What every parent should know about the middle school crush

What every parent should know about the middle school crush

When the kids head back to school, parents hear a lot of new information, some offered up voluntarily (“MOM – I need $50 for supplies!”) some overheard while driving carpool (“I think Lakeesha has a crush on Mr. Smith”). Both kinds of statements are important for a parent to consider and if they choose, act on.

School crushes are as common as acne. They can be a normal, healthy part of development, teaching kids social and interpersonal skills that will serve them into adolescence and young adulthood. Or, they can be the platform for bullying and exploitation. The crush on the teacher is one of the trickiest for both parent and child.

During adolescence, kids start to learn who they are as a sexual person. This is reflected in their style and grooming choices, their choices of music, books and video, and their choice of friends. Young people will learn from and emulate people who have power and status. This could be an extremely popular peer, and it might also be a young teacher.

Teachers generally seek to be both liked and respected by students, which can put them in a tough and delicate position. They are in front of students all day, and adolescents are very prone to scrutinize and judge. Teachers judged to be “hot” are likely to attract unwanted attention. This can be particularly true for young teachers who may only be a few years older than the students. In many cases, they are wholly unprepared for the attention.

Well-prepared teachers have had pre-service training on understanding the sexual dynamics that can occur in the classroom. They will have learned that the pre-frontal cortex of an adolescent, the part of the brain the governs higher reasoning, is not fully developed, and adolescents can make poor choices that seem perfectly reasonable to them at the time. They will have learned that adolescents may develop crushes and behave in ways that may flatter or tempt a teacher. They will have learned that the looks or certain behaviors of students may indeed elicit sexual arousal in the teachers themselves; autonomic physical arousal is medically normal. Most important, they know that not acting on arousal is socially, psychologically, ethically and legally normal. But too few teachers are prepared in this way.

Students are even less likely to understand arousal they might experience if they find a teacher attractive. Their bodies may experience autonomic arousal, which is nothing more than an instinctual response to stimuli, such as getting goose bumps when cold, and kids need to understand this. It is too easy to confuse arousal with an emotional response, particularly for girls, for whom the physical sensations are less obvious than for boys. Predators of either gender often use the fact of this physical response to lure a teen into a sexual relationship.

Attractive teachers may also become the subject of stories, fantasies and gossip among kids, such as two young teachers dating, even if there is no truth to that at all. There is a vast difference between adolescent fantasies based on the way a teacher looks, and real reports of actual behavior. If you overhear your kids gossiping about a teacher, calmly ask them to describe the behaviors. Gently seek detail like where and when and determine if its observation or storytelling.

Troubling teacher behaviors include:

  • Breaking any rule the school has about out of school contact between students and faculty
  • Consistently spending unsupervised, one-on one-time with students
  • Using language that is inappropriate in any way, especially sexually
  • Sharing anything but the most superficial details about their personal life, and/or asking students questions about theirs
  • Singling out an individual student for special treatment like effusive praise or rewards of any type.

If you hear a credible description of troubling behavior, contact the school.

So, what’s a parent to do?

  • Keep in mind that while post-pubescent children may be out of danger from pedophiles (people whose primary sexual attraction is to children) hebephiles are attracted to young teens (generally ages 11 to 14) and ephebophiles are attracted to older teens (generally ages 15 to 19).
  • Make sure children of either gender understand the elements of sexual arousal.
  • Pay close attention to what your child has to say about the young, popular teachers. If kids are telling stories about the way a teacher behaves, ask them questions to confirm the reality.
  • Continue to monitor children’s social media. New Jersey law require that each district have a policy on student/teacher on-line line contact; Pennsylvania does not.  Many schools prohibit teacher/student contact on non-school platforms; if yours does not, watch your child’s pages and the pages of the teachers whose names you overhear.

School crushes are a normal part of growing up. They can provide a learning opportunity or become the basis for exploitation. The tried and true parenting tools of open communication and careful observation of children, and being prepared with facts and information, can help you keep children and their schools sexually safe and healthy and promote a great year of growth and learning.

This post first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer   https://www.inquirer.com/health/expert-opinions/kids-school-crush-teacher-20190910.html

Take the Doctors Advice — Don’t Spank

Today is an important  day to  take a brief diversion from my focus on  sexual abuse prevention and  honor an important  landmark  for anyone who works with child maltreatment — If you you ever wondered  whether it’s OK to spank your kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics says an emphatic “no” in an updated policy statement issued Monday that calls for a ban on corporal punishment, or spanking. Thousands of professionals who work with children and families agree.

Why? Decades of scientific evidence show that, when compared with children who were not hit for discipline, those who were hit have an increased risk for health problems of all kinds as they age: social, behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and physical. They’re at risk for increased aggressive behavior, anxiety, and depression.

The stress of being spanked or even severely verbally admonished can raise levels of stress hormones in children and teens in ways that impede brain development. Overly harsh discipline such as hitting disrupts a child’s ability for bonding and attachment to parents and caregivers, the very backbone of loving family life and a foundational element in learning how to be social.

Current data show most U.S. adults report that they’ve been spanked and believe it is a necessary form of discipline. There is a common thought of  “I turned out OK, so how bad can it be?” Of course, we may all be OK, but it’s time to stop the practice, given what we know now. Let’s not forget the times back then. In the 1960s, parents didn’t make kids wear seatbelts.

Back to School in the #MeToo era: Sex Ed and Sexual Climate

Back to School in the #MeToo era

Well, the kids are back at school, and whether they’re just starting to read or learning the Pythagorean Theorem, they’re going to be learning something about sex.

Don’t look so surprised. Regardless of your children’s age, many of the behaviors they will learn or face as they navigate the jungle of the corridors and playground have their roots in sexual behavior both instinctive and learned. As parents you can help with each for the benefit of your children and everyone around them.

First, there’s sex education itself. Twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia including New Jersey, mandate some sort of sex education, but it’s up to the states to determine what to teach. Twenty-seven states, including both Pennsylvania and New Jersey require schools provide STD and HIV/AIDS education, and the school’s curriculum must be available to parents for review.

While  there are  highly regarded professional  standards  available to educators,  curricula as taught may not be medically accurate, may teach abstinence-only and only two states – California and Louisiana – specifically prohibit the teaching of religion as part of sex education. So, parents should be engaged enough to know what, if any, sex education curriculum is taught in their children’s schools.

Then there’s what I call the “sexual climate” of a school, how it feels to be in that specific building, among those specific faculty, staff and students.

Generally, scholars describe a healthy school climate as having 4 components:

  • A physical environment that is welcoming and conducive to learning
  • A social environment that promotes communication and interaction
  • An affective environment that promotes a sense of belonging and self-esteem for all; and
  • An academic environment that promotes learning and self-fulfillment

A healthy sexual climate in a school addresses these issues as they pertain to sexuality.   A school with a healthy sexual climate promotes tolerance and respect and responds’ quickly to real or perceived threats including rumor, innuendo and bullying. Responses by school personnel to teasing and touching offer teachable moments early in the year, and opportunities to show the consequences of ignoring rules as the school year progresses.  Little ones learn not to tease, and older ones learn that even high-status kids don’t get to grab anyone’s breasts or genitals.

Here’s where parents can play a most important role:  teaching children about empathy. It doesn’t always come naturally to a child, and in fact, it is developmentally normal for  young people to  see the world as revolving around him or herself. But a healthy regard for what other people are feeling will help   your child resist the impulse to snap a girl’s bra strap, tip over the books she’s carrying or call her names when she starts to develop physically. It will help them from shunning the unpopular student, or making fun of their looks, manners of speech or interests, or posting anything on-line without the expressed permission of the subject.

It’s too easy for parents write these behaviors off as “kids will be kids” or to recall one’s own childhood behavior. After all, you turned out all right, didn’t you? But if you look back, what did those inconsiderate and bullying actions mean to the boys and girls at whom they were directed?  How did you learn empathy, and how should your children learn? Does your child stop and think about how his or her actions or words will make the other person feel?

Living an empathic life takes a conscious effort for everyone, but one only has to look at how society is roiling over sexual abuse, sexual harassment and the decline in civil discourse to understand how important it is.

The highest standard for promoting sexual health and safety is for parents to send their children out in the world filled with age-appropriate, medically accurate information about sexuality, wrapped up in their  family’s values. If you haven’t had the conversation about empathy you haven’t finished the conversation about sex. Empathy is certainly a subtext of a great deal of what’s taught in school, but if your children are really going to learn this most important lesson you’ll have to start by teaching it at home.

 

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Executive Director of  The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog, follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group

 

 

#MeToo:  advice for parents on making this a teachable moment

#MeToo: advice for parents on making this a teachable moment

Film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s abominable behavior has surfaced a legion of stories of sexual harassment, abuse and violence from men and women of all ages.  Millions of people have shared the hashtag #MeToo,  posting on social media their long-ago memories of abuse and harassment.

How can we parent in the midst of this news? How can you help your children deal with seeing #MeToo in the social media feed of a teacher, neighbor, relative or friend?

And perhaps most important of all: How can help your children to never feel like they need to trade sex for advancement?

The best news that comes from these uncountable tragedies is that a watershed event like the #MeToo campaign is a priceless teachable moment; and as always, the place to start is a conversation with your children.

While you’re carpooling to a soccer game this week, ask your child if they’ve seen #MeToo in their social media feed, or heard the name Harvey Weinstein. Discuss Weinstein by using age- appropriate language for bullying.

Younger kids will understand that a bully is mean to other people because it is fun for them in some way. With older kids discuss that sexual abuse is taking bullying to its ugliest extreme; consider sexual abuse as the ultimate expression of a total lack of consideration for the feeling of another, in pursuit of satisfying oneself.

Some bullies have physical power because they’re the biggest kid; other bullies have social power because they can control access to things like social circles. Help make sure that your child knows that he or she can talk to you if they are on the receiving end of any of this type of behavior or if they observe bullies targeting another child.

And stress that your family’s values mean that they should never, ever behave that way toward another person. If we teach kids to recognize and refuse juvenile affronts, we set the stage for them to behave better as a teen and adult.

The #MeToo conversation can be complicated; it’s important that a child understand that they can sometimes feel awful about words and events that may not seem so bad – or are even funny — to someone else. For instance:

  • Boys pulling the straps of a girl’s bra at school;
  • A high school teacher closing the door on a tutoring session and standing too close;
  • Boys in the locker room teasing the shortest guy about the size of his genitals;
  • A graduate teaching assistant offering a college student a better grade in exchange for a date;
  • A dinner ‘meeting’ to discuss a possible promotion.

These behaviors happen at every age, and no matter what age.  What a perpetrator may consider “no big deal” may be a trauma to his or her victim.  Remind your child that everyone is different, and it’s our responsibility to consider the effect our behaviors have on each person. Similarly, they have a right to feel bad about something that someone else trivializes, and reinforce the fact that you’re always available to listen and help.

If you think your child is too young to have this conversation, consider that The Girl Scouts report that one in 10 girls is cat-called before her 11th birthday. Start now. The vast majority of the victims of sexual abuse and harassment are not the glamorous starlets on the casting couch – they’re everyday children, teens and adults exposed to abuse both subtle and overt. The key is to help your child realize that that their sexuality, their body —their physical and mental health – are more precious than any bribe a bully offers.

One of the best things you can do for your children is to talk with them now and throughout their adolescence to make sure that #MeToo never applies to them.   You may feel like you can’t change the world, but you certainly can influence your own family,

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Executive Director of  The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

origionally published as   http://www.philly.com/philly/health/kids-families/metoo-talking-to-kids-about-bullying-and-sexual-harassment-20171023.html

Spring break advice from a sex-wise  parent to teen–

Spring break advice from a sex-wise parent to teen–

Whether your teen is anxiously awaiting their departure to a tropical paradise or snow covered peaks, you may be equally anxious about their health and safety on their trip.  Find the time for a bon voyage conversation that shares your love and concern, along with practical advice.  To help you make the best use of the limited time your child is likely to share with you, I’ve prepared things a sex-wise parent might have on their agenda:

I want you to have a wonderful time. Surround yourself with people who you admire and trust, and keep a careful distance from others. 

I want you to be safe, so use these tips business travelers follow:  Drink a lot of water and stay hydrated!   When you get to your hotel, don’t let strangers see your room number when you check in.   No matter how great the reputation of your hotel or resort, move around the facility with a friend and keep your valuables with you at all time. Trust your instincts about people getting too close to you physically. NEVER leave a drink unattended.

I want you to stay healthy.   Carefully pack required prescriptions and keep them with you on the plane.   Find an option with protein at every meal.  Use sun screen. Stretch carefully before physical exertion like a run or day on the slopes.  Stay away from unlicensed attractions, like parasailing companies not associated with your hotel.

I want you to remember that drugs and alcohol make you stupid. Being in a different city country where access to drugs or alcohol is unrestricted may make you feel more mature.  You’re not.  Make concrete rules now, before you go, while you’re sober and stick to them.  Have a 12 ounce glass of water or club soda between every alcoholic drink. Don’t smoke anything if you don’t know the source. Ingest no pills or powders; you just don’t know the composition.  Rotate among your friends the role of designated sober person to keep watch over each other.

I want you to remember that sexual arousal just happens, and it comes a part of the brain that is very far away from the part where executive decision making happens.  Do not let your genitalia make a decision about sharing body parts with a stranger.  The list of risks run from being robbed to getting a STI.  Make a pact with your friends not to let anyone leave the group, and be prepared to make a scene if someone tries.

I want you to call me immediately if something goes wrong.   I will help first and ask questions later because I love you.

I want you to treat yourself with the same care and respect you would show if you were taking care of your younger sibling or best friend.

I want you to have a wonderful time, and if you stay safe and healthy, I know you will.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and Programs for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.    For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

 

This  post origionally appeared  in the Healthy Kids blog for Philly.com  bit.ly/1Szt1PI

Mutual consent laws?  Parental advice has much  more to offer!

Mutual consent laws? Parental advice has much more to offer!

 

Consent for sex is in the news these days – from Bill Cosby’s acknowledgement to using drugs which removed partners’ capability to consent, to proposed mutual consent state laws and campus policies — there is a lot of buzz on this topic and that’s a good thing.

The buzz is turning into initiatives on college campuses and elsewhere to require clear and provable mutual consent before sex, but that solution brings with it another raft of problems. The better solution – which parents can do themselves, today – is to show and teach their children the values of honesty and respect that will make date rape unthinkable.

Parents need to be their children’s primary sex educators.  But unlike the conversations about anatomy and physiology, which I know makes some parents uncomfortable, conversations about honesty and respect should be easy to have.

And you’re probably doing some of it already.

We start with the youngest of kids when we teach them not to take things that don’t belong to them. We teach them to think about the effect their behaviors have on others.  We teach them to be kind and honest, and we teach them to stand up for themselves if they are being taken advantage of.   And as they grow up, we hope they will develop good judgement.  That doesn’t happen overnight and there’s a good reason why.

In his book aptly entitled Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen[1]Dr. David Walsh says that modern neuroscience provides a window into some of the mysteries of the teen years. He says “because the prefrontal cortex’s (PFC) wiring is incomplete, the adolescent’s PFC can’t always distinguish between a good decision and a bad one, no matter how smart a kid is.”  Couple this undeveloped ability to assess risk and make good decisions with hormonally induced physical urges and appetites, and we see that kids need adult guidance now more than ever and want it less, making parenting a challenge.

 

Brain development continues into the early twenties; we are sending kids off to college before their capacity for judgement is fully formed. Situations that arise from  bad judgement, like substance abuse and  ill-considered sex  on campuses is certainly not news; the American College Health Association has been promoting programmatic solutions to these issues for at least three decades, and many campuses take advantage of  proven tactics to reduce  out of control behavior.

 

What is new now is that we are finally  talking about  sexual coercion and  ways to make it stop;  the calls for  consent laws and polices is a sign that this behavior is no longer tolerable.

Social media is filled with expressions of disgust at entitled,  high-status males helping themselves to the sexual acts with  females incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

 

Whether it’s TV’s favorite Dad or a college football team, its variations on a theme and the mood is right to make it stop. Parents can step up and be the heroes here who raise children to live by the values that abhor this behavior.  When teens are in situations where their undeveloped sense of judgement may be overcome by hormones and alcohol, they need sober peers and adults in their life to monitor their behavior.  And if parents aren’t physically present, their values can be there with their child.  When tempted  to do something stupid there’s nothing wrong with a parents voice resonating a  young man’s  head  saying “that’s not how we  behave in our family”.

 

Consent laws are also a new idea, but as well-intentioned as they are, consent laws are essentially unenforceable and may also have some unintended consequences. Recorded consent to sexual acts may go viral and do as much damage as a physical act.  A wide net may be cast and trap people who had no ill intent.

 

The best thing about the proposed consent laws and polices is  that they’re starting a starting some very important discussions.  The best prevention comes from parents’ expression, in word and deed, that sex is an expression of a relationship between two people whose consent is never coerced.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and programs for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.    For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.



[1] David Walsh Why Do They Act That Way? Free Press, NY 2004

 

This post originally appeared at  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Mutual-consent-laws–can-we-legislate-intimate-conversations-.html

Why new technology available to parents to monitor kids online behavior is insufficient

Why new technology available to parents to monitor kids online behavior is insufficient

Parents have both a right and the responsibility to be totally aware of their child’s online life, and the earlier you make that clear to your child the easier it will be to enforce. A 2010 Pew Research study revealed that “the bulk of kids … are getting cell phones at ages 12 and 13 – right as they transition to middle school” and a 2013 study found that 95% of teens are online. And while the true incidence of sexting with explicit photos is probably less than 5 percent of kids online, we also know that at least 10 percent of kids report an unwanted sexual solicitation. Here are two good reasons why parents need to stay on top of their kids’ online activity: Neither young children nor teens are a match for a skilled predator;  and adolescents have a mature sex drive managed by a not–yet-mature brain. And if you still need convincing, read this report prepared by the Crimes Against Children Research Center and see how many of the cases reported to law enforcement were uncovered when parents checked their kids’ phones!

Parents of young kids can set a precedent starting when their kids use their first electronic devices. Certain security measures are low-tech, like keeping the device chargers outside of the bedroom in order to keep devices off the bed, setting all passwords yourselves, and checking devices daily. The most readily available of the low-tech options is parent-child communication. Let your children know why you intend to monitor their on line use; little ones should not have independent internet access until at least age 12; their first experience of your limit setting can be when they learn that your plan only covers a certain number of calls, or of you program their phones limiting the numbers they can call or receive calls from

Continuing conversations about online safety provide a countless opportunities to discuss your family values around relationships and sexual health and safety with young teens and adolescents. Discussions about unanticipated solicitation, sexual and otherwise, lead right into a conversation about respecting other people’s boundaries, and being empowered to hold their own. A dialog about predators opens the door to conversations about the importance of really knowing someone — online or in person — before placing full trust in them. And when you get to the talk about sexting, don’t stop at the tech-based reminders that photos exist forever and can be shared beyond the intended recipient. Try having a discussion about how normal it is for young people to be confused about making any decisions about sex. Chapters 5 and 6 in my book, The Sex-Wise Parent will be helpful.

Does hot weather means “hot” clothes for your kids?

With hot weather now the exception rather than the rule,  parents need to understand the effect the heat can have on kids. Some children  wait  all winter for an excuse to bare their skin in clothes that are more suitable for a dance club than school. Let the battles begin?

Not necessarily. For parents, a good place to start is determine your child’s school’s policy on dress code and how is it enforced.

The rules in Philadelphia generally refer to students dressing in a “manner of appearance that disturb, distract or interfere with the instructional program, or constitute a health or safety hazard.” At the very least, schools should prohibit children from exposing their belly buttons, breast cleavage, butt cleavage and the wearing of suggestive slogans on t-shirts by either students or staff. It is perfectly natural for teens and pre-teens to push boundaries and arrive in school wearing something that bends—if not actually breaks—the dress code rules. School staff should react firmly to any breaches in the rules, while not embarrassing the student.

A common problem among younger kids is they may believe that a certain type of look equates to being attractive—without understanding that the look has a sexual connotation. When a nine-year-old girl chooses a bedazzled tube top with a decidedly hookerish look, her parents needs to supplement their “no” with an explanation beyond a “because I said so.” Explaining to kids that certain kinds of clothes carry a message (one that is not always appropriate for their age) is a good place to start. Consider using a uniform as an example and say something like this — “When you wear shin guards, I know you’re getting ready to play soccer.” This starts the discussion about how a particular look is seen by some people as a signal that you’re dressed for a specific activity. You could explain to young kids that certain items of clothing are seen as a “uniform” for people who like to kiss or flirt or an equivalent term that will make an 8-year-old think, “Yuck.” With older kids, it is equally important to stress that a person’s attire is never to be taken as a sign of anything about their preferred sexual behaviors. Dress is NEVER to be taken as an invitation to touch.

Girls are especially are pressured to appear looking sexual at young ages, being exposed to promotions for things like baby bikinis or padded bras for eight-year-olds. Parents can nip this in the bud with a parent-child discussion about their family dress code. What a great opportunity for parents to express their values to their children! Cover topics ranging from self-respect, dignity, the image they want to portray, individual choice versus following a crowd, and sexuality. If you can manage to be non-judgmental, ask the young teenaged girl why she thinks her shirt has to be skin tight; ask the boy why he wants to wear a t-shirt with a sexist logo. Conversations on dress could open a myriad of topics that help strengthen a parent child relationship! Younger kids are more likely to engage that older ones; the turbulent adolescent years may make your teen turn a deaf ear to your opinions, but keep them coming anyway.  They’re listening a lot more than they let on.

Before snapping up the last bargains from the summer sales, start the discussion with your kids so they know your opinions and limits.  Sex-wise parents know that filling their children with their values is one of the most important steps in raising sexually safe and healthy children and this is a golden opportunity for one of those valuable conversations.

Learn more about how to support your child’s sexual health and safety from my book, The Sex Wise Parent and by visiting www.sexwiseparent.com.

 

 

 

The complicated job of choosing a book explaining sex to your child

The complicated job of choosing a book explaining sex to your child

Kids need to learn about their bodies and sex; parents know that. But most parents struggle to find the right way to teach them. A good book, carefully chosen, can help you teach sexual   health and safety, but where to start to find the perfect book?

The local branch of a chain bookstore had sections for pre-schoolers and teens. In the area for very young kids, I found a few books with catchy titles and age-appropriate graphics, dedicated either to helping little kids learn where babies come from or how to avoid stranger danger.

While several books had good information, each book I read had at least one point that killed it for me. For example, one book offered the fact that “penises get hard so they can go into vaginas”. That’s no help to a child whose penis gets hard in the bath, in his sleep or worse yet, at the touch or a predator. A parent reading this book could add their own explanation or substitute their own words for the author’s.   Parents may think that adding their own commentary defeats the purpose of using a book to help communicate the most sensitive points, but what it really does is underline that books are not a substitute for an on-going conversation between parents and kids.

Books written to teach kids to protect their ‘private parts’ from predators aren’t a great choice as the first or sole source of information about genitals, mainly because we don’t want the child’s first knowledge to be based on fear. Initial conversations should focus on everyday things, like toilet and bathing hygiene and responses to questions.  If you find a book with this message that fits your values, read it with your child and consider it the opening to an on-going conversation.

When I moved on to the teen section, most of the books I found did a decent job presenting reproduction. In that context some books did OK discussing sexual arousal for boys; after all, a male needs to be aroused to reproduce. Books directed to girls generally did  a good job explaining ovulation and menstruation, but female sexual arousal was nowhere to be found. Only one book even mentioned that vaginas produce fluids other than menstruation, but it did not present the anatomical fact that female genital lubrication is analogous to male erection as a reflexive physical sign of arousal. This is something that teens of both genders need to know so they can understand that reflexive responses to thoughts or stimulation are very different from emotional feelings.

If forced to choose one book for kids approaching or experiencing puberty, I’d land on You: The Owner’s Manual for Teens, (Scribner, 2011) written by a group of experts including TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz.  This book goes from head to toe explaining the changing human body and is written in a way that shows respect for a teen’s intelligence. I caught Oz’s daughter Daphne on her television show teasing easily and appropriately with colleagues about her sex life as a young wife — his advice seems to have worked!

 

Are you ready?

Before you chose a book, decide what you want your child to know.  Then read the book in the bookstore, in your library or on-line and see how the book meets your goal. Parent reviews of some of the highest rated books on this topic include the complaint that the book will open up topics and lead to questions before the child is ready. A well-researched book written by a credentialed and reputable author carefully considers child development; it is much more likely that the parent doesn’t feel ready to deal with a topic. If you need help getting comfortable, use the advice I offer in The Sex-Wise Parent  (Skyhorse, 2012).   One of the easiest things to do is to practice by reading the book with your spouse, partner or a trusted friend and anticipating comments or questions from the child.   Resist the temptation to just give a book to an older child until you read the entire book! You need to know what the author is teaching, and its context. National research results shows that teens report parents having more influence on their decisions about sex than peers or the media; a discussion about the contents of a book is a great way to share your opinions whether they match or differ from those in the book.

Books can be helpful components of promoting the sexual health and safety of your family but you’re never going to find the perfect book.   No book can transmit your family’s values and beliefs wrapped up in love for your child. But a good book, carefully chosen, can be an important addition to your efforts.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent. For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEAED IN THE HEALTHY  KIDS BLOG AT PHILLY.COM    http://bit.ly/Iebdrt

 

 

Changing Times~ prepare your child for the summer camp locker room!

Changing Times~ prepare your child for the summer camp locker room!

While the world changes around us, some things are timeless. The exhilarating feeling of a sweaty body hitting cool water never changes; neither does the anxiety of changing into a swimsuit in front of other kids.

Kids respond uniquely to the changing experience. Some kids could not care less; others find it terrifying. How will your child react? How can you help?

What can influence  a child’s reaction?

Age plays a big role.

Pre-school and younger kids generally don’t care. They just want to swim.

Sometime around age 5 or 6, children become aware of the differences between people; their curiosity levels vary. For some kids, different size or shaped genitals may be no more interesting than variations in facial features. As kids are exposed to various images emphasizing and sexualizing body parts, associations set in. It is not unusual for a 6 year old girl to “know” that bigger breasts are a sort of status symbol. Group changing can be particularly uncomfortable for pre-teens; they are often highly  status conscious and confused about the changes in their body.

Family’s norms will have an effect.

Camp preparation is a good time to pay attention to the messages you send your child about the difference between privacy and secrecy. Private means we choose who to share something with; secrecy means no one knows. There should be no secrets between parents and children regarding their bodies; families develop their own values about privacy. Children from families with more stringent norms about privacy may need additional preparation for changing time. If you have been avoiding this issue now is the time to talk to your child!

Who’s in charge?

The locker room is one of the worst places to be bullied or teased — a child is particularly vulnerable. Having trained, mature staff manage the experience is crucial.

Parents should know who supervises changing time. Young camp staff can still be struggling through their own adolescent issues and may not be the most sensitive human beings. It may be impossible to have a developmental psychologist in every summer program, but it is a great idea for  a camp provide a training session for all its staff.

What can you do?

Prepare your child with a preventative discussion; this is a good topic to slip into a conversation about summer camp. “Are you looking forward to swimming? The changing room can be interesting; kids your age can look pretty different from each other.”

Don’t forget the ultra-practical — make sure the swimsuit is simple. Locker rooms are no place for fancy decorations that could get tangled or fasteners beyond a child’s reach. If the child just HAS to have something really fancy, practice getting in and out of the suit with your child.

Check in with your child once the program is in progress. Try mixing a personal thought with a question, for example, “How’s the locker room experience going? I remember everyone giggling so hard we could hardly get our suits on,” or “I remember being teased because I had (or didn’t have) hair (pubic hair, leg hair) before other kids did.”

Getting ready for summer camp provides great opportunities to discuss privacy, secrecy, puberty, peer pressure and other issues where parents want to transmit their values to children. Take advantage of it! You’ll get closer to your kids and help keep them safe and healthy!

 

Janet Rosenzweig MS, PhD, MPA is the author of the Sex-Wise Parent  (Skyhorse, 2012)  and  a thirty year veteran of child welfare and youth serving programs.  She is committed to bringing the best possible  information to parents  to help them raise safe, healthy, happy kids.