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

 

 

Conspiracies of silence endanger sexual health and safety

The news that more than 300 Pennsylvania priests may have sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable children during the last 70 years is shocking for the enormity of the accusation, but by now there have been enough of these tragic accusations against so many of our institutions that parents should be neither unaware of the risks to their children nor unwilling to confront those risks before their own child might be abused.

The grand jury indictments accuse the Catholic Church of covering up the abuse with criminal conspiracies of silence. Healthy institutions – and the family is the most basic institution of our society — need to break the silence about sexual health and safety, and there is never a better time than the present to do that.

Let’s start with a few basic ideas:

  • Children should have medically accurate, age-appropriate facts about sexual anatomy and physiology. Little kids should know all the external parts; as kids age they need to know the internal parts and all kids need to know that sexual arousal is an autonomic reflex. Too many predators entrap kids by convincing a child they were not a victim because they became aroused. Parents can neutralize the pedophile’s devastating, all too-common tool with medically accurate information.
  • Parents can open a conversation by reminding children that many people will put their own interests above that of someone else. Children may have already experienced that by being bullied or lied to or experiencing someone taking something of theirs. Abusing someone sexually is but one of the many ways people put their own feelings above those of another, and it’s one that can leave most damaging scars. Especially if faith plays a role in your family, you will want to address the difference between a person who espouses or teaches the words of  your faith,  and the meaning of those words. Widespread allegations of abuse = can challenge the faith of both child and family, and this is a good chance to draw a defining line between the meaning of your religion and the actions of the accused priests and the people who protected them.
  • Focus on trust. Damage can cut the deepest when abuse is in the context of a trusted relationship. Pedophile priests are in our news now, but other trusted adults including physicians, educators, parental figures and coaches have been there too. Parents can support their children to trust their own instincts when something doesn’t seem right, and to trust that their parents will listen to them and support them when they share those concerns. I’ve heard stories from peers growing up in the 1960s whose parents smacked them for speaking ill of a priest when the child tried to tell about sexual abuse. I hope those days are long gone –children deserve better, and parents can do better.

Too many parents still feel uncomfortable talking to their children about sexuality, yet research shows that parents consistently underestimate the importance children place on their thoughts. Parents may feel as if they don’t know to what say, but other professionals and I can provide resources to help you. Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Sex-Wise Parent books and website are but two of the places where you can find help. If you’re’ really uncomfortable, practice roleplaying with a friend, or ask your school or faith-based organization to schedule a parent workshop.

Our children deserve the very best from all the institutions designed to help bring them to healthy, productive adulthood. Parents can focus on their own children now, when headlines can be causing fear and confusion, but in the long term parents can focus on the policies, procedures and sexual climate  of the institutions that serve their children.

Support for your children’s sexual health and safety must start at home and spread out into the community. Use this current spate of tragic stories to ensure there is no conspiracy of silence around sex in your 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

 

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

Make Holiday Hugs  a Child’s Choice!

Make Holiday Hugs a Child’s Choice!

Learning to set and hold boundaries is an important life skill. Adults without boundaries are routinely taken advantage of by others because they lack the skill set it takes to say “no” in various situations. Many don’t even realize they have a choice when asked to do something: They become “people pleasers,” responding to the needs and requests of others often without considering the cost to themselves. Holding personal boundaries and respecting those of others is a critical component of sexual health and safety, and it’s never too early to teach and model healthy assertiveness for our kids.

The only girl in my college dorm who had a car had just that problem. She never refused anyone who asked for a ride, no matter how inconvenient it was for her. Eventually, after she and I became pretty close friends, I asked her for a lift and to my surprise she said no, offering the explanation that she could only say no to her friends because they already liked her. She should have been able to assert herself to everyone, and her inability to do so with people who were not her friends could have led her into trouble.

Assertiveness training was a popular trend in the 1970s and 1980s. Books with titles such as Your Perfect Right1 or Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No2 became bestsellers, the concepts embraced by millions of readers. Assertiveness training offers strategies to stand up for your rights while respecting the rights of others. Use this concept as inspiration when promoting assertiveness in young children and teens as a tool for keeping their bodies and psyches healthy and safe; support kids learning to stand up for themselves while respecting others.

“But Grandmom needs a hug for the holidays!” exclaims your spouse. Maybe she does, but the needs of the adults never take priority over the needs of a child. If an adult says she “needs” a hug, that magnifies the reasons for a child to have permission to keep her boundaries. Children are not meant to meet the needs of adults; nature has designed things to be the other way around. When adults forget that, children can be at risk.

Talking with your children about setting and keeping boundaries is just another way of describing the act of standing up for one’s rights; parents can teach kids what their rights are and give them the skills, and the permission, to stand up for themselves as protection against boundary-pushers of all types — peers, as well as adults. Consider teaching school-aged children to respond to a request for a hug or a kiss by offering a warm smile and a handshake if that’s what they’d prefer.

A critical part of human development is individuating, which means becoming someone who is separate and different from others. As infants, children are attached to the adults who nurture and nourish them —they come into the world with no boundaries at all. As they become toddlers, some boundaries begin to develop, but don’t mistake ego-centrism (the belief that the world revolves around them) for boundaries. Just because a child can yell “mine!” when someone wants one of her toys does not mean she has the maturity to set and keep social or bodily boundaries; these are very different skillsets and concepts. Little ones need the adults who love them to respect and protect their boundaries for them.

Parents can start teaching children bodily boundaries by the age of two or three. Teaching by example is most effective, and one of the best examples is allowing a child to decide with whom they will share physical affection. Be warm and polite about it, but support your child in holding boundaries that keep them feeling safe and comfortable. Grandmom will suffer no ill effects from a polite and charming declining of a hug, and in fact should commend your child’s ability to think for himself!

 

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.

 

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

Get ready — 50 Shades of Grey is coming to a theater near your kids!

Love it or hate it, a movie glorifying some of the darker sides of sexual behaviors between consenting adults is coming to a theater near you. What’s near you is near your kids, so get ready to take advantage of this teachable moment.

If you don’t know the theme of this best-selling trilogy, Mr. Grey is psychologically damaged from an abusive childhood and finds relief in sadomasochistic practices. He meets sexually inexperienced Anna, they develop a relationship, he teaches her about sex and she teaches him about love, all with lots of sex going on designed to arouse readers of all persuasions.

Here’s a few topics from this movie that make a great discussion with any child, from around age 10 on:

  • In real life, it is never OK for an adult to seduce a child (Grey was introduced to sex by a friend of his mother)
  • In real life, it is never OK for people to hurt each other
  • In real life, girls  want to have their own lives, their own opinions and don’t crave domination
  • In real life, if a man tells a woman (or a woman tells a man) he’s too damaged for a relationship, as Grey tells Anna early on, listen to him and run the other way.

With all of the hype about the books and movie, you may have read points like these, or thought about them yourself if you’ve read the books. As a sex educator, here’s the point I consider most important: This material was written to induce sexual arousal, and when it does, your child needs to understand that just because they experience reflexive arousal does not mean that this is the type of sex they want to have when they are mature enough to have sex.  It is a very common experience for humans to experience arousal from observing or reading about a sexual act they would never consider, and it takes honesty and maturity to understand that fact.

When a male experiences an erection, when a female experiences warmth and lubrication in her genitals, it is a sign that a primal part of their brain has been activated. Young people who don’t understand this are at a terrible disadvantage. People who exploit children and adolescents use the child’s reflexive arousal to convince them that they were a willing partner. Adolescents unfortunate enough to develop a crush on a predatory adult may find their arousal used as a tool for seduction. A teen  may mistake a partner’s arousal for a “yes,” even when they are  clearly saying “no.”  Each of these scenarios are too common and can have disastrous results that devoted parents can help prevent.

Becoming sexually aroused is a reflexive response to stimulus. Sexual response comes from a primal part of the brain that has nothing to do with reasoning. Our kids need to learn that there is no shame in sexual arousal – ever! A key lesson in becoming a mature adult is learning the difference between lust, which is physical arousal and love.  The ubiquitous promotions for the  50 Shades  books and movie provide a most useful teaching aid to make this point.

Loving, responsible parents can find the words and the courage to explain sexual arousal to their children. Young people can learn about the joy of these wonderful feelings and  the angst of them occurring at inopportune times.  Parents can share  the critical lesson that these feelings have nothing to do with the thoughtful, deliberate decisions they will make about their own sexuality. Just because they experience arousal at a book, a move, video, or even the sight of popular young teacher does not at all mean that they can or should act on these feelings.

Your child will most likely have access to clips, summaries and other excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey. Along with processing the obvious lessons about loving, equal relationships between real adults in love, use this as an opportunity to prepare them for the complexities of understanding sexual arousal, a most important lesson for a lifetime of sexual health and safety.

This article appeared first at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-is-coming–are-you-ready.html

 

A Lesson in Sexual Abuse Prevention from Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Matt Sandusky

In her recent interview with Matt Sandusky, Oprah Winfrey hit one of the toughest issues associated with child sexual abuse head-on.

Her interview with the man both victimized and adopted by former Penn State assistant football coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky drove home this  point:  people must rid themselves of the notion that all sexual abuse hurts physically.

“It is part of my mission to expose sexual abuse for what it really is” said Winfrey, and her  questioning of Matt Sandusky was one more step on that path.

As she did with former child actor Todd Bridges in 2010, she directed her questioning of Sandusky to reveal that sexual arousal and climax were part of the abuse.

“It’s very confusing, it’s very confusing to you because you … have a reaction,” Sandusky said, tearfully stumbling over his words. “It’s something that you definitely don’t know what’s happening, but that’s just what it is, I guess, I don’t want to say that it’s pleasurable, but it’s not the most painful thing I guess.”

Winfrey firmly told Sandusky that it is OK to say it’s pleasurable, “because it is. You don’t have the language to even explain what’s happening,” she said.

And therein lies one of the most compelling arguments for sexual education for children. We can neutralize one of the most powerful tools used by predators when we raise kids who truly understand that genital arousal in response to stimulation is as uncontrollable as getting goose bumps when they are tickled. There is no shame or mystery – that’s just how the body works. Parents are the best people to share this information with their kids in age–appropriate doses as they develop, and I believe that so strongly that I developed resources to help them.  With practice and tools  like these, it can be easier than it seems.

Oprah Winfrey shares my dedication to ensuring that people understand that involuntary physical sexual arousal is often an aspect of sexual victimization, and ignorance of this fact traps victims into confusion, shame and silence.

In April 2010, she asked Todd Bridges to read the section from his autobiography “Killing Willis” where he described his awful confusion from climaxing when molested. That show inspired me to bring a sex educator’s perspective to child sexual abuse prevention, write the Sex-Wise Parent and put resources at SexWiseParent.com. In 2012, I heard boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard speak at a Penn State conference on child sexual abuse; he said that hearing Todd Bridges acknowledge this physical reaction on national TV gave him the courage to speak out about his own victimization.

Sexual abuse of children takes many forms, each of them painful in its own awful way. We know that the majority of abuse is initiated by a person known to the child.  In many of these situations, the abuser uses so-called ‘grooming’ techniques to seduce a child into compliance before the child knows what’s happening. Accurate information, lovingly shared by informed parents, can provide children an extra means of defense against fear, guilt and shame and provide a robust defense against sexual a most common type of sexual predator; those who shun physical violence in favor of inducing a physical reaction.

I will always thank Oprah Winfrey for using her platform to continue to share this very important message. Let’s honor that by helping families and communities provide accurate and honest information about sexuality. To paraphrase a pedophile I interviewed when writing the Sex-Wise Parent: “kids want to talk about sex and if their parents won’t do it, I will”.

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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.

 

 

 

Choose a safe summer program for your kids!

Choose a safe summer program for your kids!

The school year will end before you know it, and NOW is the time to make summer plans for kids.   Some parents look for a summer program that is educational; others look for a program that builds a special skill; many pick a program with hours that match parents work schedules.  Regardless of why a program is chosen, one thing should be certain: that the camp is run in a way to keep children safe.

Let’s go through a typical camp day to see some how a camp can ensure a child’s physical and emotional comfort and safety.

If the children will be picked up, will there be someone other than the driver to provide supervision? Excited kids can get unruly and distract a driver; an older child assigned to lead songs and keep order may be enough if no staff member is available. If parents drop off the children, are there procedures in place to ensure that the child passes from the parents supervision directly to a staff member? Is there a safe path to travel when the child leaves the car?

Camp administration should check the background and references for all people who have access to children. This includes maintenance and food services staff as well as the counselors, teachers or volunteers working directly with kids. It is common for summer camps to employ students; these young folks should participate in pre-service training to learn the rules, values and standards of the camp, and be assigned a supervisor who really supervises!

Parents need to know how children are monitored as they move about the camp, for example if a child needs to use the bathroom. If the policy is to let children go alone, a time limit of no more than 5 minutes should be set. Tight supervision is a must for field trips; assigning buddies and performing constant head counts are basic tools of the trade.

Parents should always be able to observe a camp day. The camp should have a procedure requiring parents to sign in, and parents should be respectful and not interfere with camp activities.

The camp should maintain a list of people allowed to pick up children provided by parents at registration. Honor the process by avoiding last minute changes that the camp can’t verify.

Emotional safety requires attention. If swimming if offered, have the staff been prepared to handle children’s discomfort about changing clothes in front of others? If there is a focus on sports, are all children encouraged to participate? Is competition kept to a healthy level? Is the discipline consistent with parents’ values? And, how to they stop bullying?

A parent could learn about these issues by interviewing the camp director, or talking to parents who sent their children in prior years. If the program that’s most convenient for you because of location, cost or hours does not meet all of these standards, the administration may be willing to take some of your suggestions!

Throughout the summer, parents should ask kids questions on these topics. Summer should be a time of relaxed fun for children and parents will be able to relax themselves when they know they have chosen a safe summer program for their children.

 Find a checklist to take on your camp tour at

www.SexWiseParent.com/resources 

and share it with the other parents in your life!  

 

 

This article originally appeared @Philly.com!

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Choosing-a-safe-summer-program-for-children.html