that teaches kids to practice abstinence. Hmm… think they’re curriculum is affective? The condoms in their community certainly aren’t.

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2015/05/04/3654650/outbreak-texas-sex-ed/

We’ve really got to wake up and change the way we educate our kids about sexual health.

Condom Sense

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The other day I attended the 3rd and final community meeting about a proposed condom availability program for our district’s high schools. The program would be offered to high school students who took a prevention class for half a year and met with the school nurse to discuss condom use. The meeting was well attended and the audience was made up of parents and students primarily.

The first speaker was from the county health department and he shared some staggering statistics about the rates of Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and teen pregnancies in our state. In Erie County, which includes the City of Buffalo, our rates of Chlamydia were 25% higher than the state as a whole. Below is a link with more NYS stats. You can easily look this information up for your state as well.

http://www.health.ny.gov/statistics/diseases/communicable/std/

Additional we were told that:

  • There are 200 unplanned teen pregnancies in our district each year.
  • 44% of teens in BPS have had sex.
  • Out of those 44%, 35% are not using condoms.
  • 33% or 1 out of 3 BPS students have had sex with at least one person during the past 3 months.
  • 16% have had sex with more than 4 people in their lifetime (meaning up to age 17).
  • 10% had had sex before the age of 13.

That data came directly from the YRBS or Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a link to which I’ve shared below. Here you can read the questionnaire that is given to our kids. Some parents interpret it as the most salacious X rated content they and their children have ever been exposed to. Go ahead. Take a look and see what you think, then I’ll let you in on a little secret. Your kid might not be engaging in any of these activities but chances are they know about them. I know my kid did.

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/pdf/questionnaire/crosswalk_1991-2015.pdf

That evening one parent got up and said something to the effect of, “How dare our district put money into this lurid survey. That money could be much better spent.” He also came up with a couple more doozies: “These teens want to get pregnant so they can be put into the system,” and “Your slide report isn’t accurate because Chlamydia and Gonorrhea can be cured.” I wish he could have shared that last comment with the young student I met that evening who told me that her friend thought she was pregnant because she stopped getting her period. Instead she had Chlamydia that had gone untreated and will probably result in infertility.

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Who, What, Where  

The evening really got going when a student who graduated in 2009 got up to help facilitate the discussion. He said that when he was in school he and his friends didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about academics. They mostly talked about sex. Who was getting it, how much they were getting, and where they were getting it. The Metro bus, school bathrooms, locker rooms, and hallways were some of their favorite places. Did you ever hear of the “World Famous Mustang Ranch”? Well they don’t  raise Mustang’s exactly. It’s the premier brothel of Northern Nevada. As this former student continued to speak I was thinking that our schools were starting to sound a bit like it.

After the student led discussion we broke into groups: those who thought the proposed policy was fair, those who thought it wasn’t lenient enough, and those who thought condoms should not be offered at all. Surprisingly, no one in attendance including the parent who thought teen pregnancy was a way of milking the system, thought that it was a bad idea to offer condoms to teens. That left the other two options and we were pretty much equally divided between them.

My belief was that the policy was fair. Our group agreed that an educational component, some sort of Sex Ed curriculum was necessary to properly inform students and engage them in discussions about risk behaviors. The other group felt like the educational piece did not need to be attached, just make condoms readily available, because everyone’s doing it anyway and no one listens to the stuff coming out of a text book about sexual health. I thought that was a very interesting point. How are our kids receiving health and sex education or are they receiving it at all?

Keeping it Realimages-4

In the past I’ve talked about the importance of an adopted district wide health curriculum. Now I want to propose the adoption of health education that actually speaks to our students. What if there was peer to peer education regarding Sex Ed? What if the former student speaker and others like him went into our schools and talked to the kids from a point of view that they actually understood? What if several of the teen parents who were in the audience shared their stories in our classrooms? Even if we incorporated some of these discussions into a Sex Ed curriculum I believe we would have more engaged students who might start thinking differently about the realities of risky behaviors. And trust me, even if we as parents are doing a good job of discussing this subject matter with our kids at home, I guarantee they are way more comfortable talking about these things with their peers. Remember back to when you were a teen. Were you kicking back with your parents and teachers talking about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, or were you saving those conversations for your friends? It’s not to ever say we should abandon these talks as parents or educators, let’s just think about how to make it resonate with our kids in this day and age, not in what some of us might consider the dinosaur ages.

Girls Will Be Girls

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I was going to do my next article about healthy vending until I had a disturbing conversation with a friend at a party last night.

I was made aware of a twitter account that appears to no longer be in use but is still floating around in cyber space. The account was created by a few girls who wanted to peg classmates as whores and the expletive language holds nothing back. It is raw and does a good job of competing with the choicest language from any XXX web site or publication. It’s shocking and depressing content and what’s worse is that I recognized some of the names of the followers and tweeters. Good kids with engaged parents living in my own neighborhood. Some are even educators.

I don’t know why I’m so shocked. With 2 years under my belt working on student wellness issues you would think that I would have developed a thick skin. I’m aware of the pregnancies! I’m aware of the affluent suburban school district where 5th graders are engaging in oral sex under the staircase or in the janitor’s office.  I know these things! I guess what’s troubling to me is this other dimension that attaches these behaviors to social media. A place where shocking allegations and gossip will go on living forever and ever in cyberspace.

Do you know anything about Snapchat? It’s an app that’s widely used by kids where they can snap a photo or a video, send it to anyone they want, and then choose how many seconds they want it to exist in cyberspace. Ingenious! After just one second the damage is done!

Because of social media abuse I have heard of kids who have developed “reputations” in their communities, had suicidal tendencies, and have even committed suicide. As parents it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about social media and the deep impact it can have on our kids. Below is the list of the sites that your kid might be accessing. Take the time to check them out. Ask your kid if you can “follow” them on Instagram or “friend” them on Facebook (although I’ve been told that FB is for old people like me). If they say no you might want to ask why. Which leads me to another point about privacy. I’m  not the kind of parent who condones sneaking into their kid’s room to read their diary. I’m not the parent who wants to police their every move. I’m the kind of parent who, as uncomfortable as it might be, wants to be able to openly discuss with my children the perils they might face if they engage in abusive behaviors on social media.

http://www.twitter.com

http://www.snapchat.com

http://www.instagram.com

http://www.facebook.com

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