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

To prevent abuse and promote health among kids, focus on impact of behavior  (Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2019)

To prevent abuse and promote health among kids, focus on impact of behavior (Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2019)

Each year, April is designated as child-abuse prevention month by public officials all over the United States, serving as a reminder of the need for all of us to focus on healthy child development. Happy, healthy children grow into happy, healthy, and productive adults and strengthen the economic and social fabric of our community.

April is also designated an Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and of course, the two issues intersect in several important ways.

One of the most obvious points of intersection is that abusers share a lack of regard for the impact their behavior has on the victim.

This month, former vice president Joe Biden was in the news for expressing a brand of affection that fits within his values of warm, hands-on contact with the public. But some people experience his touching as uncomfortable at best, and intrusive at worse.

On the more serious end of the spectrum are the type of sex offenders who develop relationships with victims and can convince themselves that the victim was a willing participant. Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary describing singer Michael Jackson’s long-term, “loving” relationships with boys is an example.

Radio personality Robin Quivers offers another clear example of this type of ignorance.  At age 12, she gathered the courage to confront her sexually abusive father, who apparently was so disconnected from his victim that he believed that she had been enjoying the sex; he never touched Robin again, once he knew her truth.

Here are two much more commonly practiced behaviors which science has shown unequivocally hurt children:

  • Hitting: The data is in and respected organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association now warn  of the harms of hitting children and urge parents to use more supportive forms of discipline. All organizations might consider becoming No-Hit Zones;  faith-based organizations might consider following the example of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, whose congregants voted  to make their church the first faith-based No-Hit Zone in the United States.
  • Psychological maltreatment: Constant insults, belittling, and threats take their toll on children. Many parents  just don’t pay close enough attention to their choice of words and tone — but in some families, terrorizing children seems to have become a sport. I’m shocked how many parents thinks it’s funny to scare the devil out of their child then  post the results online for others to see.

Both hitting and psychological abuse are known sources of toxic stress for children that can affect brain development, behavior, and relationships.

Most parents would do better if they knew better; everyone can spread the word about the impact of hitting and psychological maltreatment. We can have a long-term effect by raising this generation of children to focus on the impact all their behaviors have on others. And let’s reach out to the grown-ups too;  as Biden’s video explanation shows, it’s never too late to learn the lesson of considering the effects  your behaviors have on others.

Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, 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 and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

This post first appeared at philly.com

Poverty and child well being – how you can help!

In early 2016,  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  recommended that all pediatricians screen for poverty in children, hoping to reduce the toxic effects of poverty on children’s health.  AAP researchers produced a policy brief that is a must-read for any student of health, economics or public policy, but it contains important lessons for all of us.

 Poverty weighs on parents in ways both subtle and obvious. For example, a Yale study found that low income mothers who could not afford diapers are more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety interfere with the ability to respond emotionally to a baby and such response is a most critical role of a parent to help promote early brain development. Poor nutrition, substandard housing, and living in a high-crime neighborhood – all side effects of poverty – place burdens on a child’s physical and mental health.

More than a quarter of the population of Philadelphia, including one-third of all children, live below the poverty level, and Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities.  Poverty is not always obvious; the economic downturn of recent years has brought poverty to suburbia in unprecedented numbers.

While the AAP recommends specific screening tools for pediatricians to use in their practices, each of us can look closely to see where we might lend a hand. Decades ago, if a neighbor noticed a hungry family, she might send over a casserole; now, too often the temptation is to call Child Protective Services and report neglect. It’s time to reverse that practice. Each of us can offer compassionate and dignified support to a friend, neighbor, or relative who may need it. A meal, a week’s worth of groceries, a carton of diapers now and then can make a difference to a family.

Years ago when my son was around 12-years-old and I was a divorced grad student, my son spent an afternoon at the home of a friend. When I went to pick him up, I learned that he had enthusiastically eaten anything and everything the hostess Mom offered. Hostess Mom gently suggested that if there wasn’t enough food in my house, she’d be happy to send an extra lunch to school each day with her son for mine. She didn’t know that I had good job, and my son was just being a voracious pre-teen, but her concern, compassion, and tact could be a model for anyone. If being that personal doesn’t suit your style, support efforts of your religious community or local anti-poverty organizations who share the mission of alleviating the effects of poverty on a child’s development.

Some pediatricians may respond to the AAP’s recommendation by noting how little time they already have to spend with patients and the increasing demands placed on their practices. Perhaps as the health insurance industry recognizes the toxic, long term effects of poverty on child health poverty screening will be come as routine as vison and hearing screening.

In the meantime, “screen” the children and families in your life to see where you can help. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, the perfect time to ask yourself what else you can do to support the great childhoods all children deserve.

Rosenzweig is also 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  and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

 

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/How-we-all-can-fight-the-effects-of-poverty.html#RjmKYU0VMdMyRR8P.99

Whats the true rate of abuse in youth serving agencies? What parents need to know…

As a parent, you’ve probably heard enough stories about child abuse in sports teams and youth organizations to make your head spin. A study published online today in JAMA Pediatrics offers both good news and cause for some concern when it comes to the rate of abuse in these groups.

This good news is that this study, whose authors are among the most respected names in child abuse research, finds sexual abuse in youth-serving organizations to be relatively rare. The researchers combined data from three national population telephone surveys to create a sample of 13,052 children, ranging from infants to age 17.

Less than 1 percent of all children report any type of abuse in “youth-serving organizations such as schools and religious/recreational groups” and only 6.4 percent of that number report sexual abuse. While this is a thankfully low percentage, it tells us that as many as 100,000 kids may experience sexual abuse in a youth serving organization and that prevention efforts by these organizations and all parents must continue.

Results from this study left me with an unanticipated area of concern: Of the children who reported abuse in a youth-serving agency or organization, 64 percent of the abuse by an adult was verbal or emotional. Based on this study, it’s estimated that up to 1 million kids could answer yes to the question: “Did you get scared or feel really bad because grown-ups in your life called you names, said mean things to you, or said they didn’t want you?” Emotional abuse, or bullying by an adult in a youth-serving organization, is 10 times more prevalent than sexual abuse, and the scars can be deep and long lasting. This is unacceptable, and is a call to action for parents.

Parents should consider action on two fronts: with their children and with their youth organizations. First, open communication with their children should include a conversation making it clear that coaches and other adults may say things are difficult to hear sometimes, but remarks from a good coach make a child want to work harder and do better, not make them feel bad or unwanted. Parents should encourage their children to share any concerns about a coach or staff members’ behavior or language.

Secondly, parents and caregivers should also investigate the policies and procedures of any organization serving their children. Learn the basics like how staff and volunteers are screened and trained, but don’t stop there. Most youth sports teams have specific volunteer or required roles to help the team operate, like “snack parent” or “equipment parent.” As the next team season approaches, think about collaborating with other parents to develop a rotating schedule for a “stand parent”, an adult to attend each game or practice to watch from the stands and cheer for each player, while keeping an eye and ear open for inappropriate treatment of kids by staff and volunteers.

Child abuse statistics are notoriously inexact for many reasons, including difficulty identifying people to count, and wide variations in definitions. Last week, the federal government released its major annual report which shows a much lower count of all types of child abuse than the estimates reported in the JAMA article. The federal report only counts children where the abuse is both known to the public child protection agency, and if the abuse appears to be serious enough to meet each state’s legal definition.

The study reported in JAMA this week uses a very different, but critical definition: does a child feel as if they have been abused.  There are hundreds of thousands of children who feel the scar from some type of abuse and there’s no public agency on the way to help.  Every caring adult can do their part in counteracting that by being a loving, respectful, and trustworthy presence in the lives of all children about whom they care.

All children deserve great childhoods, and all adults have a role to play in making sure that happens. These two reports remind us just how much farther we have to go to ensure safe and healthy childhoods for all.

 

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.

 

 

Please stop saying child abuse “prevention” when describing detection and reporting

To the Editor:

Pennsylvania has taken some important steps since the Sandusky tragedy came to light but many holes still exist in our safety net for children.

One of the largest is the fact that people are still using the word ‘prevention’ of child sexual abuse when they really mean detection and reporting.   By the time there is something to report and detect, it’s too late for real prevention.    We don’t say we prevented a case of influenza when we’ve recognized the symptoms and take someone to a doctor; we say we prevented influenza with a flu shot.   We don’t say we prevented a fire when we dispatch a truck to a burning home; we say we prevented a fire when we help ensure that every home has a working smoke detector. Using the term prevention when describing detection and reporting diminishes real prevention  efforts and reduces the likelihood they will be replicated.

The last decade has seen an impressive increase in the ability to bring real prevention to communities and families.  Real prevention is ensuring that communities and families have access to the resources they need to raise healthy, productive, and successful children.  Resources might be material, social or educational.  Such resources include ensuing that parents understand child development so they have realistic expectation of children’s capabilities at different ages.   Resources for ensuing sexual health and safety also include helping parents understand psychosexual development, and helping them develop  the comfort and knowledge to open the lines of communication with their children.  In the past year, I have seen organizations in State College take huge steps in towards this type of real prevention and they need continued support and encouragement to continue.

As we look back at lessons learned in the past year, none is more important than the fact that real prevention is possible.  Now is the time to systematically coordinate and support prevention efforts, not just in State College but throughout Pennsylvania.    Let’s ask our legislators to support legislation designed to prevent abuse before it ever  occurs.

This letter was unpublished at:  http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/07/child_sexual_abuse_real_prevention_looks_like.html#incart_river

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig has been working with child sexual abuse for three decades. She currently is the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention programs for Prevent Child Abuse America  and  is  the author of The Sex-Wise Parent (Skyhorse 2012) She is an alumnus of Penn State and has returned to that community multiple times  to support efforts at prevention.

Ever hear of an ephebophile? They are just like pedophiles, except they’re after teens!

The story of Brittni Colleps, a Texas school teacher charged with having sex with four students at her home, is a sickening example of a loss of discipline in the people and institutions to whom we entrust our children.

As upsetting as it is, this case can give parents the opportunity and motivation to make sure that their schools, and their children, are safe from type of sexual predator. And it is predation – even though the (alleged) victims were all over 18, they were students in Colleps’ school and we depend on that relationship to be friendly and professional, but not sexual.

Have a look at my checklist to determine if the ‘sexual climate’ in your child’s school might also allow this kind of behavior.

Sexual climate in this context is a variation of “school climate”, a concept used by scholars of educational administration to describe the “feel” of being is a specific school. While “school culture” refers to the rules, policies and procedures of a school district and is uniform throughout a school district, the climate can vary greatly from school to school, depending on the faculty, staff, students, or even factors like the design of a building. The sexual climate in a school where a teacher might be sexually involved with a number of students is clearly dangerous.

The Sandusky case and clergy scandals have placed a bright spotlight on pedophiles, adults who are sexually attracted to young children and eventually sexualize their trust and affection, generally leading to rape. The allegations against Brittny Colleps remind us that there is more than one type of sexual predator lusting after our kids.

Professionals use the term hebephile for someone with a preference for children just entering puberty and the term ephebophile to describe someone with an attraction to older adolescents. You don’t need to remember the names; you do need to understand that the need to know every adult who spends time with our kids does not end with elementary school.

An example of the destruction an ephebophile can leave in his path might be found in the story of Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky was sexually involved with her high school drama teacher, a man described in a HBO special by other students in her school as a known predator. If kids know which teachers are predators, adults stand a chance of knowing as well. There are easy steps that any parent can take, including recognizing the prevalence of these relationships, maintaining open communication with a teen, and knowing every adult who spends alone-time with them. Then, consider talking with other parents to answer these questions.

Allegations like those against Brittni Colleps and the reports of convictions of teachers from schools all over the country remind us that sexual predators can be of any age or gender. If we read the report published by the US Department of Education — and I urge you to follow this link — Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature — you’ll see how common this behavior really is.

But if you’ll read my checklist you’ll see that there are steps a Sex-Wise Parent can take to ensure that the sexual climate of the schools serving their kids will promote sexual health and safety.

 

Use the news!

Imagine the drive to soccer practice; no sooner do you get your child to remove the earphones which seem permanently implanted in their ears then the radio announces the latest development in the clergy scandal or Sandusky case. Great, just what you had in mind!

But please, resist the urge to pretend you didn’t the newscaster. Take a deep breath, turn off the radio and ask your child their thoughts about what you just heard.

“That’s gross” is a likely reply. “I think so too” you could answer. “How much do you understand about what happened to the victims?”

Then listen to your child’s reply carefully. Depending on their age, they may understand exactly what sex abuse is, or have a terrible misconception. I recall one family I counseled years ago where the younger sibling of a victim mistook the word ‘rape’ for ‘rake’. She thought all of the family trauma was because someone hit her sister with a rake! Prompt your child with an age-appropriate version of a question such as “what do you think the bad guy did to the child?” Explain your questioning with an (also age-appropriate) version of a statement like “I want to make sure you understand so we can be a team working together to keep our family and friends safe.” That’s a little less threatening than saying “I want to keep you safe” but parents know their own kids and can judge  what they can be comfortable hearing.

Use this as an opportunity to tell your kids that people who sexually abuse children put their own  pleasure above the pain they cause children. Remind them that sometimes they dress it up like a friendship or a love relationship to confuse the child (or teen!). Remind them that anyone who wants to be sexual with a young person is selfish at best and a criminal at worse. And if your child protests the conversation, take the opportunity to remind them that being able to speak  with you about sex helps keep them healthy and being able to speak with you about sex abuse can help keep them safe.

Abusers count on the fact that kids don’t like to speak to their parents about sex, and you don’t want that to be true on your family.

So use the news —with the Sandusky trial starting in a few weeks and on-going clergy trials in many major media markets,  there will be plenty of opportunity!

Not everyone who sexually abuses a child is a pedophile; what parents need to know

Parents of young kids spent a lot of time worrying about pedophiles these days, as well they might. We read articles about how pedophiles ingratiate themselves into the lives of children, like ‘coach’ Sandusky allegedly did with the vulnerable young boys served by a charity he helped found. Many parents have heard the term ‘grooming’ used to describe the way that pedophiles seduce a child through friendship and affection, then use that trust to coerce a child to keep their dirty secret. Once the seduction is complete, pedophiles trade on shame, guilt and fear. They threaten to remove privileges the child has earned, and instill shame by convincing young victims that their physical autonomic response to stimuli meant that they were complicit in the sexual acts.

But adults who sexually abuse children are not all pedophiles! There are other predators in our midst who find themselves sexually attracted to older kids and teens, the ones who no longer look like children, but certainly, in many respects still are. This recent story about a teacher/student relationship provides an example of a reason for parents to be vigilant about all adults in their child’s life; a 40 year old teacher acting on his ‘crush’ on a high school girl is a predator, no matter how he wants to dress it up. In contrast to the dark tools used by people who seduce little children, these predators gain compliance by offering prestige, status and romance!

A teenager is developmentally incapable of being an equal in a relationship with someone expert on the matter of manipulating a young person to comply with his wishes. In fact, a predatory teacher is demonstrating is a tragic misuse of every developmental psychology course taken to earn teaching credentials!

Parents may breathe a sigh of relief when your child reaches puberty and ages out of the attraction range of pedophiles. But open lines of communication about all aspects of sexual health and safety can help your child have the strength not to succumb to the charms of more grown – up predators.  Learn more at www.SexWiseParent.com

Real Prevention………

So what if April is Child Abuse Prevention Month? Every month is dedicated to somebody’s favorite cause, and we all have a really short attention span. Child abuse and neglect seem to be under the radar right now. We can all be thankful  when we have a week or month  without reports of  tragic deaths or damning reports of bad decisions by  public agencies.   But lately, not a week goes by that another person in the spotlight reveals a childhood histort of sexual abuse —  movies stars, CNN reporters,  sports heroes — .  Thier honesty reveals that no one is immune; thank goodness for thier courage to make this  issue public.  I have an instinctual response to scream as loud as I can every year as April approaches to remind every single person that  children are abused and violated daily, and less than 1/3 ever come to the attention of authorities, fewer yet get the help they need.

I capped more than two decades in public human services and child welfare work by spending six years as the executive director of the New Jersey chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America (http:// www.preventchildabuse.org). I found amazing volunteers, professionals, philanthropists and public officials throughout our state who really believe in building stronger families and communities.

I left PCA-NJ  to study  at Harvard’s Kennedy School learn with and from the best and the brightest in public administration. One evening, I was in the audience for a panel discussion about performance management in the public sector that featured speakers from the offices of several governors. My lesson  came not from the stage, however, but from a fellow member of the audience.

While discussing how to use performance monitoring systems in public social service agencies to manage response times to reports of child abuse and caseload sizes, a representative from a Western state repeated several times that “child abuse prevention is a very high priority.” I am a dedicated advocate for prevention and yet I found this statement to be distressing in ways that eluded words. Standing next to me was a fellow Harvard student, a  high-ranking official with the New York City Fire Department and a 9/11 first responder. I looked over at him and finally found the words to explain my frustration. “Joe,” I said, “when you dispatch a unit to put out a fire, would anyone ever dare to call that fire prevention?”

I fear that  in too many communities, people acknowledge child abuse prevention month by reminding people to  report suspected cases to authorities……Of course state agencies have an obligation to protect children. But real prevention is measured by  a great deal more than a decrease in the number of reports to Child Protection.

Along with counting how fast a public agency responds after someone reports that a child has been injured, how about if we start counting how many parents have access to information on how to calm a crying baby? And how many new parents are served by a trained family support worker to help them through those confusing and sleep-deprived first few months of parenthood? And how many parents have a job paying a living wage from an employer with family-friendly policies? And how many child-care centers have the resources to offer parenting support groups? And how many schools understand the meaning of supporting a healthy sexual climate for their students and staff?  And how many communities support quality sex education, one of the best defenses against child sexual abuse?

Here’s my basic metric for government: Is every child attached to at least one adult who has available all the resources it takes to raise a healthy, productive member of society?

Prevent Child Abuse America estimates that the U.S. spends more than $100 billion each year on the effects of child abuse and neglect. From the cost of operating the child protection services in each state  to crowding our special-education programs and juvenile justice systems with victims, the maltreatment of our children brings immense human suffering and public costs. The resulting failed adult relationships, poor parenting skills and diminished aspirations caused by irreparable injury to vulnerable little egos are not limited to the low-income families more likely to come into contact with the public systems. We all suffer when families and communities fail their children.

Who is going to show that they  know the difference between fireproofing a home and dispatching a ladder truck? This April when we hear about Child Abuse Prevention Month,  in memory of martyred children named Faheem, Nixmarie, Jessica Lauren, Bill Z  and so many others, let’s think about also counting and doing the things that can make a difference;  supporting families and  strengthening communities.  Preventing the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of all children is a worthy goal — what do you need to do your part?