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

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.

 

 

Help Kids Have a Safe and Healthy New Years Eve!

Help Kids Have a Safe and Healthy New Years Eve!

Many families plan big celebrations for New Year’s Eve, and many kids may think they’ve outgrown spending such a social evening with their parents. Separating from parents and individuating socially and physically is a key part of growing up, and planning for New Year’s Eve together can provide an opportunity to strengthen the foundation for sexual health and safety of your children.

School aged kids may be old enough to celebrate with sleepovers at a friend’s house. In this case, make sure you have accurate information about the host parents plans for the evening. Know every person who will be in the house and spending the night, both kids and adults. Parents hosting the party may be inviting their adult friends to spend the night as well as the friends of their children; that could potentially expose a vulnerable child to an intoxicated stranger.

I strongly recommend that sleepovers operate under a “check your cellphone at the door” rule. Even when you’ve reminded your children how much your family values honesty and respect, sleepy kids facing peer pressure can forget your values quicker than you can say “Instagram”.

Teens may want to emulate the celebrations they see in the media. Like prom night, New Year’s Eve can be a night where high expectations for a special occasion can cloud judgment. If your teens will be going out, make sure they have a plan for the evening, have them share the plan with you and set up a check -in mechanism so you can be sure that they stick to the plan.

Remind teens that your family’s values include staying sober, and making conscious, deliberate decisions about sexual activity. The pre-party or big-date discussion might also include a reminder about the physiology of sexual arousal; arousal is an autonomic response to stimulation and a sign that a growing body is working properly. Arousal is not an invitation or permission slip to be sexually active. This is also the right time to remind your child that your family’s values do not include pressuring anyone into any sexual act.

People of all ages may use New Year’s Eve as an excuse to drink alcohol. A toast may be considered socially acceptable for adults, but for kids it’s still underage drinking with all of the risks that implies. Parents can be criminally liable for enabling underage drinking and your pre-party chat should remind your child about the stupidity of getting into a car with someone who has been drinking.

New Year’s Eve is a good time to introduce a promise to your teen that they can call you to come pick them up, any time, any place with no questions asked until the next morning. This promise can life-saving; one bad judgment by your teen or one of their friends may place them in a place or situation that they need help getting out of. If that happens, you want to be a phone call away; your teen should not have to weigh the dangers of your temper against the dangers of their situation.

The littlest children will be at home, but thought needs to be given to their wellbeing if parents plan to celebrate. Demonstrate your value of placing your children first on your priority list by having a designated parent-in-charge so a child will always have access to a sober, attentive parent when they need one. If you plan to go out, be sure to thoroughly vet the baby sitter and leave hard and fast rules about visitors, celebration and kids’ bedtimes. Get accurate information about what’s happening in your house by calling home; enjoy a video-chat and send New Year’s greeting to your kids!

The best recipe for growing sexually safe and healthy kids is based on parents sending their kids out in the world filled with accurate information wrapped up in that family’s values. Special events when a child might think that every day rules don’t apply present an important opportunity for parents to a have their say, and now is the time to prepare for your child’s New Year’s celebration.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Helping kids understand the meaning of Halloween costumes

Helping kids understand the meaning of Halloween costumes

 

Parents are in the final throes of preparing for Halloween, buying candy, decorating their houses and in too many families fighting over costumes that make a parent cringe.

Whether the costume makes a politically-incorrect statement or projects an image you can’t stomach (Miley twerking, anyone?) Halloween can present some important teaching moments.  Even if you ultimately ban the costume with a strong “because I said so” you can get a few points across during the debate.

Girls especially are pressured into appearing sexual at young ages, exposed by the media to baby bikinis and padded bras for eight-year-olds. Boys may need  help understanding what is really conveyed by the tough-guy looks or dressing  as a character known for violence.  A common problem among latency aged, pre-sexual kids is that they may know that a certain type of look is equated with being attractive without understanding that it has a sexual  or dangerously violent connotation. When a nine-year-old girl chooses a Halloween costume with a decidedly “hooker-ish” look, a parent needs to supplement their “no” with a justification.   Explaining to kids that certain kinds of  clothes carry a certain kind of message (one that is not always appropriate for their age) is a good place to start. Consider using  a uniform as an example.   “When you wear shin guards, I know you’re getting ready to play soccer”.   You can then continue on and explain to a school-aged child that a particular look is seen by some people as a uniform to “kiss” or “flirt” or some other term in that will make a nine-year-old think, “Yuck.”

Older kids may think they know exactly the message they are conveying with their costume and are happy to do so.  In that case a Sex-Wise Parent makes it clear that “this is not a message we allow in our family.  It does not support your sexual health and safety, which is very important to me.”

This  is also a good time to remind our kids, particularly adolescents, that a persons attire NEVER is to be taken as an invitation for sexual contact.    If your teen reminds you that those two messages sound like they contradict each other  remind them that not everyone understands  or lives by the  latter point.

We must let our kids know that there are some rules we’ll bend on Halloween, like how much chocolate they can have in a single day, and other rules that are hard and fast.   They don’t get a day off from thinking about the messages they send  about their sexuality.

For more information, see The Sex-Wise Parent!

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

Dangerous games

Kids give us plenty of things to worry about as they mature: Will they pay enough attention in school to get into a good college? Will they choose the right friends? Will they make the right choice when faced with drugs or alcohol? Will they wait until they’re really ready to experience sex? Current attention to an ancient practice has given families something else to understand and warn children against: choking games.

Choking games, medically known as ‘voluntary asphyxia’ goes by many terms among kids. Black Hole, Black Out, Red Out, Knock Out, Flat lining, Five Minutes in Heaven, Space Monkey, Suffocation Roulette, Gasp, Tingling, are among the names used by kids in different communities[1]. These are terms that parents and grandparents should come to know and recognize as a sign of danger.

In these games, kids physically limit oxygen to the brain, causing a brief, intense rush as the brain automatically reacts to the perceived threat by releasing specific chemicals that cause the feeling of a temporary high. Methods range from holding their breath while a peer applies pressure to the vagal nerve (similar to applying the Heimlich maneuver) to using ligatures around the neck. Analogous to the manner in which many adolescents are initiated to cigarettes or alcohol, a trusted or high status peer presents the opportunity to participate as fun or cool. A teen who does not understand the potential danger may see it as a way to achieve a legal high and gain acceptance with peers. However, like drugs, the rush or the temporary high can become addictive. And I can never repeat often enough that the part of the brain responsible for high-level decision making is   not fully developed until adolescence is over!   Peer pressure, poor judgment and a potential high can make risk taking hard to resist for adolescents in many circumstances .Choking games can be played alone or with peers and are believed to be almost always initiated in groups, although the availability of online information may be changing this. As bad as the group games are, the act becomes more dangerous when a child engages alone. Safety precautions fail and kids suffocate.

Adolescent males may also come to believe that that a sexual climax can be heightened by depriving their brain of oxygen. Known as ‘autoerotic asphyxiation’ this practice has been documented in medical literature since the 19th century. Sadly, most of the documented cases are based on posthumous investigations; up to 25 deaths occur each year when fail-safe mechanisms do fail and a victim is strangled.

Here’s an important point for families with young adolescents: Sexual archetypes, or lifelong preferences, are often set in adolescence as the initial objects or behaviors associated with autonomic sexual arousal become imprinted (in a manner of speaking) in a child’s developing brain. Autoerotic asphyxia can become a dangerous lifetime habit that’s difficult to break. Experts estimate that between 250 and 1200 deaths occur per year from autoerotic asphyxiation but since many cases are mistaken for suicide the real number is hard to know. Identifying and intervening in early ‘choking games’ can prevent this particular paraphilia from becoming a deadly part of a child’s sexual life.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that any adolescent will discuss any autoerotic activities with parents or grandparents. I strongly believe that parents and care takers have the obligation to check kids’ dresser drawers, book bags and other hiding places for indications of drugs, alcohol or cigarettes; similarly, plastic bags or items that can be used as a ligature should be added to this list of contraband. Any indication of children using language similar to the many names used for choking games should be a call to action.  Similarly, check a child’s browser history for searches  indicating interest in these issues.    In any case, kids need to hear from loving adults in their lives that this “game” has potentially deadly consequences and should never be practiced.  Ever.

In an article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatricians are advised that “provided with relevant information, pediatricians can identify the syndrome, demonstrate a willingness to discuss concerns about it, ameliorate distress, and possibly prevent a tragedy.” The same is true for parents and grandparents.

This article originally appeared in GRAND magazine, 3/2015


[1]   Daniel D. Cowell, MD, MLS, CPHQ , Autoerotic Asphyxiation: Secret Pleasure—Lethal Outcome? PEDIATRICS Volume 124, Number 5, November 2009 pp 1319 -1325

Want to help prevent child sexual abuse?  Plan now for an April event!

Want to help prevent child sexual abuse? Plan now for an April event!

If you’ve ever felt like child abuse, child sexual abuse, and sexual assault were such HUGE and overwhelming problems that one person could never have an impact, now is the time to get over that misconception.   For more than two decades, April has been designated child abuse prevention month and it is now also designated as and sexual assault awareness month.  Tens of thousands of people will focus on these issues in April;  if you choose to add your voice it  will be amplified by a chorus from like-minded people.    April is is the ideal time to organize colleagues and friends to plan community events like workshops to support parents, advocacy events to help change laws, conferences to help professionals do their jobs, and special displays of parenting books in stores and libraries. All of these can help promote strong and safe families, communities and institutions. Here’s some help to get started:

Step 1: Find partners

Look for like-minded people to form a work group; check out your religious institution or your local schools’ PTA/PTO. Try the local department of public health, the rape crisis center, or child protection agency and ask for the outreach coordinator. These public agencies often have advisory boards comprised of citizens, a great resource to tap.

Step 2: Find a champion

Find an ‘honorary chair’ — a high profile person to lend their name and credibility to your cause and event. This is generally easy since elected officials of all stripes want to be associated with protecting children and keeping families  and communities strong.  If you get lucky, an elected official might offer time from a staff member to support the event.

Step 3: Make the plan

With your partners and champion identified, decide together what you want to offer your community. My personal preference is for events for parents. My experience proves that parents are concerned about promoting the sexual health and safety of their kids, ensuring the sexual climate of their school and other institutions is healthy and that the community has resources. With parents on the planning committee, you’re sure to be able to tap into the concerns of your local parents and plan an event that meets their needs.

Check with your library to see  if the youth or reference librarian can curate a special collection of resources for parents; they can highlight information about your event next to the special display. The librarian may even be able to find a local author who could offer a reading and a book-signing!

Consider working with an agency to honor their volunteers; I’ve seen wonderful events where people come out to see  volunteers honored and also get to hear a program where they learn how to promote sexual health and safety in their family and community.

Step 4: Find the resources

Volunteer support might can often be found in the local high school as many now have a ‘service learning’ requirement and young people are looking for meaningful projects! Similarly, Greek organizations at a local college and youth groups at religious institutions can be a great source of help to raise funds and awareness supporting your cause.

An event does not have to be very expensive; a speaker and refreshments may cost a few thousand dollars but sponsors are generally easy to find. Like elected officials, businesses want to be associated with a popular issue like safe kids.  Many communities have public grant money that they can spend on community involvement. These public agencies can help:

  • Find your state’s Rape Prevention and Education coordinator here:
  • Find your states Children’s Trust Fund here
  • Find your states Child Protection Services agency here:

Non-profit organizations, like Prevent Child Abuse America support special events in April and you can find your local chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America here:

Step 5: Need individual help?

Contact me at DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com, visit my webpage or my page at APB Speakers.

Take advantage of the national voices being raised in April and promote safe and healthy children, families and institutions in your community!

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

 

Privacy? YES! Secrets? NO!

If you’ve just spend the holidays with a house full of company or crammed into an airport waiting area, privacy probably seemed like a distant fantasy. If you managed to surprise someone with the gift of their dreams, keeping secrets may seem like a great idea. There’s a time and place for both secrecy and privacy. Understanding and incorporating the concepts into your family life can promote sexual health and safety, and strengthen the overall quality of the relationships between the family members.

Secrecy is a straightforward concept; a person knows something and keeps it to himself. Privacy is more nuanced; one person knows something, and others may know it too, but the others don’t observe or witness it.

As part of healthy development, kids should be taught that they can earn the privilege of privacy but that secrets from parents are unacceptable. Promoting sexual health and safety is easier when a family has a norm that includes treating all part of the body equally.  Children who are unable to discuss their genitalia with their parents may be even more susceptible to the request of a predator to keep their ‘special games’ a secret. A child should learn that their body is private, but there is never any shame or secrecy associated with any part.

It’s a great idea for the adults in a family to have a discussion on what will be private — for example, discussions about finances, or parents’ arguments the children might overhear. By the time a child gets close to elementary school age, they should start to be able to understand this nuance, but younger kids understand absolutes: no secrets from Mom or Dad.

As a child matures, they can start to earn some privacy. Going to the bathroom is a good topic to illustrate the difference between privacy and secrecy. A parent might explain: “When you’re big enough to reach the toilet, when I trust that you will be sure wipe yourself when you’re done, you can earn the right to have privacy in the bathroom – you’ll be able to go by yourself and eventually shut the door. But, Mommy or Daddy will know that you’re there, we’ll know what you’re doing so it won’t be a secret. And if anything is wrong – if your pee is a funny color or it hurts when you poop, you know you can tell us.” Privacy means you get to do it by yourself, but we just don’t ever keep secrets from each other.

In a healthy family, parents need and deserve privacy. It is to be assumed that older kids will rifle through parents’ drawers and closets given the opportunity. Assume that your child will do this and take precautions: Put your personal things away and lock up anything you don’t want them to find. Of course parents have the right to have adult items in the house—they are after all adults. But, children do not want to be confronted with the fact that their parents are sexually active, so put away the special books, toys, creams, prescriptions, lingerie, etc.! If a child finds a locked drawer or box, let him wonder about the contents; if parents find evidence that a child has been exploring the parents’ possessions, take the opportunity to discuss the difference between privacy and secrecy. It’s no secret that grown-ups are sexual but how they express it is completely private from their kids.

Parents can set a foundation for privacy early in the life of their family, making it clear to their kids how they can earn more privacy as they mature. At the same time, be clear that open lines of communication mean that parents and children can and will talk about anything, and no secrets from Mom and Dad.